Let us consider the life lessons of Excitebike.
Excitebike is a racing game featuring the player scooting along on his little (excite) motorcycle. Like any racing game, the goal is to get to the finish line in the shortest time possible. Like its spiritual descendant, Uniracers, Excitebike is stuck in a 2-D plane, so “racing” is nothing like modern 3-D affairs. Basically, your job is to steer your racer around and over obstacles, and carefully gauge your engine’s temperature. Keep cool metaphorically and literally, and you’ll come out on top. Fail to properly right your cycle or overheat your engine, and, well, kiss the checkered flag good-bye. It’s one of those “basic” early Nintendo games that is pretty straightforward in a one paragraph description, but can be difficult to get right every time during the heat of the race. Or you can just watch Excitebiker roll around like a tumbleweed, and get your jollies from the suffering of pixel people.
Obvious perversions aside, though, there are a few things that separate Excitebike from the typical “racing genre” fair. For one thing, there isn’t really a “grand prix” as we know it, and, aside from saved (temporarily) “best times”, there isn’t any real progression in the game (or, to be more precise, you don’t lose any progression after placing 30th). And the other big, confusing change for anyone used to typical racing games: there is no such thing as a “place”. Whether there are other racers on the track or you’re just by your lonesome, all that matters is your final time, and you may place “first” even if you saw a bunch of other losers cross the finish line ahead of you. Speed is king, the end.
And that is important.
There are two modes in Excitebike: Selection A and Selection B. This was pretty common back in the old days of NES games, but, while I’m still trying to determine the distinction between Mode A and Mode B of Donkey Kong (is Mario wearing a different hat? No, that looks the same), SA and SB of Excitebike are very distinctive. Selection A is what might be today considered the Time Trial Mode. It’s just you and the (not so open) road, and your job is to get the best time available. All the same obstacles and pitfalls are here in SA, there are simply no other racers around to interrupt your perfect jumping. SB, as one might expect, winds up being more difficult, as it is very likely another racer is going to knock your biker down a few pegs. Perfect jump, perfect landing… and you’re still rolling around in the dirt because another racer happened to get in your way. Hell is other excitebikers.
But therein lies the lesson. One way to interpret the other racers is as mobile, marginally invincible impediments (you technically can trip another biker by hitting their rear tire… but your only reward for such an action is the smug feeling of causing another biker pain). On the other hand, you can watch your opponents, and actually learn.
Excitebike originated on the Nintendo Entertainment System in 1984. Nintendo Power officially launched four years later, though the Nintendo Fun Club (which you should join, Mac) Newsletter was available a year earlier. This was also a time when “‘intenda games” were new and novel, and most adults did not expect a videogame to feature gameplay more complex than Pac-Man. FAQs? Tips and tricks? Classified information? Tips straight from the pros? There was none of that available to a player, and the best any school kid could hope for was some legit advice from a fellow gamer who miraculously wasn’t blathering about some nonsense cheat code to get Princess Toadstool naked. It was also a lot more likely that your source for videogame news was your best friend’s older brother, a scary individual that once sent you home in a garbage can when you claimed you could win at Duck Hunt. He wasn’t going to give you any tips, or he was, but you wouldn’t be able to hear them above the sound of endless noogies.
But Excitebike Selection B, that was something special. Mario got the tiniest of “attract” demos, Zelda got an intro enumerating all those magical items you’d never find, but Excitebike had a demonstration baked directly into the game. Don’t know how to properly balance your cycle after a jump? Watch. Afraid you’re going to hit that ramp the wrong way? Watch. How do you hurdle those… hurdles? Pop your bike back into the upright position, and watch. The computer plays fair, and you may watch that AI do everything right, and thus you can do everything right. No more do you have to rely on playground gossip to be the best excitebiker out there; just watch, and learn from the pros.
And that’s the true lesson of Excitebike. You can stick to Selection A, play by yourself, and have a fun time. But if you don’t know what you’re doing, how about taking a lesson from your betters? How about hitting that Selection B, and seeing what all the real bikers are up to? Sure, it might be difficult getting stomped by the veterans zooming around the track, but every scrape and tumble is making you a better biker. Learn from your mistakes, learn from their mistakes, swirl all that information around in the blender that is Excitebike, and drink a delicious slurry of experience.
You’re allowed to see other people as moving obstacles. Or you can view them as a way to improve, and ultimately make your own life better for it. The selection is up to you.
FGC #309 Excitebike
- System: Nintendo Entertainment System, and… uh… a surprisingly high number of other systems. Arcade and 3DS come to mind, but I want to say there was a Gameboy Advance release in there, too. Oh, and that blasted NES Mini while we’re at it.
- Number of players: Let’s include Vs. version, and say two. One way or another, this was a great game for competing with one controller to see who got the best times.
- So how does Design fit into this life philosophy? Uh… some people like to blaze their own trails, I suppose. There, that sounds right. Make your own excitetrack, like the Buddha.
- Did you know? Excitebike: Bun Bun Mario Battle Stadium was a Japan-only Satellaview remake of Excitebike that featured the Super Mario Bros. ensemble. The gameplay was largely unchanged, and the graphics were very reminiscent of Mario Kart, but it’s fairly notable for being the first game with a “friendly” competitive Wario. In case you’re curious, yes, he was still completely obsessed with coins.
- Would I play again: Probably. Excitebike is a fun little game to play for five minutes, and it seems to pop up here and there on random retro releases. So I’ll probably play it again, but mostly by accident.
What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Dragon Quest Heroes: The World Tree’s Woe and the Blight Below! How many slimes can we kill in five minutes? Let’s find out! Please look forward to it!