Excitebike was released as a launch title for the Nintendo Entertainment System. Like fellow NES launch title Wrecking Crew, it is notable for its level design mode, which was groundbreaking at the time. In this game, you control a bike that races through tracks laden with hills and obstacles. Your goal is to get the fastest time possible. You can choose to race alone or with other bikes. Unfortunately, the other bikes merely serve as obstacles, only making the tracks slightly more difficult.
There are five tracks in Excitebike, giving the game a little variety. As Excitebike is strictly a time trial game, advancing to subsequent tracks requires the player to beat the third place time. Every track sports a different color. There are various pitfalls in each one, ranging from mud to speed bumps. The tracks are generally pretty wide, allowing for an element of maneuverability in evading obstacles. The thing Excitebike is probably most well known for, however, is the numerous ramps and hills on the courses that players can jump off. Making a perfect landing after a long jump is the pinnacle of the Excitebike experience.
The bike can be controlled in a number of ways, all of which feel completely natural. There are two gears: fast and slow. The downside of the fast gear is that you run the danger of overheating. Overheating will force your bike off the track for a second before you can continue. The slow gear is not as fast, but won’t make the bike overheat. Therefore, racing in Excitebike is a constant balancing act between maintaining speed and managing the overheat meter. This turns what would be a fairly dull and generic game into one that requires a little strategy. When it is airborne, the bike can be tilted back and forth, which is essential to landing jumps. If your tilt is off, you’ll crash. You can also hold back to execute a wheelie, which will allow you to pass speed bumps with ease. Although there are a number of strong points to this game, the control stands out as its most outstanding aspect.
The design-a-track mode stands as probably the most notable feature in Excitebike. However, it is not very intuitive. There is a list of letters ranging from A to S, each letter representing one of the various track pieces; it is difficult to remember which is which. Once a track is completed, it is fun to run through it a few times. Unfortunately, the lack of a save option does not allow the tracks to be saved. Although it is far from perfect, the track editor does add a little replay value to the game.
Like many other games of its time, Excitebike shows its age. Outside of the first track, the game pulls no punches with the challenge factor and can get fairly frustrating at times. The overall lack of music in Excitebike can also be a little off-putting; there’s a little intro theme and that’s it. In-game, the only thing to be heard are the various whirring sounds of bike engines. Unfortunately, this barebones approach was applied to the graphics as well, resulting in the game managing to look very bland despite the colorful tracks. Excitebike, while certainly a fun game, is only really good for a little diversion once in a while, and the lack of depth and lackluster presentation keep it from being something more.