Still a lot of fun.
- Fun, challenging dirt-bike action
- Simple controls combine with unique tracks to keep the game fun
- Race with or without other cars
- "Programmable Series" meant you could make your own tracks to race on!
- No multiplayer
- Only five tracks
- US release didn't have a battery to save your custom tracks; they erase when you turn off the system
|The precursor to the Trials games|
The LongExcitebike is another of the "black box" NES games, the collection that was part of the original launch of the NES in the United States. It was one of two games out of the release batch (which included games like Hogan's Alley and Golf) that was in the "Programmable" series, the other being Wrecking Crew. As I've pointed out before, the NES release library in North America was really hit or miss, with some being fantastic games while others have aged quite poorly. Where does Excitebike lie on this spectrum?
Excitebike is (for the two people in the whole world who don't know) a motorcycle racing game with an emphasis on course-related obstacles. The goal is simple: beat the time to get in first place, while not crashing constantly on the tricky courses. You have four "lanes" to choose from, which can be used to dodge either stuff left on the course (rough patches, etc.) or other drivers. It's a simple idea but one that can prove to be very addicting as you strive to beat old high scores.
|Mash buttons if you crash to climb back to your bike faster.|
You essentially have only two options, and neither of them are "brake." You have the gas, which you'll have to let off of for tricky jumps, and a "boost," which will give you a blast of speed so long as you hold it down but will also raise the "Temp" gauge in the middle. Max out the Temp and you'll overheat, which isn't a good thing. Also, going too fast increases the risk of crashing, unless you have the skills to handle it.Directional controls are also simple. Up and down changes lanes, which can be used to shift over to jumps or avoid other racers. Forward and backward are the meat of the game: they'll control how your biker leans and are necessary to master if you are going to land jumps. That, in a nutshell, is how you play Excitebike.
|Poppin wheelies for fun and profit.|
There are three modes in Excitebike. The first is just racing against the clock with no other drivers. While it's nice to not be constantly ran off the road, this mode is a little dull. The second is the choice to race with other motorcycles. Contrary to what you might think, you aren't racing against them; it's still against the clock (kind of like how the other cars in Rad Racer only exist to get in your way). This ramps up the challenge as you try to avoid the racers while not eating it on the course, and is probably the best way to play the game.The final option is where the "Programmable" comes from. The game comes with its own course editor, meaning you can create some pretty insane tracks. The editor is a bit archaic but is still functional, and I was able to make some pretty zany tracks for my guy to crash constantly on.
The biggest problem with the editor is that the North American release of Excitebike, for whatever reason, doesn't have a battery/memory backup to save the tracks, meaning once you turn the system off they are gone forever. Luckily, in both the GBA and Virtual Console re-release the game will save tracks, though the GBA version only saves one track.
|This is not gonna end well.|
So the main question remains: is Excitebike still fun? Well...yes, actually. Even with only five courses and no multiplayer, Excitebike remains a blast to this day. While you could argue that games like Trials HD or Joe Danger are essentially the evolution of this game (and they are, with one focusing on extremely difficult physics challenges and another more stunt-based), Excitebike still holds up as being a lot of fun. It's unfortunate that the fun is limited to either five tracks or the time you are willing to spend making your own (and then have them disappear when you turn off the system, if you are playing on the original cart) but the game is still challenging and fun even if it doesn't save.It also still looks quite good, with the clean interface making it very easy to see what you are up against. The sound effects are also extremely memorable, with the engine grumbling as you blast it forward being a highlight.
|On your marks...|
I'd recommend Excitebike to this day. While I wish the Virtual Console version had a way to make tracks and share them over the internet (and have a wider number of save options), the original is still a blast to play. It's just solid all around, with its biggest issue being that you will get bored of the five tracks. When that happens, pick up one of the previously mentioned "spiritual successors" to continue the fun.Three out of five stars.
|A winner is you.|