With the upcoming release of the Nintendo Entertainment System: NES Classic Edition (NA) / Nintendo Classic Mini: Nintendo Entertainment System (PAL), we're going to provide short profiles of all 30 games included on the system. This time around we look at Excitebike.
The upcoming Mini NES has a decent selection of games, but in some cases they're not necessarily the best versions of those titles - Donkey Kong, for example, will have seen better options available through downloads and Club Nintendo rewards. It may be a tiny console running ROMs, but Nintendo's pitch for 'authenticity' brings us wired controllers and, in some cases, Western versions of games that aren't even the best of their era.
It seems that Excitebike on the system will be another example of this, but that's not to talk it down too much. In fact, it'll still be one of the most fun dip-in games on the little console.
Let's start with the version we do have. It was a very early NES game, a launch title in the West in actual fact. Yet despite arriving in Japan in 1984 and the US in 1985, it's a title that blends simplicity and - like fellow NES launch title Super Mario Bros. - smooth sidescrolling. Yes, that's a remarkably simple feature to modern eyes, but at that time this game would have both impressed and charmed in equal measure.
Across multiple tracks the task is simple - accelerate, boost carefully (without burning out the engine), while dodging obstacles and other bikes. Up and down on the D-pad changes lanes, which is critical, while left and right are vital when taking jumps. Adjusting the landing angle is a critical part of play, as is leaning back when going over low obstacles; these simple but impeccable mechanics make this a rather fun and addictive game.
As for modes, you can either race solo in a Time Trial (of sorts) in type A, or switch to type B in which other bike riders make a nuisance of themselves; you can knock them down by cutting across their lane in front of them. There's also the option to create a course of your own, but in the NES original these can't be saved, just played and then lost forever. The NES Mini does have save state features, for example, so perhaps this is an area that's been resolved.
It's a classic, and this is a release that's also seen new life in a variety of forms. It was ported to the NEC PC-8801 and Sharp X1 in Japan, while Nintendo's homeland also had an expanded VS. edition on the Famicom Disk System. This featured an improved course creator that was not only easier to use, but also allowed players to save their creations. In addition music played during races, with local multiplayer VS. races also supported. This version arrived on the Wii U Virtual Console as a surprise treat for North American gamers in 2015.
There was also a 'VS.' version of the game in arcades, with this among many NES title to see a port into the coin-op world. Perhaps the most quirky version was Excitebike: Bun Bun Mario Battle Stadium on the Satellaview service, the intriguing modem-based online add-on for the Super Famicom in Japan. Naturally this version came long after the original (the Satellaview service began in 1995), and this version of the game featured Mario and other compatriots of the Mushroom Kingdom.
There have been some other ports, while the 'Excite' series saw some life on the Nintendo 64 and Wii. An interesting recent-ish sequel was Excitebike: World Rally on WiiWare, which recreated the classic gameplay formula in a new 3D engine, along with online play and an improved track editor. 3D Classics: Excitebike was also the first in that particular series and an early 3DS eShop arrival - so early, in fact, that we wrongly branded it as '3DSWare' in our review, as the eShop naming conventions were still vague at that time. That 3DS download was given away for free, initially, so many 3DS early adopters likely have this one in their collection.
In this modern era of simple, quickfire gaming experiences, the original Excitebike should stand up well. From a NES Mini perspective we're not getting the best version, simply as the iteration included in the West is single player only, lacking the competitive fun of the Famicom Disk System 'VS.' release. Authenticity is one thing, but that feels like a missed opportunity.
Nevertheless, for solo players that fancy some basic but addictive fun, this one is a solid option on the NES Mini. It's iconic, and it's still well worth a play.