Review: Excitebike 64 (N64)

In this review, we check out the racing game Excitebike 64. We find out if this second game in the series is worth a try.

Excitebike 64 was released in 2000 and would be a sequel to the original NES title Excitebike.

This game is taking quite a leap in terms of technology. With a 15 year gap between the first and second game, it might lead one to wonder if a transition could be pulled off from the original NES straight into the 3D environment possible on an N64. An additional problem is that those who would remember the original Excitebike would be older gamers as well. Younger gamers at the time likely wouldn’t remember the original Excitebike game. For many, the transition was actually quite impressive, so we were curious to see this transition for ourselves.

The game features actual riders with various attributes that make them unique. Three of these characters are “Jumpin'” Jim Rivers, Sarah Sugar Hill, and Tricky Ricky Stern. Attributes that vary between riders include boost and landing which can have an impact on your racing overall.

The main mode in this game is the Season racing mode. Within Season mode, there are four difficulties: Tutorial, Novice, Amateur, and Pro. Initially, you only have the tutorial and Novice difficulty open to you.

Tutorial mode teaches your the basics of this game. It shows a ghost “demo” of the technique in question, then allows you to try and pull off that technique yourself before moving on. After a set of tutorials, you have to pass a test to show that you have learned the techniques. Pass the test and move on to the next section. Each test is essentially a timed section that has track features you’ve encountered in the tutorial. Cross the finish line within the time limit to pass the test. You’ll eventually encounter a final test which includes every feature in the tutorial before moving on to the final section: stunt mode training. Complete the various stunts and you’ll complete the tutorial. The tutorial is worth passing partly because you get an idea of what to expect during the actual races, but also because it unlocks the “Original Excitebike” special track. This mode is just the original NES game released back in 1985.

In the Novice difficulty, you get two seasons to pass: Bronze and Silver. Pass the bronze season to unlock the silver season. Pass the silver season to complete the entire difficulty. If you complete the entire difficulty, you’ll unlock both Soccer mode and the Amateur difficulty. Soccer mode is basically a two player matchup where you play soccer with your bikes and a giant soccer ball.

Amateur mode is more difficult then the Novice mode partly because the riders are more difficult to beat. Additionally, you have to complete both the bronze and silver seasons before taking on gold. Gold has all new tracks that you have to face with the more difficult riders. Complete this difficulty and you get to unlock hill climb. Hill climb is basically one giant hill you can climb up. Get to the top in the shortest amount of time. You get checkpoints along the way so if you fall off (which you’ll do a LOT of), then you just respawn at the last checkpoint you crossed. Naturally, you also unlock the Pro season in the process as well.

Pro season has the bronze, silver, and gold season as well as the hardest opponents you can face. In addition to the usual seasons, you’ll also face the platinum difficulty which features even more races you haven’t raced on before. If that weren’t enough, you’ll also get to have a challenge mode which is an entire additional season tacked onto the end after platinum. This mode is special in that you only face off with one other (difficult) opponent. If you lose one race, you have to start over from the beginning (ouch!). If you somehow manage to perform the incredible feat of beating pro, then you’ll unlock Excite 3D and have a chance to see the closing credits. Excite 3D is a nice hybrid between the original Excitebike and Excitebike3D. while a little limited, you can definitely pull off some nice jumps in this mode. On side note to the season is that you can also build your own custom season if you beat everything at the end.

A common trait in the season is that each section requires an overall first place finish in the section. Championship points are given out for each race. Your objective is to accumulate the most points by the end of the season. First place awards you with a whopping 5 points. Second place finishes grant you a nice 3 points. Third place awards you with two points. Fourth place will leave you with one measly little point. Finish below fourth and you get nothing for your efforts. The exception to this is, of course, the challenge mode. In this case, you have to win every race in order to complete. Fortunately, this is only seen once.

The next mode of racing in this game is the Exhibition Race. This mode allows you to race on any unlocked track you have in a single race. Good for some practice against opponents.

The next mode is the Time Trials. You can race any unlocked track, but it’s just you against the clock.

The next mode is where a lot of your efforts are poured in to: Special Tracks. Special tracks have a set of different kinds of races. In addition to the above modes you unlock for winning in season mode, there’s two special tracks you get right from the get-go: Desert and Stunt Course.

Desert is a randomly generated desert complete with hills, mountains, valleys, cacti, and other small details. The idea is that you race against other opponents to various checkpoints throughout the desert. These checkpoints aren’t your typical checkpoints as they simply consist of a small campfire. You have to touch the campfire to put it out before it counts and you can move on. The only thing guiding you along is a compass arrow that points you into the direct direction of the next campfire. Get all campfires put out first to win. Your opponents are, of course, after the same campfires, but if they touch them, they can simply move on. They won’t put out the fire. Definitely a fun little game there.

Stunt mode, the other mode available right away, is simply a course designed for you to pull of stunts. You earn points for pulling off the stunts. The first time you pull off a stunt, you get the full amount of points and have that trick added to the list of stunts you’ve pulled off. If you pull off the same stunt, you only get half of the award. The objective is to post the most points in the high scores after (or beat your buddies in the multiplayer version).

The final mode available of note is the Custom Track. This is the same idea as featured in the original NES – you can build tracks from a selection of interlocking parts. All of this is found in the confines of your typical indoors track, but the possibilities are practically endless.

Much like the original NES version, you have two different accelerators. The one accelerator just allows you to get standard speeds with your bike. The second one is your boost which can make your bike go faster. Again, like the original NES version, this game features a temperature gauge. The regular acceleration heats your engine to a certain point before stabilizing. The boost, however, can heat your engine faster and keep heating it until you experience an overheat. If you overheat your bike, then you can only effectively use your normal accelerator while you emit black smoke. Your engine will cool down, but not before you lose speed and, likely, positions during the race. Once it cools down enough, you’ll have your boost ability restored again.

As you might expect, you’ll find yourself spending a lot of time in the air. You can pull back to gain height during a jump. Pushing forward will shorten your jump. How you execute the various jumps depends on the situation as there is the physics of a dirtbike to consider. How fast you go in each race largely depends on how you handle the various hills in the track. Ideally, you’ll want to land flatly with both tires touching the ground. Even then, what you land on has a large impact on how fast you travel. Landing on an uphill will likely cause you to slow down while landing on a downward slope will likely help you speed up. Building a strategy with the various hills is key to success in this game (not just cornering prowess).

Two other elements are the boosts on hills. If you tap boost as you take a jump, your bike will make a revving sound. This boosting technique will enable you to gain a small amount of speed while in the air – increasing the potential distance by a little in the process. A critical technique especially in the harder difficulties.

The other element in this game is the small amount of combat available here. If one players front tire touches the back tire of another, the player from behind will instantly wipe out. Meanwhile, the player on front will be awarded with an instant cooling of the engine that could be exceedingly useful if you are on the verge of overheating. Takedowns require a lot of practice to pull off when intentional, and takes a lot more practice to do so without completely going off course (something I never quite mastered for the later levels). Still, this element of the game can save you from time to time if you have computer players breathing down your neck.

When you boil it all down, there are two main kind of tracks. There are the much more numerous indoor stadium tracks. Sprinkled throughout, however, are large outdoor areas. While the indoor areas were specifically designed for dirt bikes, outdoor areas are much more untamed and may take some time to recognize the hilly patterns of the track. The upside to outdoor areas is that there are often multiple routes in the same track, so that helps make things interesting.

In total, there are 20 main race tracks (challenge replays existing tracks found earlier in the game) to play.

One thing I noticed in this game is the difficulty. I found it to be set too high. In fact, the game is difficult enough for me to think that the various season difficulties are a little misleading. Instead of Novice, it should be Hard. Amateur should really be labelled “perfect riding on tracks only”. Pro, in the meantime, should be labelled “computer players have an unfair advantage over you in ever aspect” or maybe “darn near impossible”. Seriously, on novice, you can likely only win with a good amount of practice. On amateur, one little mistake in the race and, chances are, you’ll never regain what precious little lead you have built up and end up losing in ranks all the way down to third in a hurry. On pro, you could race through the tracks in question without a single flaw and all you’ll end up getting is third place or worse. Your only chance of winning in some of the races is if you basically bring down your relentless opponents one at a time while they attempt to pass you. I don’t even think it’s possible to win the entire pro difficulty without doing this. In one race, it seemed to be a requirement to make a good 5 or 6 takedowns just to retain your lead. If any opponent so much as passes you in the slightest, it takes next to nothing for them to gain a good solid 10 seconds on you as if your sitting still. No amount of boosting or strategic jumping will ever fully close the gap.

In fact, one the harder difficulties, I found that computer players could much more easily wipe you out. In one case, I ended up rubbing my back tire on an opponent several times before it registered as a wipeout. I otherwise got sparks as if It wasn’t quite lined up properly. In the mean time, I lost count with the number of times simply touching an opponent side-by-side counted as a takedown made by my opponent. Nowhere near the back tire, yet I was treated to my rider flying off the bike. In fact, there was even one case where I managed a direct tire to tire touch to take down an opponent and both of us ended up wiping out for seemingly no apparent reason.

Another frustration with the later levels is that you get the odd time where you are actually catching some good air. In mid flight, though, your rider simply pops off as if you hit something, yet you were nowhere near the invisible walls.

Suffice to say, I got very close at losing my patience and throwing the controller at a nearby wall. I don’t see why this game has to be so difficult. There are plenty of tracks to be had, so lack of content is not necessarily a problem to be covered up. A lot of the tracks had impressive scenery, but it was hard to enjoy that as I was constantly trying to protect my first place position all the time. If it weren’t for the difficulty factor, I would say this was an excellent game. Unfortunately, because of the trauma I got for trying to complete this game, I seriously never wanted to play this game again after I had finally cleared the last levels. I finished the game, but the game finished me.

Graphically, this game is quite impressive for a console game. The environments and the effects were all nicely done. You can have camera flashes from crowds. You can have numerous trees as you race through a rainforest. There’s exhaust smoke appearing from vehicles randomly placed in a construction yard. All that goes over top of the various effects placed on the bikes. The riders all have a single set of animations ranging from frustrations of failing to finish a race to a victory stance for winning. On top of it all, there’s a small cinematic portion for completing each season where the riders take off the helmets and congratulate each other. It was a little odd seeing this after completing challenge because your rider ends up congratulating an empty 3rd place spot after congratulating your opponent, but that’s the only flaw I saw in the graphics. The graphics were impressive to say the least.

Some people complained about the audio apparently – namely the music. I found that the music that was in the game to be fine. I had hardly any complaints about it. The one big complaint I do have with the music is that there was a limited track selection. I wished there were more tracks instead of just two for every indoor track for instance. The sound effects were all nicely done as well. There’s plenty of sounds to be heard throughout the game that I thought gave good ambiance to everything. One major complaint in this department that I have is that the default levels left a lot to be desired. The big thing you heard was mostly dirtbike sounds. It was possible to heard the announcer, but once you’ve factored both of those elements in, the music gets drowned completely out. I get that dirtbikes are loud, but I don’t think they should ruin the listening experience of this game. After some tweaking in the settings, though, I was able to get everything at a good level before playing.

Overall, this game does make a very successful transition from the original NES clear into the N64 era. It features a nice variety of tracks as well as some special modes of racing that really speaks well to how much depth this game has. Replay value was also boosted from the track editor. Unfortunately, the difficulty of this game undermines a lot of the potential for this game as you have to master the concepts of the game as well as have a good understanding of the tracks before you have a hope in unlocking some of this stuff. The graphics were great, but the audio requires some tweaking just to get everything at a comfortable level. The music tracks in this game were great, but limited in quantity. So, overall, a good game to play for a while, but don’t expect to get very far into it without getting frustrated like me.

Furthest point in game: Saw the end credits, though I don’t know how I managed that one. Unlocked everything, though.

General gameplay: 18/25
Replay value: 6/10
Graphics: 10/10
Audio: 3/5

Overall rating: 74%

Drew Wilson on Twitter: @icecube85 and Google+.

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