Skip to main content

Excitebike: Not that exciting

Excitebike is a beloved NES launch title. It was one of the 30 games included on the outstanding NES Classic. It even has a level in Mario Kart 8 Deluxe! But does it hold up well today?

First the good news: the concept of racing off-road motorcycles (motocross) still works, and the controls are simple and smooth. This alone ensured Excitebike would be a hit in 1985. You hold A to go at normal speed, or B at turbo speed (but don't let the engine overheat!). Tracks have hurdles and rough patches to avoid, as well as speed boosts. When going over a ramp, you press ↑ to tilt the bike up for extra height. When you land, you need to make the bike's tires even with the ground or it will crash and the rider will fly off. If this happens, he scrambles to get back on the bike, costing you several seconds.

Regrettably, there is no two-player mode. You either play solo ("Selection A") or against computer-controlled racers ("Selection B"). Mode A is good for practicing the tracks because you don't have to worry about crashing into other racers. In Mode B you can deliberately knock down the other bikers by turning right in front of them. Both modes are fun, and you can even design a track of your own and then race on it in either mode! Overall, Excitebike is a well designed game.

Now for the bad news. The biggest problem is the game has only five tracks. Just five! That is too few. Oh, I'll just design my own then, you say? You can only save one at a time, and it vanishes as soon as you you turn off the system. Battery-powered saving was still three years away. (Today, of course, you can use save states on the NES Classic or Switch.)

Another weakness of the game is that you don't actually race against the computer-controlled racers in mode B. Rather, they come and go onto the screen at random without continuity. Ostensibly, you need to get at least "third place" to successfully finish a race, but this is a fiction. The "places" are determined strictly by how long you took, with no correlation to the racers.

Worse still, there is no music to go with the five different tracks (they use different color palettes, at least). Adding good, unique music to each track would seriously improve this game!

Don't get me wrong: trying to master the five tracks is fun, but unless you're really into track design, that's all you can get out of this game. Still, because of what it does right, especially judged as a launch title, Excitebike is a fine game.


Grade: C 

Linked Reviews
"It may not be the longest ride, and it’s definitely not perfect, but it’s a classic nonetheless and at least deserves a look."
— Dave Letcavage, Nintendo Life, 7/10

"Everything from the goofily fun intro theme to the cutesy graphics of the racers and the audience made this a flag-bearing title which helped buoy the system in its precarious early existence in the U.S."
— Pat Contri, Ultimate Nintendo: Guide to the NES Library, 4/5

"Excitebike distanced itself from the pack by offering truly addictive motocross gameplay."
IGN, #14 of Top 100

"The game remains a landmark NES classic, and a good time even if you’re not much for racing."
— Jeremy Parish, NES Works

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past: 30th anniversary

Hard to believe it's been thirty years since The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past came out on the Super Nintendo, yet here we are! A Link to the Past is in contention for the title of Best Nintendo Game Ever . It perfectly reinvented, reimagined, and revolutionized everything great about the original Legend of Zelda . First off, the story is expanded, with five pages devoted to it in the manual, including background mythology not included in-game about the three gods that made the Triforce. The opening cinematic tells of a war centuries earlier, which resulted in seven wise men sealing the Triforce away in the "Golden World." When the game begins, the boy Link awakens on a dark and stormy night, hearing the voice of Princess Zelda in his head, asking him to rescue her from the dungeon of Hyrule Castle, where she's been imprisoned by the evil wizard Agahnim. Link finds his uncle, wounded, who gives him his sword. Link's first task is to rescue Zelda, then lead h

The Legend of the Mystical Ninja: A whimsical adventure in Japan

Growing up, I played The Legend of the Mystical Ninja at my best friend's house (though I was bad at it), and I had been looking forward to trying it again. It's an unusual, fun adventure game. I recently learned that in Japan Legend of the Mystical Ninja was preceded by three Famicom games and followed by three more Super Famicom games, none of which were localized for the West! The Japanese name of the series is Go for It, Goemon! It's based on a 1980 Japanese arcade game called Mr. Goemon. The emulation community put out fan translations of the Famicom games between 2009 and 2017. Surprisingly, no translations of the Super Famicom games existed until 2020, all three created by the same people . The series takes places in early-modern Japan. It has a light-hearted anime aesthetic. The titular character is a spiky-haired kid named Goemon. If a second player joins the simultaneous action (highly recommended), Goemon is assisted by an older, overweight ninja named Ebisumaru.

Street Fighter II: 30th anniversary

Thirty years ago today Street Fighter II made the transition from arcade to living room on the Super NES. Although quickly eclipsed by its two successors, for one year it was the hotness. It would be hard to overstate how popular Street Fighter II was in the early 90's. Its predecessor was downright bad, but Street Fighter II invented the PVP fighting genre as we know it. Its roster of eight characters was a huge step-up from Street Fighter's two (Ken and Ryu, who returned for the sequel). The next iteration of the arcade game, Street Fighter II: Champion Edition, which hit arcades just as the SNES port arrived, let you play as the bosses as well, increasing the roster to twelve. A false rumor said a secret code would let you play them at home as well. While that wasn't true, there was a code (↓, R, ↑, L, Y, B) to let both players choose the same character for a mirror match. A prime strength of the game is how interesting each character is: the American airman Guile (think