Excitebike 64 (N64)
Remember "back in the day" there was a cool side-scroll racing game named Excitebike? Its premise was simple: survive a motocross race containing many jumps, hurtles, and other obstacles while trying to beat the other racers to the finish line. It took skill, timing, and patience to be good at, and the game even sported a track editor! Well, its roughly 15 (give or take) years later and after many promises and rumors, Excitebike has returned to Nintendo owners in the form of a 3D racer aptly titled "Excitebike 64", and it seems as though Nintendo and Left Field were able to capture the fun along with the frustration of the venerable NES game. The game gives you MANY options, and there are loads of things to unlock (including the difficulty levels).
The Season mode is probably the one you will play most often, since its the main way to unlock many of the courses. There are exhibition races, a stunt course, a desert race I haven't quite figured out yet, a soccer game, just to name a few of the things you can do. You can even play the original Excitebike after you beat the Tutorial level. There is a multi player mode that will allow you to play in any of the courses (up to 4 players or 2 humans against 2 computer controlled characters), stunt courses, soccer game, etc. As I said, most of your time will probably be spent in the season mode. Upon entering, you are greeted with the difficulty level, which starts you out at Tutorial (to learn how to play) and Novice. The Tutorial is actually a smart thing to do first. You not only learn the basics, but you also learn some advanced stuff like the Turbo Boost and stunt moves. The only problem I had with the Tutorial is that the stunts are not documented correctly.
When training, you are shown how to do a move and then you try and do it. One move was shown as a C down + pull back on the stick. No matter what I did, it didn't work. When I read the instructions, it showed that I had to push Forward, then back plus C down. The Novice difficulty will take you to the Brass (or Bronze) circuit. The winners are determined in a point scale fashion, so by finishing in the top 4, you gain points. The player with the most points (and who was originally at the top spot, there are no ties) wins. When you finish first in a circuit, you open another circuit, bonus level (like soccer), or another difficulty level. While this does increase replayability, it does increase the frustration a bit. As you open difficulty levels, you will have to race through all the circuits you previously beat AGAIN in order to advance. Once you select a circuit, you get to select your character. There are a few to pick from, all with different abilities (turning, turbo, acceleration, etc.). "Jumpin" Jim Rivers I think has the most even of the abilities, while others corner better (Sarah "Sugar" Hill) or has better jump, turbo, etc. You can even select the color of their racing leathers and bike color. When you start the race, controlling your character is fairly simplistic. A accelerates while B brakes or makes you walk your bike backwards when you are completely stopped. Z is your turbo, and the right trigger allows you to "lean" (to make sharper turns or to angle your bike in a particular direction while in the air). The C buttons adjusts your camera and your displays, but they also double as stunt buttons (which is kind of a pain when you pull off stunts and your camera setting is changed on you or something to that effect). The analog stick controls your turning and the angle at which you launch yourself off of jumps and the angle at which to land (yes, you can plow yourself wheel first into the dirt).
On the lower right hand side of the screen in the speedometer and your bike's temperature gauge. As you accelerate, the needle will rise from the green to the yellow zone, indicating cool to moderate temperature. When you use turbo, the temperature will increase (along with your speed). If the needle reaches the end of the red, your bike will overheat and will slow down until it cools. It will take a few seconds to cool, but you can speed the process by knocking an opponent off of their bike (which automatically brings the temperature to the start of the green). As you race along, you will have to contend with jumps and many turns and curves, all the while hearing the sound of your bike, the environment and the announcer piping up every once in a while (in Wave Race style), stating who is at what place and if somewhat bit the farm ("Jim Rivers goes down", "Sarah Hill takes a soil sample!", etc.). And what environments they are! From indoor arenas that remind you of dirt track racing at the county fair to lavish outdoor tracks that can take you to places like the Grand Canyon or some wild rain forest (complete with rain AND lightning), all with great detail with little noticeable drawn in or slow down.
To survive without becoming a stain on the street will take practice, and to further add insult to injury, there is a replay mode that will show you how you did. This is where training in the tutorial comes into play, since you learn a few trick on how to maximize your speed and manueverablilty. Knowing these little tricks will make the game less frustrating (I was going to write that this game wasn't that great until I went through the tutorial, which has now changed my mind). How you land your bike off of a jump is key. If you are going to land on the decline of a hill, point the front end down a bit, especially if you have to make another jump right away. Nothing stinks away more speed than landing right on the next hill's incline. If you are going to need to make a tight turn after a jump, hit the R trigger and crank the stick in that turn's direction. You'll point yourself in the right direction without worry of sliding into the hay bails. Got a really huge hill? Just as you hit the peak of the jump, tap on turbo to activate a turbo boost, causing you to soar over the large hill. These are just a few things I learned in that tutorial.
Once you get the hang of the controls and the character you are using, things definitely become more fun (and the crashes are hilarious, as I tried to jump over a large canyon and smacked into the wall of it). As you continue in the season and win, you will open more options. One is the original Excitebike, which looks, sounds and plays just like the original. Another option is the Soccer game, where you and up to 4 players try to knock a soccer ball the size of a truck into the opposing team's goal. I am still playing the game, so I haven't unlocked much else....yet.
Graphics 4 out of 5
I must say, these are some of the best graphics I have ever seen in a racing game, hands down. The lush scenery with its running water, waterfalls, weather, and more are just stunning. When you slide around on the roads and paths, your bike does make marks and will kick up dust. It is rare that there is any slowdown, and if there is, it only lasts a second or two. The camera system is practically spot on in most cases, but at times if you get close to large walls, hills, etc. in the outdoor tracks, the camera can get stuck behind those obstacles until you move away from them. But that too is rare. The game does make use of the Expansion Pak, making the graphics a lot smoother. However, the multi player mode does not use the Pak, but the players' screens are small enough that its hard to see that lack of detail.
Music and Sound 3 out of 5
I had no idea there were large flying insects in the game. Oh wait, those are the bikes...never mind. While Left Field did a decent job on the sounds, they could have been better. The crash sounds are the same no matter what you hit, the music is okay (doesn't get annoying), and the announcer gets repetitive with his statements. With a little more effort in the sound department, the gaming experience would have been that much more to racing greatness.
Game Challenge 4 out of 5
It takes time to get used to both a character and the controls. The computer racers are ruthless, adding to the challenge. The biggest challenge at first is trying not to hug the sides of the track, which you will at first, and quite often. For the people who are easily frustrated, I recommend going through the exhibition courses, which allow you to race by yourself. This game will definitely keep the competent gamer busy for some time.
Game Play-Fun 4 out of 5
I was going to give this game a 3 for fun, until I learned the moves in the tutorial. That made the difference in the fun. Once you know how to attack a hill or turn properly, it just makes the experience that much better, and all you have to blame for crashing is yourself (or your opponent). You'll find yourself trying to overcompensate for turns and jumps, causing some pretty unbelievable free styling that would make BMX stunt people green with envy. I found myself practically hopping off of hills and such like I was Tony Hawk and was able to get back in the race without biffing.
Why oh why must I race through two tracks at Novice, open up the next difficulty level, then re-race through the same two tracks I just played to open another level? I could see I only have access to certain tracks at a particular difficulty level, but I should be able to access the new circuit just by upping the difficulty level. Another gripe is that at times you will run into an obstacle by mistake, like a small hay bail. What should either send you flying or crashing, you just stop, as if you got hooked by the bail or something. I could see if I was going at 5 MPH that the ail would stop me, but going 20? C'mon. Speaking of wipe outs, when you crash, you normally can't continue until your bike stops moving (bouncing, etc.). This can take a few seconds with you screaming "COMEONCOMEON COME--ON!!" at the TV. There also seems to be a small glitch, a sort of "vortex". For sure in one outdoor race (I can't remember which one, just remember it has huts and that there is a MAJORLY tight turn to get to the finish line) I had gotten close to a wall and all of a sudden the screen changed, showing my guy in the middle of the road flashing as if I had crashed or gone off the track. And it happens every time I hit that spot.
Replayability 5 out of 5
There is no doubt about it, this game has replay up the wazoo, that is if you want to open EVERYTHING. With all the things to unlock, this will keep you going for a while. Plus, its a multi player game, so you can always race against your friends, then laugh at them when they biff into a sign or splat against a canyon wall. There is also a track editor that allows you to build and save your own tracks. You can even make your own fiendish track pieces. Then just trade 'em with your friends and see how well they can get through your masterpieces.
Game Value 4 out of 5
With all the stuff you can do in this game, its definitely worth the price of admission. Its not a strict racing simulator, which I know turns people off, so there are no worries about gear ratios or anything like that. Plus you get the classic Excitebike game built into the game! What more can you ask for? I'm surprised Nintendo hasn't put out NES/Super NES compilations on the 64 yet....
Overall 4 out of 5
Definitely one of those games that has that "fun frustration" factor that keeps you coming back for more (kind of like Banjo Kazooie). With lots and lots and lots and lots of stuff to unlock, plus multi player madness, this game will keep you and your friends busy. Plus, it is to be a benchmark that all other arcade-like racers must try and surpass.