Excitebike is one of Nintendo’s much older games, older even than Super Mario Bros. so if you’re someone who struggles to get into retro games, this probably isn’t going to be for you. In fact, when I first played it when I was a child, I thought to myself “Wow, this old game is rubbish.” But although my initial reaction was a rather negative one, I have slowly developed a small level of fondness for it.
So what is it? Essentially, it’s just a single player motorbike racing game. The race tracks are all “2.5D” I suppose, with a side on view of the Excitebiker riding along on their motorcycle, with the ability to move upwards and downwards across the various different lanes on the track. It’s useful to change between these lanes in order to avoid patches of grass, bumps on the track or to intentionally head towards ramps. The race tracks all look pretty similar (a fairly basic stadium set up, just in different colours) but you do get a fair bit of variety in terms of the different ramps and jumps spread out across them.
There are two modes, Selection A and Selection B. In the first of these, you go around the track on your own. This is intended for time trials, but I found it most useful to play for training purposes. Getting the jumps just right isn’t easy, because you have to position your rider so that the wheels are angled in the right way to land safely. If you fail to do this, you fall off the bike and have to watch them very slowly getting back on. Then in Selection B, you are racing against lots of other racers. You can ram into the other motorcyclists in order to knock them off their bikes, which is kind of fun, but they can do the same to you too. Beating them isn’t easy, so you’ll need to practise a lot in order to get good at these levels. There’s also a level designer… but you can’t save the levels, so it’s kind of pointless.
I think what made me think this game was rubbish initially is that its controls aren’t easy to grasp, it’s visually not very appealing and its premise is a very basic one. You have to hold down a button in order to make your bike go faster in order to properly compete with the other racers, but if you do it for too long, your bike overheats and you have to stop, but then you can also go over these strips on the track to cool it down. This can get annoying and positioning your bike just right for jumps and bumps on the track is really difficult as well. You’ll probably find yourself falling off the bike a lot. A lot of people will, fairly, decide that it’s not worth putting in the effort to get the hang of.
I guess for me, this is an acquired taste. Over time, I’ve grown kind of fond of its music (even though there’s only about one track) and the 8-bit sound of the motorbikes’ engines. Since Nintendo like to include Excitebike cameos in games (like Mario Kart 8 and Super Smash Bros. Brawl) I found myself encouraged to revisit it and over time, I slowly got used to it. Now I’m at the point where I can happily play and enjoy it for half an hour if I’m bored. But even I still struggle with it sometimes. I’m sure it seemed amazing to a child of the 80s, but today I’d only recommend it to dedicated Nintendo fans.