So there haven’t been many appreciation articles for 1984, and the reason for this is simple: it was the middle of the video game crash. Americans made a few notable games for arcade and home computer, but the console was basically dead. Across the pacific, however, things were just beginning to heat up. In 1983 Nintendo released their first console, named the Famicom (ファミコム) (short for Family Computer) and immediately started putting out a decent variety of games. Let’s take a look at one of the games from their Sports series.
After the success of Pole Position in 1982 there was a slew of racing games attempting to push the boundaries of realism–which is why it’s refreshing to see this cute, cartoony offering by Nintendo. Excitebike struck the perfect balance between cartoony and serious, resulting in a solid racing game with great controls and endearing characters. Honestly, those sprites are adorable.
There were two game modes. Mode “A” was a race against the clock…
…and mode “B” pitted the player against an infinite number of computer-controlled opponents.
Because the opponents are infinite, the player is still racing against the clock, but it has a very different feel to it. The key selling point, however, was the “Design” mode. A key distinguishing feature of Excitebike was its track editor. With simple, easy-to-use tools included in the game, the player could create and save a track (onto a cassette tape via the Famicom Data Recorder peripheral; if you’re outside of Japan you’re out of luck), then run a race on it.
It was not actually the first game to have this feature, though. An Intellivision game named Motocross allowed player-built tracks in 1983, a full year prior. Of course most players had never heard of that game in the US, let alone Japan. Excitebike had an enhanced release for the Famicom Disk System in 1988 called Vs. Excitebike. This version included a two-player mode and saving of tracks via the Disk System’s write-to-disk ability (again, only if you were in Japan).
Emulator: VirtuaNES 0.97
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