In 1984 Shigeru Miyamoto released Excitebike for the Famicom system in Japan and in 1985 it released in the US on the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES). It was the first real taste of what could be done with motorcycle racing games.
From the moment you turn the game on you are greeted with welcoming racetrack music that doesn’t sound awful with the 8-bit sounds available.
Simplicity is key with this game (for the most part) the menu only has 3 options Selection A, Selection B and Design. Now these aren’t exactly straight forward with what the choices of mode may be but everyone now knows they’re A is single player time trials and the main game mode. B is still single player but you are racing against AI racers. Design is the only on that really tells you what your in for its a basic track editor.
Selection A is basically the only one anyone ever chooses its the best part of the game. As I said before this is the main game, it is essentially single player time trials. You can pick from 5 different tracks all of which are fairly unique in track styling, color scheme and difficulty. The point is to complete two laps and beat the fastest track time. Now as we have seen with the menu they didn’t want to be very forth coming with the information in this game for some reason on the HUD it displays very clearly the time for third place….? I don’t fucking get it, in what world would I want to know the third place time over the first place. If the all knowing Ricky Bobby has taught me anything its that if you ain’t first your last. Fortunately as you ride along you will see on the wall of the track they have the first place time posted.
This game for being so old and so simplistic seeming it is very advanced and ahead of its time in many ways. The HUD itself is supposed to be a first person view of riding a motorcycle, [below] pioneering the way for the incredible in car graphics we have in games like the NFS and Forza franchises.
The controls are simple yet groundbreaking up and down steer you on the 4 layer track which is very quick and responsive. The left and right buttons however shift your riders weight which is very useful and needed to hit some ramps perfectly and clear the triple sets of hills. My favorite part about shifting the weight is that you hold left you can pop and ride wheelies down the track, to my knowledge this is the first game that you can do a wheelie on a motorcycle. The A button is gas and B which most would think for braking is actually an overdrive button which is incredibly useful (I wish I was a smarter kid, I never understood its usefulness, I just knew you would go a bit quicker and eventually overheat which really just made me avoid using the button all together.) when you hit some ramps you can use the overdrive button and it gives you a lot more torque and really gets you over the steep hills and jumps. Finally crashes, they are amazing and fucking annoying. When you crash your rider rolls to the flattest spot of the track it can then throws you from the bike and you have to get back on. It is amazing because this is one of the first games I can think of that had a recovery system, when you are hurled from your bike if you mash the A and B buttons your rider will really hustle his way back the the bike. [below]
The annoying bit besides just the crash itself is that if you crash during say hitting a ramp over a 2 set of smaller triangle hills and you case it on the second one you will roll over the remaining 1 until you get to the flat its an absolute pain in the ass. [below]
Now don’t let any of my complaints detract from the game because they are just minor inconveniences in a great game. The game play itself is absolutely fantastic! Except for in Selection B mode which is fun but its a fucking madhouse.
Selection B the one that was never used in my house hold as a kid. Honestly until going back and replaying the game for this article I had no idea what Selection B even did. I went into it thinking all right this will be more of a challenge than the Selection A time trials. You begin at the starting line the same as before just with 3 other racers at the gates with you.
Now you would think being presented with this starting situation here that you would only race against those 3 other racers who start at the gate with you.. right? FUCKING WRONG!!!!!!!!!!
There are racers everywhere! If you over take all of them and go a screen in front of the pack you will just find another pack of racers. If you slow down and let the initial racers pass you many more will come up from behind. If the amount of racers isn’t enough to annoy you then the crashes will. There’s no real way of controlling it. Sometimes guys will ram you from behind and they will crash and others you crash. I can’t tell how many times I’ve tried to pit maneuver the opponents and end up wrecking myself. The scoring also is weird since there are so many racers physical placing to win the race doesn’t actually matter the only thing that matters is again time. Which begs the question of why bother putting this mode in the game at all? If time trials are all that matters for winning and you can’t play 2 player races than what was the real point in putting this madness they call Selection B in the game at all? Because even though its some of the most agonizingly frustrating bits of game play it is insanely fun. The moments that you trying to crash those little AI bastards (who always get the cooler colored tracksuits & bikes) when you actually wreck them and take the lead it feels amazing. Also when you do finish the race knowing you won and your little red racer pops that wheelie in triumph and you hear those triumphant notes hit your ears you know you’re the champion of Excitebike!