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FGC #373 Aladdin (SNES) & Aladdin (Sega Genesis)

Wah WahIf you want to understand East vs. West gaming philosophies, look no further than Disney’s Aladdin for SNES and Genesis.

Disney’s Aladdin should require no introduction. At the time, it was “yet another” brilliant Disney animated musical, and came hot on the heels of other perennial favorites like Beauty and the Beast and The Little Mermaid. But Aladdin offered a rare opportunity: the story of Aladdin is one of swordplay and derring-do! It’s a boy’s story! And boys play videogames! Sure, Ariel made due with shoving seashells by the seashore, and Belle & Beast got their own boy and girl versions (it was a weird time), but Aladdin is an adventure story from start to finish. There’s an evil wizard, ancient sealed magical force, helpful monkey, and at least two dungeons. This is practically a JRPG before you introduce the princess with a pet tiger! Couple the dominance of Disney with a story that couldn’t be more suited to a 16-bit game if it had a mine cart, and you’ve got the perfect recipe for a generation-defining videogame.

And then we got two interpretations of that blockbuster.

On one side, we have (give me a second to flip a coin here) Aladdin for the SNES. This was a Capcom release, and it shows in every way. Cross Magical Quest: Starring Mickey Mouse with Ninja Gaiden for cinematics, drop any and all transformations, and add a Genie-based roulette wheel to bonus stages, and we’re good to go. There’s a rudimentary collectathon Weeeeelement for completionists, but otherwise, it’s a pretty straightforward platforming experience. Aladdin jumps, swings, and bops over enemies, and the most common monster appears to be a blind bird in a pot (really quite threatening, obviously). There are a pair of magic carpet rides for some dangerous/bonus variety, and, in the end, Jafar must be defeated by head-vaulting. Roll credits, move on to the next Capcom blockbuster.

On the other side, we’ve got Aladdin for Genesis. This is another platformer, but Aladdin has become blood-thirsty, and he’s gained a sick scimitar. Additionally, while Aladdin had apples for stunning on the SNES, now hurling fruit will damage opponents completely, effectively granting Al a gun. The animation is gorgeous, the levels are lush and creative, and there are even a few full-fledged bosses (whereas the SNES only had Jafar and one pissed off merchant). Even the bonus stages are fairly innovative, offering a fine excuse to control a monkey in a fez as he gathers treasure. Basically, the Genesis title has the same bones as its SNES cousin, but it seems to do so much more.

It’s also tremendously less fun to play.

WhammoOkay, sure, fun is subjective. I’m sure there are plenty of people out there that value the Gen Aladdin experience over SNES Aladdin’s more muted adventure. But there are quite a few items that make the Genesis title objectively worse. For one thing, many of the more labyrinthine stages feature “European” layouts, i.e. stages that zig and zag all over limited screen space, and it quickly becomes difficult to know if you’re actually making forward progress. Another obvious flaw is an overabundance of bottomless pits and other instant death traps that seem to litter every stage after Aladdin escapes the streets of Agrabah. Oh, and those bosses? They seem to exist exclusively to drain you of your apples, and, like bosses in a certain other franchise, it’s often difficult to know if you’re dealing damage at all. Basically, the minute you start really looking at the nuts and bolts of Genesis Aladdin, you’ll quickly notice every place where it falls apart.

But is it the poorer title? Well, I wouldn’t be so quick to jump to that conclusion.

Genesis Aladdin is known for having some of the smoothest, most amazing animation of the 16-bit generation, but focusing on that is unfairly ignoring its true greatest strength. Genesis Aladdin is creative to a fault. Aladdin the Movie might contain a story tailor-made for videogames, but it could still use a little expansion to round out the levels. Genesis Aladdin drops in an extra trip to the desert to claim beetle fragments, and a street-rat trip around the palace to eventually defeat Iago. In both cases, what could be trite, typical videogame levels pop with beauty and imagination, all while things like the pink flamingos in the Sultan’s massive pool style firmly tie the style to the source material. The animation is what catches everyone’s eye, but the little things, like a Sega Genesis hiding in the background of Genie’s lair, are what really make the game.

WeeeeMeanwhile, SNES Aladdin is an enormously competent platformer, but fails to add anything to Disney’s Aladdin. Your extra stage in SNES Aladdin is a pyramid, which kinda fits the story (supposedly Abu falls off the carpet on the way back from the Cave of Wonders… so did they take a detour to Egypt on their way? Not all deserts are the same!), but it’s about as generic as a videogame stage can get. Falling sands waterfalls (sanderfalls?),lit torches, and the general threat of the undead? It’s a pyramid, and this could be part of Aladdin, or any other videogame ever made. But what is there to complain about? Sure, squint and you could mistake Aladdin for Mega Man 4, but this is a damn fine platformer, and hopping and bopping around the pyramid feels as good as any given Mega Man title. And that is no small feat.

And, playing both of these games side by side in the far flung future of 2018, it seems these differences echo the state of gaming today.

I’m inevitably going to oversimplify, but it seems like when you compare Western “game of the year” titles to their Eastern counterparts, a few patterns emerge. Fallout and Elder Scrolls (Skyrim) titles are always amazing, right? They’re huge. They’re creative. They’re also buggy as hell, and, let’s be honest here, generally have improbably convoluted controls. Maybe I’m weird, but I feel like picking up a cheese wheel should be an easier experience than piloting a plane. Conversely, you have titles like Persona 5 or NieR: Automata that are amazing games… but their gameplay is often indistinguishable from their forebears. Bite!NieR: Automata is astounding! But its basic combat is Bayonetta-light (dodge! dodge! dodge!) with a dash of shoot ‘em up spliced in for good measure. And Persona 5 is stylish and rad… and could probably be effortlessly modded to be Persona 3. In other words, while we’re still seeing amazing advances in story-telling and what a videogame could even be, we’re still looking at a pretty overt split: Western titles are huge, imaginative, and often objectively worse to actually play, while Japanese titles are excellent, reliable games that rarely take obvious risks. Again, I’m well aware that I’m generalizing, and I’m not saying one technique is somehow better than the other, but it seems to be a trend that has been recurring since the 20th Century.

And it’s not a bad thing.

There is room enough in this world for two different interpretations of Aladdin. There is room on your shelf for Persona and Skyrim. And, if you’re lucky, you’ve got enough space in your heart for the Super Nintendo and Sega Genesis. Different strokes for different folks, and, if you can open yourself up to both experiences, more power to you. Some people like pet monkeys, some people go for tigers. There’s nothing wrong with either choice, and what’s important is that you enjoy what you have.

So the final winner in the Sega Genesis vs. Super Nintendo debates? Well, if you can accept the differences in both platforms, then, in the end, a winner is you.

FGC #373 Aladdin (SNES) & Aladdin (Sega Genesis)

  • System: You already know the obvious ones, but there was also a Gameboy, Nintendo, and DOS version, if you were in the mood. The Game Boy Advance version was a port of the SNES version, too, if memory serves.
  • Number of players: Never had a friend to play with. One.
  • Realistic Graphics: Hey, who do I speak to about making Sega Genesis Annoyed Jasmine a meme?

    Really think this one has legs.
  • Other differences: The interior of the Genie’s Lamp level appears in both versions, and that seems like another fine way to compare systems. The SNES Lamp is bright and pastel and… fluffy. The Genesis Lamp is dark and muted, but still just as magical with neon signs and flying pillows. Given how a number of other games turned out on both systems, the whole level seems indicative of the generation.
  • And they’re the same: Genesis is more like Battletoads, and SNES is more like a shoot ‘em up (just without the shooting), but both games interpret the escape from the Cave of Wonders as a one-hit kill, flying carpet-based race against lava. Some things are just inevitable, I suppose.
  • So cuteGoggle Bob fact: So the Sega Genesis version of this game was given to me by an ex. She was my girlfriend at the time, and, when I expressed an interest in replaying the title, she gave me the game without a second thought, likely happy to be rid of another piece of trash that was destined for Goodwill when she finally completely emptied out her childhood room. I, as someone who even then could only view my life through the lens of videogames, thought that giving up a beloved childhood game was the greatest sacrifice a human being could make for another. … I don’t really wonder why we’re no longer together.
  • Did you know? Aladdin was the highest selling game for the Sega Genesis not featuring a hedgehog. This likely had nothing to do with the advertising campaign that was running on all channels, all the time.
  • Would I play again: Either one might get a replay at random times. I have fond memories of both titles, and nostalgia will probably get the better of me one of these days. Then it’s back to hopping on snakes to save princesses.

What’s next? Random ROB is back, and he’s chosen… Destroy All Humans! for the PS2! Well, guess we have to do what the game says. Time for an extinction level event, I guess. Please look forward to it!

What?
Exploding skeletons?

FGC #341 Super Mario World 2: Yoshi’s Island

It says Super Mario World right thereI would enjoy Yoshi’s Island a lot more if I were at all capable of enjoying Yoshi’s Island.

Back when I was Wee Goggle Bob, Christmas was pretty much the only time I ever saw a new videogame (save birthdays, of course, but my birthday is way the hell over in April). I had no disposable income (or… income), but I did have well-meaning parents and grandparents, so every holiday would see at least one game. And, by about 1995, my family had determined that videogames were the only hunks of plastic capable of bringing me joy, so I basically became the boy who got everything he ever wanted. In one Christmas haul (combining gifts from all relatives, I want to be clear that no one member of my family was Scrooge McDuck) I received Chrono Trigger, Donkey Kong Country 2, Earthworm Jim 2, Secret of Evermore, Tetris Attack (I was excited about this… for some reason), and today’s featured title, Yoshi’s Island. It was an embarrassment of riches… only slightly offset by the fact that I had pneumonia and thought I would die at any given moment. Oh, hey, my family took pity on me, just got that. Errm… anyway… once I felt better, I had what was probably the best continuous run of gaming in my life, as playing the best games of 1995 one after another was some manner of nerdvana. Even now, I’m kind of jealous of my past self: can you imagine completing Chrono Trigger, and then immediately moving on to a fresh, new Donkey Kong Country 2? Ah, to imagine there was once such unmitigated joy in my life.

And, to be absolutely clear, all of the Christmas ’95 games I played over and over again. I rescued Princess Whatshername (aka cow). I tossed every hero coin at Cranky Kong. I practically memorized every stupid movie reference in Secret of Evermore. This also means that I scored 100 on every stage in Yoshi’s Island, played through each extra level, and I think I even managed to memorize some of the match card setups for the bonus games. I mean, I didn’t get a Yoshi’s Island tattoo (only Chrono Trigger gained that honor) but I did play the game often enough that the main themes are permanently etched into my mental jukebox. I played Yoshi’s Island a lot, and, even with other great games available, I was inordinately pleased with the insane amount of “stuff to do” on Yoshi’s lil’ island.

But now… Now I look at this…

It's a secret to everybody

And all I see is a threat.

Yoshi’s Island is the first “collectathon” Mario game. Despite what Advance remakes may tell you (wait… do people even remember the Advance versions anymore?), Mario was previously all about the running and jumping, and did not give the tiniest flip about hidden Yoshi eggs or eight red coins. And this was right and good! Mario started his rescuing career in the arcades, and “arcade experiences” aren’t about exploring vast virtual worlds, they’re about getting to the end of the stage as quickly as possible so you can impress that one kid with the greasy hair who probably comes from circumstances but gets really excited whenever you make it to the flagpole. That kid isn’t going to wait around and watch for you to score some damn hidden flower thingy!

Squishy!Actually, perhaps that’s The Illusion of Mario (perfect name for Super Mario RPG 2). There have always been secrets in Mario games. There have always been warp zones, negative zones (hey, an accidental secret is still a secret), hidden mushroom houses, alternate exits, and whatever the hell you had to do to turn a hammer bros into a magical ship o’ coins. The very first stage of Super Mario Bros. hid an invisible 1-up mushroom, and the next level dared you to break the boundaries of the world itself. Mario has always had plenty of bonus skeletons in his closet, from Super Mario Land to Super Mario World.

But Super Mario World 2 changed one important thing: it made the secrets mandatory. Yes, you can complete any given stage in Yoshi’s Island without touching a single red coin or flower, but, whether your explore every nook and cranny or dash like a mad dinosaur, you’re going to be judged at the end of the level. You can beat the game as an unaware lizard, but it also means being scored at a sad, sad 34 on every other stage. That’s not a passing grade! That’s barely even a valid number!

But let’s assume you decide to play along with Yoshi’s Island’s little scoring scheme. Let’s say you realize that Yoshi has the most robust movement scheme ever in a 2-D Mario game (egg tossing, butt stomping, repeated flutter jumping, and that’s all before you get into the vehicle morphs and Super Baby), and that it’s only natural the good people at Nintendo would fill SQUISH!every stage to the brim with stuff for our favorite steed to do. So you want to be the best you can be, and you try in every level. You go for the gold, do your best, but still miss a coin or star here and there. A 97? 99? That’s a pretty great score! Don’t forget to stomp every last piece of dirt! You’re doing swell!

And it doesn’t mean shit.

Yoshi’s Island demands perfection. If you score a flawless 100 on a stage, that’s great! If you “achieve” anything else, sorry, you may as well have not tried at all. And, don’t worry, this isn’t just a matter of looking at a strategy guide and mapping out the best route to red coins, you’ve got a few “random” factors, like…

  • Flying shyguys (Flyguys?) with red coins that will scroll off the stage forever
  • Flashing Eggs that may be lost before they’re ever used
  • The slightest tap from any enemy near a goal post will reduce your star count
  • Ditto on giant bosses that live to ruin your stars
  • Invisible Red Switch hidden areas
  • Auto scrolling stages
  • Auto scrolling stages and Flyguys
  • Those goddamn Bandit enemies

GET IT!?Fall victim to any one of these pitfalls, and, sorry, the only solution is suicide (in the game! Don’t do anything rash!) or restarting the level from scratch. And Yoshi’s Island does not feature short levels, oh no, these things are easily three times the length of any given SMB stage. And if you manage to surmount your previous trials and tribulations, but miss somewhere that didn’t trip you up the first time, don’t worry, you still have to repeat the stage, because perfection is mandatory for that all-important 100.

But don’t worry. You don’t have to get a 100. You don’t have to get a 100 at all. All imperfection means is that you’ll play less game, have less fun, and leave portions of Yoshi’s Island completely unfinished. You’re okay with that, right?

Well, I’m not. Shocking but true: I absolutely can’t deal with anything less than perfection in Yoshi’s Island. I know I’ve found these red coins before. I know I’ve beaten Tap Tap without taking a hit. I know I can discover that Poochy ain’t stupid on my own, so why the hell haven’t I gotten a hundred on this damn fuzzy stage yet!? Oh, there was a jump plate hidden in the sky? That makes perfect sense.

Get Biz-aySo, unlike practically every other Mario game (give or take a few stressful blue coins), I find myself incapable of enjoying Yoshi’s Island. I know, conceptually, that I can avoid the coins. I know I can just boot up that beloved SNES cartridge and play all the levels I want. I know there’s probably a 100% unlocked ROM floating out there somewhere that would alleviate all my woes. I know, somewhere deep down, there’s that enjoyable experience from twenty years ago lurking somewhere around Yoshi’s Island. But now, in my mind, it’s buried beneath a pathological need to acquire flowers and avoid the unshaven. Thus, Yoshi’s Island becomes less “a way to unwind” and more “work”. Work isn’t fun. Work is stressful, and that’s Yoshi’s Island to me.

Yoshi’s Island, the best, most fun game that I absolutely cannot enjoy.

FGC #341 Super Mario World 2: Yoshi’s Island

  • System: Super Nintendo. Do we count the Gameboy Advance version, too? No. No Super FX Chip, no sale.
  • What about the SNES Classic? Oh, that too. Yes, I did use the SNES Classic as the perfect excuse to test Yoshi’s Island. Or the other way around? Something like that.
  • Number of players: This was the first Super Mario Bros. title to be only one player. Now a Super Mario Bros. game that is multiplayer is a friggen event, and nobody is expecting Mario and Luigi co-op in New Donk City. I blame Yoshi. Again.
  • ZOOOMFavorite Level: World 2-Special is a rollercoaster ride of red switches that can, incidentally, be completed in all of a minute. It also still manages to contain all the mandatory Yoshi’s Island doodads. This is the game I want to play.
  • Unsolved Mysteries: Who is Huffin Puffin, the chubby bird in party pants, and what is his deal? Why is it okay to steal his (her?) children? Why are said children natural boomerangs? What is the origin of those pants? Now I’m stressed out all over again!
  • Just play the gig, man: I already said that this music was burned into my brain, but I’d like to note that, when I’m in “creepy” situations, I naturally whistle the intro to the final Bowser battle. Bum bum bum buuuum bah bump. Bum bum bum buuuuum bah duuu~uump.
  • Did you know? There are some extremely minor and seemingly superfluous changes to the various icons (oh yeah, I miss having a real map screen, too!) across international versions, but you have to appreciate that they properly colored the SNES buttons purple (as opposed to Super Famicom rainbow) for the US controls button.
  • Would I play again: Probably not. I acknowledge this game is good. I also acknowledge that I hate playing this good game. Sorry.

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Taiko Drum Master for the Playstation 2! It’s pretty much guaranteed that I’m going to beat this game. Ha ha ha. Mercy. Please look forward to it!

OH MY!

FGC #330 Kirby and the Amazing Mirror

KAHBY!There is only one Mario. There is only one Donkey Kong. Bowser has a shallow gene pool, but he is the only King of the Koopas. There are not multiple Fox McClouds, just one singular Captain Falcon, and if you see another Samus Aran, it’s an alien parasite mimic of some sort. Even some Nintendo mascots that are supposed to be species are generally regarded as singular. Yoshi is that “one” Yoshi from Super Mario World, and Pikachu is “Ash’s Pikachu”, star of stage and screen. Leads are supposed to be singular, and no one wants to explain to an audience how there are multiple Mickey Mouses or Supermans. We want unique heroes, and the most successful companies are happy to deliver.

Oh, and then there’s Kirby. Nothing makes sense about Kirby.

Kirby was established as singular in his first outing. Kinda. Anyone that ever beat back the nefarious King Dedede knows that when Kirby returned the stolen food to the good people of Dreamland, they appeared to be… Kirbys. Plural. Granted, they’re only seen in silhouette, but Kirby(s) has a pretty distinctive shape. You could probably chalk this up to Kirby’s Dreamland being nothing more than the start of the Kirby Expanded Universe, and also being eternally tied to very limited hardware. Future versions of Kirby’s Dreamland rewrote Dreamland as a place populated by its own unique species, and the army of hungry Kirbys were forsaken for a more solitary hero. But even when Kirby is alone, he is many. Ever beat a world with our favorite creampuff? Think it… strange that the individual Kirby will split into three to dance with himself upon victory? Shouldn’t he have used that ability earlier, when he was actually fighting the boss, and not just to dance on its grave? Is this some kind of after image thing? Is he moving too fast for even saiyan eyes? Kirby is full of mysteries!

Stupid cupidBut the origin of multiple of Kirbys is no mystery in Kirby and the Amazing Mirror. Dark Meta Knight (the version of Meta Knight that is black instead of dark blue) has escaped from the mirror-verse, and dices Kirby into four inexplicably differently colored kirbys. The quad o’ kirbys all vow revenge, and venture through the mirror-verse, occasionally using a cell phone (that Kirby likely accidentally vacuumed off a passerby) to call each other for help with locked doors and giant bosses. In general, the Kirbys all operate independently, and leap and scurry around the screen doing whatever the heck they want. That… is pretty normal for any given Kirby, as Kirby Prime does seem to have the id of a toddler. It’s a wonder the mirror-verse survives a swarm of Kirbys at all…

Kirby and the Amazing Mirror was released in 2004. The Legend of Zelda Four Swords was released with Link to the Past Advance in 2002, and the more accessible The Legend of Zelda Four Swords Adventures was released in 2004. At the time, it seemed like this whole “there are now four players” thing was some manner of new, here-to-stay Nintendo trend. After all, the Gamecube and N64 both proudly touted their four player capabilities, and it seemed only natural that “let’s play as four Links” or alike was an evolution of any franchise that didn’t already have enough supporting Luigis. Single player experiences are for JRPGs, man, it’s time for these super advanced videogame systems to step up to the next level and get everyone playing at once. Or at least four everyones. Maybe we’ll work on some networking for the next Mario Kart game, get that number up to infinity.

Woooo!However, a future of four simultaneous Donkey Kongs was not meant to be. The Mario series has carried the four player torch with its Mario, Luigi, and Toads (and the occasional thieving rabbit), but, aside from that recognizable example, the era of the four heroes seems to have ended as quickly as it started. Maybe a mere three Links might team up to offer a princess fashion tips, but now Mario is forever one Mario, and Samus has to recruit random federation dorks to fill out her multiplayer experiences.

But Kirby has never been one for rules.

Despite the multi-hero trend shuffling off this earthly coil, many Kirbys persist. Kirbys appear constantly in Kirby-based minigames throughout the series. Return to Dreamland offers Kirby’s unique friends, or the ability to just play as another quad of Kirbys. And then there’s Kirby Mass Attack, a game that is all about having as many Kirbys as possible. Why stop at four? There needs to be a Kirby crowd stomping across the planes, laying waste to any and all obstacles in their path! Kneel before the Kirby army!

But why does it work for Kirby? Why is Kirby allowed to be Kirbys, while Mario and alike are carefully cultivated and held to their inimitable standards. Even the Multi-Link had to be taped down with one magical sword, and there is absolutely no expectation that Breath of the Wild Link is suddenly going to split up to pilot all four Divine Beasts by his lonesome (though, admittedly, that would be pretty cool). Kirby is many, but his contemporaries are singular. Why is Kirby special?

NOTHING WILL SURVIVEThe answer is likely simple: Kirby is a locust. Well, maybe not specifically a locust, but Kirby is an eating machine that demolishes all in his path regardless of alliances because, I don’t know, someone stole his cake. Kirby is an unstoppable force of nature, and like any force of nature, it is just naturally (see?) assumed that he could be many and one at the same time. In the same way we fear “bees” and not “Jerry, that one bee that is kind of a dick” Kirby is practically a species onto himself, and has been for his entire existence. The fact that Kirby has been singular in many adventures is an accident of fate, and we always knew the impending Kirby-pocalypse would one day be upon us.

And that’s why Kirby can carry multiple versions of himself. In our hearts, we know what Kirby actually is, and we accept it readily. His name is Kirby, for he is many.

FGC #330 Kirby and the Amazing Mirror

  • System: Gameboy Advance, and WiiU Virtual Console. Also available on the 3DS should you be one of the chosen few.
  • Number of players: How many Kirbys we got? Four? That sounds good.
  • Maybe actually talk about the game for a second: This is one of my least favorite Kirby games. That still makes it better than like 90% of the games out there, but the lack of a decent map (or a map that makes any kind of intuitive sense) and the “one hit, lose your power” pairs poorly with what seems to be the largest of the “labyrinth” style Kirby adventures. That said, it’s still a fun time, and there is something infinitely satisfying about summoning a multitude of Kirbys to beat down a random tree.
  • AHHHHFavorite Kirby Power: Kirby finally leaned into the Smash Bros. fame, and gained the “smash” ability from devouring an errant Master Hand. And it was good! It doesn’t make a damn bit of sense, but it’s fun seeing “Smash Kirby” demolish a traditional Kirby game.
  • Did you know? The Batamon, an “enemy” in Kirby’s Dreamland 3, might be the first appearance of a Kirby-like creature during gameplay. They’re usually seen exploring areas that are inaccessible to Kirby Prime… but feel free to murder the doppelgangers with any copy skills you have laying around.
  • Did you know addendum? Batamon is the first appearance of a Kirby-like creature during gameplay… Except maybe Keeby. But nobody remembers Keeby.
  • Would I play again: Yes, but only on the technicality that this is loaded into my 3DS, so I’m very likely to play it again when I’m on the go and feel like getting a Kirby experience. Even when Kirby isn’t making headway, it’s still fun to bumble around as the pink puff, so it’s hard to say no to the little guy(s).

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Super Mario Galaxy 2 for the Nintendo Wii. Yeeeeeeees. Please look forward to it! I am!

Not quite Whispy
YOU COULD HAVE ALL GONE AROUND!

FGC #309 Excitebike

You are now hearing this song in your headLet 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.

Roll on!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 HAMMER THAT A BUTTONcheat 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.

Look at 'emAnd 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!

Winner!