Excitebike
  • Genre:
    • Racing
  • Developer:
    • Nintendo
  • Publishers:
    • Nintendo (NES/Arcade/FDS)
    • Hudson (PC88/X1)
  • Released:
    NES
    • JP 11/30/1984
    • US 10/18/1985
    • UK 09/01/1986
    Arcade
    • JP 1984
    • US 1985
    PC88
    • JP October 1985
    X1
    • JP 1985
    FDS
    • JP 12/09/1988
Score: 70%

This review was published on 04/12/2015.

Excitebike is a motocross racing video game originally published and developed by Nintendo for the Nintendo Entertainment System. It was released in Japan on November 30, 1984, North America on October 18, 1985, Canada on February 3, 1986, and Europe on September 1, 1986. This game was a launch title for the North American release of the NES. A modified version of the game was later released in the arcades as Vs. Excitebike in 1984 in Japan and 1985 in North America. Later still, another modified version of the game based on the arcade one was released for the Famicom Disk System in Japan on December 9, 1988. Additionally, Nintendo and Hudson Soft teamed up to release ports of the game for the NEC PC-8801 in October 1985 and the Sharp X1 in 1985, both exclusive to Japan. Excitebike is, as its name implies, a game featuring bikes that will excite you. Get ready to get excited.

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Controlling your bike is the key to achieving excitement in Excitebike. Both the A and B buttons control the acceleration for your bike. The A button is the slower, more reliable acceleration, while the B button will make your bike go faster, but risk overheating it. There's a meter at the bottom of the screen that shows you the bike's temperature, allowing you to keep tabs on the engine's heat output. If your engine overheats, you'll be forced to stop and pull over for a few seconds until the engine cools off. Pressing up or down on the d-pad switches what lane you're on, which is used to avoid obstacles and the like. The most interesting control mechanism, however, is pressing left or right to tilt the bike forwards or backwards. This is used to properly orient yourself when jumping off of ramps and slopes; a highly prevalent, highly fun feature of the game. You can also press left when on the ground to pop a wheelie. The controls to Excitebike are simple, and that's precisely what a good racing game needs.

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Courses are presented in a side-scrolling perspective, meaning you're constantly moving to the right as the screen scrolls by and you switch between lanes by moving up or down. The road has four lanes total and all courses are a straight shot with no turns or anything. This is made up for by the objects placed on the course. You'll encounter both harmful and helpful things while racing. The main things you'll see on the road are ramps, slopes, and dirt patches. Dirt patches do nothing more than slow you down, forcing you to switch lanes if you wish to maintain speed. Ramps and slopes, on the other hand, are good ways to get some airtime and potentially skip hazards on the ground. Occasionally, there will be arrow panels on the road that reduce your engine's temperature, enabling you to delay overheating so you can keep boosting for a while longer. There are five courses in all, which isn't much, but they're all pretty cool.

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In the first game mode, you drive on a course by yourself. The objective of this mode is to get a good enough time to progress to the next course. It's sort of like a training mode to prepare you for the tougher challenges in the game, as this lets you get familiar with the course layouts. This may sound boring, but it's actually really thrilling, because of all the obstacles you'll run into. It's an obstacle course, of course. Proficiency in Excitebike requires good use of ramps and slopes. Slopes can help or hinder you depending on how you approach them. Getting onto a slope incorrectly will cause you to lose speed, and landing on a slope improperly will cause you to fall off your bike. Popping a slight wheelie is a good way to approach a slope, and landing on it just right from the air will let you keep moving without a significant loss to speed. The speed at which you move through the air also depends on how you orient your bike while midair. Generally, the bike should be kept parallel to whatever it's on, slope or otherwise. Successfully navigating a series of slopes with minimal impact to speed is an exhilarating experience.

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The second game mode has you going up against other racers in an actual race. This is a racing game, after all. The goal of this mode is still about getting a good enough time to advance, so it's not that different from the first mode. Having to contend with other racers does change things up quite a bit, though. There are technically an infinite amount of racers that will repeatedly appear behind and in front of you, giving the illusion that this is an enormous competition. The placing of the other racers doesn't matter, however, as they merely act as moving obstacles that will get in your way. You'll get knocked off of your bike if you crash into them, and they have a tendency to cut you off. The racers aren't very competent and will also routinely fall off their bikes on their own, which is amusing to see, but doesn't benefit you much. Suffice it to say, this mode is extremely difficult. The game is already hard enough as it is without additional racers, and it gets ten times harder when there's a crowd.

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When you're done playing the game, you can design your own courses. You place or erase objects with the B button and use the A button to move further in the course. The various objects you can place are represented by different letters of the alphabet, from A to S, and you select them with the d-pad. Once you're done creating a custom course, you set the number of laps, for up to a maximum of nine, and then place the finish line. Sadly, you probably can't save or load any of the beautiful courses you lovingly crafted, since you need the Famicom Data Recorder; a cassette tape accessory that was never released outside of Japan. It is a right shame. Despite not being able to save the courses you created, having access to a course creator is still super neat, especially for such an old game.

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Excitebike is a simple, elegant game that was groundbreaking for its time and is still a treat to play today. The thing that separates Excitebike from other racing games at the time is the slope mechanic. Nothing beats jumping high up into the air from a slope, only to land perfectly parallel to the ground and continue racing at breakneck speeds. Such mechanics would not become commonplace in the genre until many years later. The game is fairly challenging, too. Unfortunately, there's no two player mode, and there are only five available tracks. Also, aside from a few fanfares, the game lacks music. All you really hear during races is the bike engine. Otherwise, the game is fairly decent for an NES launch title. You could say it's exciting.

Word Count: 1,184

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