Excitebike (NES)

Game Review

Excitebike Review

USA USA Version

Posted by Dave Letcavage

Excitement revisited

With all of the Excitebike-related titles to grace a Nintendo console over the past ten years, we’d be hard pressed to find any gamer that isn’t at least familiar with the brand. Numerous re-releases, a couple of spin-offs, a sequel, and a remake have garnered a mostly positive reception from critics and fans alike. So now that the classic NES Excitebike has bunny hopped its way onto the Wii U Virtual Console, we’re going to analyze whether or not this release is worth another lap around such a frequently visited track.

Let’s make one thing perfectly clear to those who don’t know; this is the same version of the original Excitebike that’s been living in your NES, crowding your Wii’s Virtual Console or going mobile on your 3DS. The only difference – besides a few visual enhancements in the 3DS adaptation – is the inclusion of off-screen play and Virtual Console restore points. Many will find these are handy features to have if you regularly fight for supremacy of the television or can’t cram all of their racing into a single sitting. Since fans of the game already know exactly what to expect here, it’s our place to fill the rest of you in on what Excitebike is all about.

Excitebike is a side-scrolling racer with a heavy emphasis on physics that add a unique level of strategy to the proceedings. There are four lanes to switch between and you’ll have to utilize them all to avoid the other riders and obstacles. Much like a typical motocross event, players will have to traverse many hills of different sizes and inclines, which is where the physics come into play. Any gamers familiar with the explosively addicting modern Trials series should know that this is probably where the inspiration for those games came from; the price of admission to this event might be worth it to you if only for a brief history lesson.

One of our favourite things about Excitebike is that it’s easy to play yet tough to master. The A-button is used to accelerate, the B-button is for turbo and the directional pad is used to switch lanes and traverse the lofty terrain. Holding back when climbing a hill will shoot you high into the air, but a shorter distance, whereas holding forward will throw you forward at a greater speed, though you won’t catch as much air. Once airborne, it’s up to you to balance the bike for a smooth landing to avoid a loss of momentum. This is actually much tougher than it sounds and will take a deal of practice to maintain your top speed and set course records.

Where many people may strike issue with the game is its length. There are three modes available; Selection A which is a time trial mode, Selection B where you’ll race against other riders, and Design where you can design your own course and race on it – a feature ahead of its time. There are five tracks in total which can be conquered in a ten minute session and offer no real reward for successful completion. This lack of a goal to work towards means the game is best suited for short sessions, and ideally makes a great companion for a mobile device like the 3DS.

It’s safe to say that Excitebike has aged considerably well when you take into account that it debuted on the NES nearly 30 years ago. The frame-rate is silky smooth, the skill-based gameplay is as satisfying as ever and while the visuals are heavily reminiscent of an Atari game – mostly due to the colour palette – they’re solid nonetheless. Length aside, where the game stumbles a bit is in some of the questionable design choices.

One of the greatest challenges you’ll face is navigating the unpredictable riders that shift lanes, seemingly without reason. Once a collision occurs, you’ll be cast to the side of the course and need to mash the A-button to get back on your bike and on with the race. Sometimes this is out of your control and a bit too unforgiving when just a couple of crashes can cost you a top place. Wait until you bite it on the upside of a hill then have to wait to tumble over it, down it, and then get back on your bike. Say goodbye to 10 seconds.

Another thing that’s quite striking is the omission of music while racing. Instead you’ll have to listen to the obnoxious growl of your engine constantly fluctuating; then there's the squeal that comes from indulging in a turbo boost. We abstained from its assistance whenever possible. Fortunately, audio inadequacies rarely affect gameplay and most gamers may not even take notice. If it’s any consolation, the classic Excitebike intro music is still as charming and exemplary as it was all those years ago.

In recent years we’ve seen something of an Excitebike resurgence in the form of 3D Classics: Excitebike for the 3DS and Excitebike: World Rally for WiiWare. The former retrofits the original Excitebike to take advantage of the 3D capabilities exclusive to the handheld, whereas the latter gives the series a polygonal facelift while keeping the core gameplay intact and beefing up the package with new features. If you could only choose one of these versions – and that includes the one we’re reviewing – we’d recommend World Rally because it’s the most refined, plus it provides plenty of content to keep you engaged and coming back for more.

There’s no doubt that the quality of the core gameplay is what compels Nintendo to continually make the Excitebike experience available on all of its hardware. It may not be the longest ride, and it’s definitely not perfect, but it’s a classic nonetheless and at least deserves a look.


Does Excitebike’s arrival on the Wii U Virtual Console warrant another romp through the mud? Well, that depends on what version you may already own. With a number of re-releases and a remake available on the market, it may seem a bit pointless to double dip. But if the Wii U is your sole Nintendo console, and you’re a virgin to the series, it couldn’t hurt to get familiarized with this quality – if flawed – NES launch title. Just don’t expect to get a lot of mileage out of it.

From the web

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User Comments (28)



bezerker99 said:

@DRL - Great Review! You nailed everything that's awesome about Excitebike here!! Yeah, no music during the races - it just makes then more intense and 'excite'ing, imo!



Shiryu said:

I had a Commodore Amiga back then but this, this game right here showed me the ingenuity of Japanese game making, how to make something so addictive with such a simple concept and such humble hardware.



Erock said:

Its an ok game, but I'd rather have RC Pro Am on the virtual console over Excitebike.



GermenatorHue said:

This game has really stylish 8-bit graphics, looked cool then and looks cool now.

@Ryno Come on.. DO IT.. Get to ze eZschop!



Giygas_95 said:

It's all right, but I already have the 3D classics version.

Oh, and I finished 12th grade today.



Zodiak13 said:

@Five-seveN Congrats. You do off campus/homeschooling? Because I've been homeschooling my son, and I like it. Get to use my teaching degree for something useful now.



DRL said:

@bezerker99 Thanks! I get what you mean, though the engine started grating on my nerves during longer play sessions.

@Five-seveN Congrats! Enjoy your early start to summer.



Giygas_95 said:

@DRL @Zodiak13 @Philip_J_Reed Thanks! And to Zodiak13, I used Abeka Christian homeschooling. It's great being able to stay at home and do school, but you can't ask questions which was a little frustrating at times.

Anyway, I like how the 3D effect in the 3D classics version of this game works. It looks neat, but the gameplay is just a little on the boring side in my opinion.



zipmon said:

@DRL Great review mate! This game is one of the main reasons I still break out Animal Crossing on the GCN every once in a while

And big congrats @Five-seveN!



Geonjaha said:

Clenches at continual misuse of the word virgin in society.

I definitely wont be getting this. The 3D Classic version is the best and I got it while it was free - didn't enjoy it though so I'm kind of glad I did.



WaveBoy said:

Available on Cart, GBA classics, The Wii's VC, 3DSWare and now on the Wii U. Oh boy! now i can play the same game for the 5th time! Snore*

Really though, this game rocks! Especially the 3DS version.
It's just a shame that there's no in-game music...It would of made a world of a difference.



Prof_Elvin_Gadd said:

As I already have this, one of my favorite games as a child, on 3DS I won't be getting it for Wii U. This leads to a bit of a concern I have for Nintendo...
(stop reading here if you are a mindless drone )

Nintendo needs to allow purchased VC games playable on both their home and handheld consoles. I believe they are headed in this direction, and I have written them countless times, as a game designer myself, encouraging them to do so. Even if it were for an extra fee, say 99 *cents (*insert your own form of currency) it would be great. I don't see the point, other than greed on their part, in keeping it how it is currently. If Nintendo wants to keep pace with the monstrosity that is cell phone gaming they will change their ways on this matter. I believe they will, eventually, but everything is eventual. I love Nintendo and will always encourage them, and hope they will strive to be the best gaming company on our beautiful planet. I am not entitled, this is just a good business practice and will lead to more love from users which is always a good thing.



Dpullam said:

I found that creating tracks in the 3D Classics version was quite fun. I also felt that playing it in 3D improved the experience greatly for me. This game can be pretty fun once you start nailing jumps perfectly and improving your high scores since one tiny mistake can cost you valuable time.



brooks83 said:

Are you still able to save your track designs like you could in the Wii VC version? Or am I thinking of a different game...



R-L-A-George said:

@Zodiak13 know your limits. My mom kind of overestimated herself. Three things I find important; let your kid be creative, painting, crafts, and science experiments. Let your kid socialize, especially outside with not just homeschool kids. Also sports and recrea tionalclasses are great. Pardon my phone is a bit frustrationg so the edit too long.



Williaint said:

I own almost as many Downloaded Excitebikes, as I do versions of Ocarina of time : /
I'd Love to See a new Excitebike 64. Great game.



DRL said:

@Williaint @Bass_X0 Would love to at least see Excitebike 64 on the Virtual Console. I haven't played it in ages but I remember it being a blast.

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