TakeN Out of Gaming | Issue 4: Excitebike

By Mike Mason 26.11.2011 1

Hello to all Cubed3 readers, and welcome to another instalment of TakeN out of Gaming! As planet Earth's excitement ramps up for the biggest holiday of the year, we here are going to take a look at a gaming franchise that has done the same through three forms of racing: bikes, trucks, and robots on wheels. Its humble beginnings were on the Nintendo Entertainment System, with a Nintendo 64 instalment, a double dose of re-imagining on Wii, together with a downloadable WiiWare game, and a three dimensional freebie update of the original along the way. Rev it up for the Excite series!

Created by a certain Miyamoto-san of Nintendo Co., Ltd., Excitebike bolstered the launch lineup of NES many moons ago in 1986 and brought with it a unique take on the racing genre. Taking command of a red motorcycle on a 2D track, players must skilfully navigate through harsh terrain and balance the temperature of their bike’s boost function so as to avoid a crippling burnout from excessive overuse, all the while seeking to reach third place or better ahead of the other racers. One key feature of the game was the design mode, which let players position hills and obstacles of their choosing on a track, and race on it either solo or against computer players. The game was well received and saw a number of ports and alterations over the years, the most recent being the 3D-enhanced eShop release on Nintendo 3DS.

Excitebike saw a direct N64 sequel that gave it a polygon remodelling whilst keeping the original spirit intact, together once again with an improved track editor. The third game in the Excitebike line, World Rally, was a downloadable release on Wii, and for the first time it included online bike racing and new isometic viewpoints. Motion control was implemented in a subtle way, allowing for trademark tricks whilst keeping conventional D-pad and button support intact.

Prior to World Rally at Wii's launch, the house that Donkey Kong built decided to add another kind of vehicle to the Excite universe that could offer up an equal amount of fun as bikes. Thus spin-off Excite Truck was born, complete with “big damn trucks” as Reginald Fils-Aime would put it. Series staples such as engine overheating and huge jumps returned, together with new ideas like instant landscape reforming and race winning dependant on performance instead of finishing position. Excitebots: Trick Racing arrived on Wii a few years later and morphed the trucks into animal/robot hybrids, offering an even higher level of craziness along with online play. This game was sadly the only main entry in the Excite series not to see a European release due to apparent 'lack of interest' - not that this deterred homebrewers from importing it anyway.

Is that a ham filling? Good job Nintendo!

Other Mediums

Due to it not being one of Nintendo’s most prolific series, Excite has had far more exposure and referencing inside gaming than outside of it. Top Nintendo billings that feature a wide assortment of their franchises have made use of Excitebike one way or another, be it in the motion-enabled WarioWare Twisted (coincidentally another game that didn’t make the EU transition), or as an assist trophy in Super Smash Bros. Brawl.

That isn’t to say the franchise doesn’t have its dedicated fanbase however. There are the things you’d expect like T-shirts - both played straight and for parody - and others that you wouldn’t, like this Sonic crossover spoof. Then you have geniuses like a certain Mr Justin Harder, who painstakingly created this real-life throwback that probably still functions better than today’s scooters:

Imagine being able to take it apart brick by brick - you’d save a fortune on parking spaces!

Not only that, but he also made this brilliant video clip that gives off an eerie Tron vibe:


ExciteBoost from Justin Harder on Vimeo.

Future Possibilities

For the series as a videogame, Nintendo could easily switch out the bikes, trucks and bots for another means of transport. EA’s Burnout games (and to a lesser extent their Need for Speed games too) seem to have the crazy car racing audience locked in place, but Nintendo could easily offer up their own rival. But why stop there? We could have monster trucks or even larger lorries that flatten landscapes to alter it instead of hitting switches, or even unicycles! Imagine if Nintendo tried a Transformers crossover; a wide assortment of racing cars and lorries, coupled with special techniques that transform your automobile into robot mode to blast away nearby racers. Think Mario Kart, Diddy Kong Racing and Excitebots all rolled into one!

Of course, the title of this feature is TakeN Out of Gaming, and the series could really shine outside of its usual medium. Let’s envision this scenario: for Wii U Nintendo decide to go all out on a new Excite entry. Full-featured online support, plenty of control mode choice, the best visuals they can muster. A huge budget racer to end all racers. Naturally, Nintendo would want to promote the heck out of that. What would be the best way of getting some attention to the audience who would appreciate this kind of game? Nintendo are no strangers to a bit of brand promotion in sporting events, but why now go one step further than ever before? What about hosting their own motocross championship?

Heeeelp! My stabilisers have fallen off!

The Nintendo Excite-Cross Cup, a once in a lifetime experience for the biggest biking daredevils in the world, like Christophe Pourcel, Trey Canard and Dean Wilson. Regular motocross rules apply, but with a couple of major twists: custom boosters built into every bike for those short bursts of speed, and dumper trucks parked up on the sidelines of the race track ready to pile mountains of dirt onto the track for new obstacles. Try telling yourself you wouldn’t buy tickets to an event like that.

For the younger crowd there could be other options. We already have Nintendo Monopoly and Mario Kart Scalextric-style sets; why not an Excitebike version of the latter? It'd be great to run an Excitebike-themed course, a mixture of Scalextric and Hot Wheels complete with loops and jumps, around your house to terrify your cat.

Take this idea and apply it to Excitebike. Broken vases galore!

Conversely, for those adolescents who want something a little more hands-on to gnash their teeth into, an Excite-themed bumper cars ride would rev their engines.

Hands up, who else nearly lost their retainer on one of these?

The movement area would have to be considerably larger and spaced out into a loop of course (think Baby Park from Mario Kart: Double Dash), but such a bumper track would be both highly unique and a great marketing tool from Nintendo.

With their most recent home console, Nintendo have revived the Excite brand in a big way with no less than three games, so fans can reasonably expect more of the franchise from the big N in the future. What form those games will take is anyone’s guess, but they have plenty of space to grow and captivate new audiences. Who knows - maybe it'll even eventually appeal to the outside crowd the same way that some of Nintendo's other key franchises do.

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I'd personally love to see them team up with Leftfield Games again for a proper sequel to Excitebike 64 (damn amazing game!), but since Nintendo ditched that team and handed the Excite brand over to Monster Games, it looks highly unlikely.

Nintendo definitely needs to take it back to its root, in my opinion, since neither Excite Truck nor Excite Bots seemed to appeal to the Wii masses.

Adam Riley [ Operations Director :: Senior Editor :: Cubed3 Limited ]
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