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A title fondly remembered by any and all who played it. Introducing the thrill of motocross to millions who were years away from even thinking about a drivers license is one of the most popular and beloved of the Black Box titles, Excitebike!
Conceived in Tokyo late 1984, Excitebike was the first NES title that gaming gods Shigeru Miyamoto and Toshihiko Nakago worked on together. These two along with Takashi Tezuka are often regarded as Nintendo’s “Dream Team” and have worked together for over 25 years, developing titles you may have heard of like Super Mario Bros and Legend of Zelda.
The story goes that Miyamoto wanted Mario to ride a dinosaur right out of the gate but neither one thought the NES was capable of producing the exact feelings of accurately launching off ramps at high rates of speed and attempting to right your center of balance in mid-air. Determined to create a game that proved the NES was one malleable beast, they gathered that the physics for motorbikes was similar to what they were trying to accomplish with the unnamed Mario dino and Excitebike was born.
The game itself is a time tested classic. The graphics are bright, the variety of colors seem well thought out, and the music is classic NES fare, especially the catchy title screen tune. There are a total of two modes and 5 tracks but the action never feels dull or repetitive for a second. The first mode is a time trial where you are given a par time and must best it while dodging obstacles, aiming for ramps that shoot you into the stratosphere, and keeping an eye on your temp gauge to insure you don’t overheat. Overheating is one of the first challenges to overcome as having to wait for your bike to cool off can add precious seconds to your time. What’s awesome is that while A is your normal speed and B is your high speed, the game makes it impossible to not want to lean on B the entire time. There is definately strategy involved as to when to haul ass safely to your next opening in the action and when to slow things down so your don’t wreck or have to sit on the sidelines pissed off for a spell. Icons are laid out on the track as a sort of “instant cool down” for your engine and blend into the ramps, dirtpiles, and water puddles in a way to keep things intresting. The mechanics are simply amazing for the time as you can lean yourself forward or back in mid-air and it just feels right. Call it a lazy description but that is Excitebike as a whole, it just…feels…right.
The second mode is just as fun but three times the white knuckle inducing challenge. You play the same five courses, but now have other “Excitebikers” to contend with. Sometimes, if you do much as scratch them, you’re picking yourself and your bike up off the ground. In real motocross, I imagine even a tenth of a second worth of impact can be catastrophic for the racers so it adds a feeling of true danger to the game. It isn’t difficult in a way that feels cheap as much as it feels like the challenge dares you want to try again an hour after you turn it off, the mark of any great game.
Design Mode is exactly what it sounds like. You get your own NES canvas and get to paint it however you like. Starting with a completely bare track, there are 19 ways to litter it with shit that would drive anyone who tested your tracks out insane. The only bummer here is that it required the Famicom Data Recorder to save and load the tracks, which was never released outside Japan.
In the actual Excitebike manual, it states “Save and Load menu selections are not operable in this game; they have been programmed in for potential product developments.” Seeing as this isn’t part of the Sports Series of the Black Box titles and one of the Programmable Series, not having the peripheral that would’ve made an already epic game into an even bigger landmark title is kind of a let-down. Thankfully, the rest rules and eventually Miyamoto got to use the lessons learned here to create one of Nintendo’s top mascots of all-time, Yoshi.
THE FINAL VERDICT
9/10 A must have for every NES library, Excitebike is easily a title you can pop into the old grey box and still have a blast with. The physics are spot on, the fun factor is off the charts, and the challenge can go from beginner to ready to kick down walls. Good news is that Excitebike is one of the common carts, so this one can probably be found from $3 to $6 on average and worth every cent.
The Excitebike series, for as popular and endearing to the fans as it was, laid dormant until 2000’s Excitebike 64 here in North America. HOWEVER, there was a little invention called the Sattellaview that hooked in through the Super Famicom in Japan (it would take all night to go into detail exactly what it was, think Sega Channel, but Nintendo), and in 1997, they released the most mind-blowing version of Excitebike ever.
Excitebike: Bun Bun Mario Battle Stadium was a SNES port of Excitebike featuring characters straight from the Mushroom Kingdom! It is a fucking travesty that more people don’t know this game exists as the gameplay and all-around Excitebike awesomeness is 100% intact. This will be a first for me because I’m all about original carts but since this bad boy had no cart, I highly recommend emulating this unknown piece of history. Excitebike with updated graphics starring Mario characters? How they could pass up the millions of dollars this could have sold is way beyond me.