Early Famicon and NES games were very hit and miss but Excitebike was a staple of any collection worth its salt. Two game modes and a track editor helped this motocross racing game earn a place in the hearts of many players. Retro Faith takes a brief look back at this classic.
Excitebike was the first game that Shigeru Miyamoto and Toshihiko Nakago worked on together. With these two Nintendo giants behind the wheel, or handlebars, you know you’re in safe hands. It was released on the Famicon in 1984 and as a launch title for the NES in 1985. Excitebike is available to play today on the NES Mini and Switch Online NES.
The game consist of ten tracks broken into two competitions. The first is a simple one player game in a race against the clock. You can also take on the cpu controlled riders in the second mode. In both modes, however, you race against the clock. If you feel creative then head to the Design Mode to work on your own track using a simple editor. There is certainly enough challenge to keep you coming back to improve your time and score.
Each level has a different style and the difficulty increases as you progress. Finishing within the top three allows you to move onto the next track. Trying to get the best time requires you to learn each course and know where the ramps and other obstacles appear. It will become second nature to keep your eyes on the right of the screen looking out for the next jump. The only other feature are arrows that reduce your bikes temperature.
The temperature gauge increases as you accelerate your bike using the B button. If you fill the gauge you will crash your bike and will lose vital seconds as it cools down. Using the A button keeps you at a constant speed that does not increase the temperature gauge but is slower. This creates a risk and reward feature to the game. Go too fast and you blow the engine. Too slow and you will not beat the time to progress.
You move your bike up and down four positions on the track and will need to level the bike on jumps. Failing to do so will normally result in a crash or hitting a mud puddle that causes you to slow down. Excitebike’s simplicity is what makes it so genius. It is easy to pick up and start winning races but takes experience to progress to the later tracks. The relative shortness of the game also makes it a perfect fit for the Switch in handheld mode.
The graphics and sounds on Excitebike are minimalist in nature but this adds to its charm. This game is not trying to wow you it is giving you a perfect pick up and play experience. It is all about improving your times and balancing your temperature gauge to shave a few split seconds off. The presentation does what it needs to but do not expect any beautiful pixel art.
The only negative here is the lack of longevity. If Excitebike does not grab you then you will have little to come back for. Once the ten tracks have been beaten you are left with the track editor that, while fun, is very basic. During our playthrough we loved beating the game knowing that we can do it all again trying to improve.