Review: Excitebike (NES)

In this review, we check out the motocross racing game Excitebike. We find one should try flying through this game again.

Excitebike was released in 1985 and would eventually be the first game to kick off the short “Excite” series.

There are two main modes of play in this game: “Selection A” and “Selection B”. Selection A is basically a one player mode. It’s just you, the track, and the timer. Finish all of the “laps” before the third place time to advance to the next track. You have to beat the “best” time to get first place. Selection B is just like selection A, only there are random bikers also on the track that could get in your way.

Essentially, you race on four tracks going down the dirt course. You can switch between them during the race by either pressing up or down. As this is a motocross racing game, it is only natural that you’ll encounter a number of obstacles along the way. There are a number of hills, ramps, bumps, dirt patches, and even large mud pits to navigate through.

You’ll have two accelerator buttons. One is the normal gas button while the other is a turbo button. Turbo enables you to briefly go faster. This is useful for jumps if you try and neatly get to, say, a downhill exit hill. There is one caveat to this turbo – and that is heat. You’ll notice a heat gauge along the bottom of your screen. Normal gas power will only get the heat up to a certain steady point. Turbo, however, will further heat the engine. If the engine gets too hot, you’ll be forced to pull over to the side of the track to allow the engine to cool back down before you can get back to racing. In a lot of cases, overheating the engine will probably eat up too much time for you to qualify for the next track.

There are two ways to cool down the engine without overheating it: the first is to simply stop using turbo. This will allow the engine to cool down gradually. The other method is to run over the arrows. These arrows sometimes dot the track and running over one will instantly cool the engine right down – allowing you to use more turbo without overheating the engine.

Left and right buttons have a use in this game too. If you are flying through the air, pushing left will allow you to achieve more height as you pull the front wheel back. Unfortunately, this can also slow you down as you sail through the air. Right, on the other hand, will cause your rider to lower the front wheel while in the air. The effect is that you maintain your speed while in the air, but you lose more height in the process. Finding a happy balance is obviously one of the keys to allowing you to win.

Ideally, you’ll want to try and land with both wheels touching the ground at the same time. This prevents extra bouncing (which can slow you down) and allows you to speed off. Of course, speed runners do have an alternate method of landing, but this is a hard thing to perfect for newer racers. If you, say, land on your front wheel while landing on an uphill, chances are, you’ll wipe out. Wiping out will basically show your rider rolling clockwise along the obstacle until the rider reaches a flat portion. When the rider finally rolls to a stop, you’ll be lifted to the side of the track where you are forced to run back to your bike. Rapidly pressing “A” will cause your rider to shave time off by running faster towards the bike.

There is more basic physics involved in this game as well. The key to your success is trying to find an optimal way of traversing the track through the various jumps. Landing flatly on a down slope can help you travel faster. Obviously, landing on an uphill can really slow your speed down temporarily – even if you land flatly.

The goal of this game is to finish in the top three spots. This is, as mentioned before, based on time. Beat the third place time and you’ll end up on the podium. If you miss the podium, the game will be over.

In total, there are five tracks in this game. Each track is played twice. The first time contains a more forgiving time, but the second run requires you to pick up the pace with a tighter deadline to cross the finish line. Each track is also increasingly difficult both in time and track layout. Once you get to track 5, you simply keep replaying that last track until you fail to make the podium.

One final feature is also found in the menu. The third item allows players to build their own custom tracks. You can save only one track, but there are a lot of different objects you can place on the track. You can set the number of laps and race it in either one of the two modes available. For me, the track editor was nicely designed and really added a lot of replay value to this game.

Generally speaking, one weakness I found in this game is that the main content, namely the five tracks, makes this game seemingly sparse in content quantity. The first two tracks are rather straight forward. the third track is challenging, and the fourth and fifth track are exceedingly difficult. As a result, the difficulty curve is quite steep for the amount of content available. Even though you are racing each track twice, it wont take long before you find yourself reaching the extremely difficult tracks. With practice, you’ll eventually be able to get to the fifth track, but after that, the fun more or less slows down. You can venture to the other mode of racing, but even that doesn’t last long.

On the bright side, the physics of this game, though simple, really added a nice level of depth to the game. There’s constantly new ways of tackling each track. Do you go for the arrow at the top of the course, or do you hit the large ramp? Do you gain a lot of height to try and clear a dirt hill or do you simply ride through each hill individually because it’s easier to not miss? This, I found, was a major strength in this game. The large number of different obstacles was also nice to see.

Graphically speaking, this was very nicely done. Each little sprite was clear to see. Nothing was too heavily pixelated to see what it was clearly. As an added bonus, there’s a change in color pallet between each in-game track to add some good variety. The colors were nicely chosen to more or less simulate different times of the day as well. I thought this was a nice touch. So, I have nothing to complain about the graphics in this game as they were very nicely done for a game of its time.

The audio wasn’t bad in this game. The small amounts of music thrown in were incredibly well done. Hearing no music in the middle of each race did make things seem a bit dry, but that’s really my only complaint about the music. The audio was also nicely done. The sound of the crowd, the different forms of acceleration, and the jumps were all things that added to the game. So, no complaints from me for the sound effects.

Overall, I would say that while this game is short lived with its limited content, the depth of this game is quite impressive with its physics. The graphics in this game were impressive and the audio was also nicely done. If it weren’t for the track editor, I would say this game has little replay value, but that track editor really saved the day in that category. So, if you want to try an older racing game, you could really do a whole lot worse than Excitebike. This game is definitely worth trying for a few hours.


Furthest point in game: Selection A: made it all the way to track 5’s first attempt. Selection B: made it to the second round of the third track.

General gameplay: 22/25
Replay value: 8/10
Graphics: 10/10
Audio: 4/5

Overall rating: 88%

Drew Wilson on Twitter: @icecube85 and Google+.

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