Saturday, July 5, 2014

Emulator Hour: Excitebike (NES)

What I love about old NES games, especially the really good ones, is the simplicity.  I've talked about this before with another classic game:  The Legend of Zelda.   

Excitebike did nearly everything right.  Graphics, sound, play control. (level editor).  The design sensibilities are highly utilitarian, with very little flourish.  The graphics are nothing to write home about, but they are well designed and everything is clear.  The objects in the game consist of a series of simple shapes, all of which serve as obstacles for your racers.  There is something immediately appealing about those simple shapes, akin to building blocks.  And Nintendo gives you the gift of actually being able to sequence these shapes in any way you like, using the level editor.

The sounds are few, yet effective.  The starting beeps, the rev of the motor, the sound of a tumbling crash.  The motor, in particular, informs the player of the rate at which they will be overheating, allowing the player to use the sense of hearing and timing as well as sight, to control your speed.  And if you do overheat, on top of losing the ability to move for several precious seconds, you are tortured with a horrible beeping sound. 

A fun little 3d pixel art tribute to Excitebike, found at

The controls are simple.  You have two speeds, the ability to wheelie by pressing left (but don't go too far back or you're in for a tumble!) and you can use left or right to change your trajectory while in the air.  The physics of the game are consistent, and players will have an idea of the virtual weight of their bikes within the game.  I'd also like to mention the cool aggressive move whereby you can cause an opponent to crash by touching their front tire with your back tire.

Of course, this move helped only for a moment, because one thing Excitebike doesn't have is good enemy AI.  That is to say, the enemies aren't stupid, they just aren't really racing opponents, proper.  They never fall far behind, no matter how well you race or how many times you knock them down.  They are able to artificially speed up and slow down as suits them to plague the human racer.  And since the only acceptable rank in Excitebike is first, the opponents all conspire together to keep the player from winning.  Truly, Exitebike is not a racing game,  but more like a timed obstacle course with moving obstacles in the form of other racers.

And finally, another thing Excitebike doesn't do is that it doesn't allow for more than one player.  Perhaps this is for the very same design reason of the game being more of an obstacle course.  Perhaps it's because split-screen game design hadn't been invented yet.  But one thing I do know is that Nintendo did not fix these things in a sequel for another fifteen years, when the Nintendo 64 version was released.   Which is an entirely different game.  

I don't know why they didn't release a sequel on the NES with a few improvements.  The core design of Excitebike was solid enough that a sequel should have been well received with basic improvements throughout.  Multiplayer, actual racing, expanded track designs and editor.  Bam.  Sequel.  To the Time Machine!


for a better article about Excitebike Nostalgia, follow the above link!

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