I've already used the perfect announcer intro in my
Madness 2 review,
I've got nothing as near as catchy an introduction for
this review; so without any further delay, I present
to you my opinions on Excitebike 64:
First of all, it is an extremely hard game. Novice difficulty
presented next to no challenge, but after that, things
can get a bit grisly. I'm getting ahead of myself, however,
so allow me to start at the beginning.
There is a helpful little tutorial in the beginning
for the...beginner. Although the tutorial is completely
boring, there are two reasons to play it: First, the
last couple lessons teach some advanced turning techniques
that prove quite valuable. Second, completing the tutorial
unlocks one of the "secrets" of the game. I say "secrets"
because they aren't hidden, just locked. Perhaps the
coolest secret: the entire original Excitebike from
the NES. The last secret might be cooler, but I don't
want to spoil it for you.
The controls of Excitebike take a bit of getting used
to. I'd recommend starting with either Jumpin' Jim Rivers
or Sarah Sugar Hill, as they are the two easiest bikers
to start out with. Even with one of these two, cornering
is an art form that takes much rehearsal to master.
Jumping can also challenge the novice biker. I should
rephrase that, actually -- jumping is relatively easy;
landing is the challenge. Due to physics that aren't
exactly Newtonian, a bad landing does not always equal
pain for bike and rider. However, landing on a downward
slope at a proper angle helps maintain speed. Through
leaning backward or forward, speed and distance can
be regulated. Mastering this technique may take a bit
of effort. Overall, a couple of hours will make most
anyone a fairly decent racer.
After the tutorial, the main portion of the game consists
of the novice, amateur, and pro difficulty levels. When
setting out, only the bronze round of the novice difficulty
level is open. To unlock the silver round, one must
finish a season in the bronze round in first place,
overall. Continuing along in this manner will eventually
get you to the platinum round of the pro difficulty,
provided you've got what it takes to get there. The
bronze and silver rounds contain tracks that are not
too difficult. The gold and platinum rounds contain
much more difficult tracks, but the gold round also
contains my favorite track in the entire game, "The
Gravel Pit." What can I say; I'm a sucker for insane
amounts of air.
Overall, the track design on Excitebike 64 is pretty
good. There are two types of tracks during the bronze-platinum
rounds. The first type is the stadium/supercross type
tracks. Bales of hay on the sides...mounds of dirt for
leaping -- you know what I mean. Starting from the first
course, a simple oval, these three-lap runs only get
better. Even this is quite fun to play on, due to how
well the ramps are done. In fact, I would say that is
what makes the levels so good, for the most part. There
are large varieties of different ramps, jumps, and obstacles.
The indoor levels may look fairly similar, but they
all feel quite unique.
It is actually the other type of course that lends itself
to the large variety of track designs, however. These
courses are of the "cross country" variety, over various
types of terrain. A couple favorites of mine include
a desert run called "Canyon Chasm." I'm sure you can
figure out why I like it. The course is just a blast,
aside from chasm jumping, anyway. As I mentioned above,
I am also a big fan of "The Gravel Pit," as massive
air, well-done design, and a couple of extra fun shortcuts
make it a biker's dream. I still can't set any records
for time on it, though.
Overall, there are twenty courses, spread over the five
rounds. Of course, if that is not enough for you, there
is an excellent and easy to use track editor. Understandably,
the only tracks you can make are the ordinary stadium
type. You can choose from banked or normal turns, about
twelve different ramps, and three surfaces (dirt, mud,
or sand) for the course. Of course, there is also the
ability to create your own ramps. Unfortunately, both
the beginning and end of the piece have to be at an
altitude of zero, but within the length of the piece
the altitude can dip or rise all over the place. I was
able to create a pretty decent course after a couple
of tries, but the first couple attempts all had ramps
that resulted in the dreaded "bike-in-the-crowd syndrome."
Now comes the special/secret tracks. Two of them are
immediately unlocked; the rest take some work. The first
is the desert -- similar to the Baja events on Motocross
Madness 2, the Desert is a journey into randomness.
On a randomly generated desertscape with randomly placed
gates (in the form of small fires), it creates a new
experience every time. For those of you that read my
Motocross Madness 2 review, you may remember that I
was a big fan of the randomness that Baja events offered.
The Desert even has a couple of pros and cons over the
Baja. On the plus side is the fact that it is much easier
to stay on your bike, and that there is much less view-obstructing
(and crash-causing) vegetation. The negatives are the
fact that it is completely easy to get first place,
for the most part (no difficulty levels for Desert);
and while there may be infinite possibilities, they
are all in the same desert that looks pretty identical.
A bit of visual variety is always a good thing.
The Stunt Course is up next. Now, it sounds like something
that would be extremely fun, considering my opinions
on massive air and tricks (see my
Tony Hawk's Pro Skater (N64) review).
Against all odds, however, I find this pretty boring.
The controls for the tricks are not the most innovative
(they are comparable to the special moves of Street
Fighter games), and the air really isn't that massive.
I've only given the Stunt Course a couple runs, and
I doubt I will end up back there any time soon.
The next special track is the original Excitebike from
the NES. I was a huge fan of it when it was originally
released, and I remain so. Unfortunately, I also remain
quite horrible at it.
After that comes the strangest of the special tracks:
Soccer. You heard me: Soccer. There is a gigantic soccer
ball, the players are split into two teams, and they
ram the ball in an attempt to get it into the opposing
goal. It sounds like it would be completely lame, but
I had a fairly good time playing it. I prefer the regular
Next comes the Hill Climb. It's pretty self-explanatory,
but I'll explain it for you anyway: there's a big, steep
hill, and you have to climb it (on your bike, of course).
It's pretty tough, and not too fun, but kind of an interesting
change of pace. This leaves one final secret, but it
is way too cool for me to mention at this point in time.
Trust me; you will like it.
So that pretty much wraps up your single player options
(aside from Soccer, which is multiplayer). The only
other multiplayer pleasures for the Excitebiker are
exhibition races and custom track races. You can race
exhibition-style on any of the races from the four rounds,
on any difficulty. You can make the races up to six
laps long. You are limited to four bikers at a time,
human or AI controlled. Multiplayer is a world of fun,
because you can "gladiate" (in the words of my friend)
your fellow racers, and as we all know, causing pain
to friends via video games is a very special joy.
Of course, this all looks rather pretty. The stadium
courses do suffer a bit because of similarity, but the
variety of the cross-country helps a lot. The riders
and bikes are all brightly colored; a little too bright,
but decent. Crashes can be pretty entertaining, but
not nearly so much as on Motocross Madness 2. There
is a certain type of crash that I have dubbed "the sun
exploding again". Certain walls, when properly nudged,
cause a certain explosive death, thus earning the nickname.
On the sound front, there are some ups and downs. The
music contains a really terrible rap song, and then
some fairly decent background music for the race. The
incessant engine sounds can get a bit annoying, but
they are covered by the slightly less annoying commentator
and background music.
A quick sentence that deserves it's own paragraph: the
game ran with nary a technical issue.
So there you have it...my look at Excitebike 64 is at
an end. For the lazy people that just skipped down to
the end, the game is quite good and very challenging.
The graphics are pretty good, the sound is decent, and
the game is technically sound.