Nostalgia can be a powerful thing, and it’s obviously been the driving force behind many recent game remakes and revisits. Sometimes a game is worthy of a second shot, though oftentimes folks are merely reminded of just how far along gaming has come over the years. Excitebike, originally for the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES), now resurfaces on WiiWare in Excitebike: World Rally. Does this Nintendo classic have the goods to keep today’s gamer entertained, or is it destined to bring back bad memories?
If you played the original game all those many years ago, you’ll be immediately familiar with the look and gameplay of World Rally. This isn’t a complete departure from the old NES game, but you might be surprised at just how well its formula has aged.
Developed by the same folks (Monster Games) who brought us both Excite Truck and Excitebots for Wii, Excitebike: World Rally has been handled with loving care. The visuals aren’t stunning, and the features are only knee-deep. But the gameplay is great fun; it’s addictive and always challenging.
For those folks unfamiliar with Excitebike, it’s a motocross game in which you race against the clock. Rather than the focus being on crossing the finish line first, your goal is to run the course (two laps for each race) as fast and cleanly as possible, competing for the best time. You’re ranked at the end of each race, with ranks ranging from D (worst) to S rank.
There are two main modes of play in World Rally – cup racing and online multiplayer. The single-player component offers four cups with four races apiece. It’s a fairly sizeable package for a WiiWare game, and considering Excitebike’s level of challenge, most folks should be able to squeeze quite a number of hours out of it.
Let it not be said that Nintendo no longer does “hardcore.” Excitebike: World Rally might not tip toward the extreme difficulty of, say, F-Zero GX (Gamecube), but the game will certainly give even the most seasoned players a run for their money. You can unlock all of the tracks for a particular cup simply by completing races, but you’ll have to get at least a B rank in each race in order to unlock additional cups. Sounds easy, right?
Excitebike is all about timing and landing properly. In that respect, the game can almost be likened to a traditional 2D Sonic game, minus the exaggerated sense of speed. You’ll have to make strategic use of the turbo mechanic without overheating your ride, and when coming down off a jump, you’ll need to make sure your bike lands at just the right angle in order to maintain top speed. It’s a simple formula, but the actual races are anything but straightforward.
In this WiiWare revamp, you’ll control your motorcycle with just the Wii Remote, and it feels great. There are, however, two ways to approach the controls – Normal or Classic-style. The only difference between the two control types is that in Normal mode you have to tilt the Wii Remote in order to pitch your bike backward and forward. It’s not our preferred scheme, however, since the mechanic isn’t as reliable as the good ol’ D-pad.
With the Classic controls, you switch lanes by pushing up or down on the D-pad, pitch by pushing left or right, accelerate with the 2 button, and turbo with the 1 button. There’s a temperature gauge on the bottom-left of the screen, and your engine heats up each time you make use of your turbo. Instead of boost markers, Excitebike has cool-down pads placed at various spots along a track. Hitting cool-down pads in order to maximize use of the turbo mechanic is essential in almost all of the races past the Silver (second) cup, as merely making a B rank is no easy task.
Regardless of which control option you choose, there is a bit of Wii waggle tossed in for good measure. If you crash or overheat, you’ll have to shake the remote rapidly in order to get going again. It’s one of those take-it-or-leave-it-type things, but it works fine without being painful or annoying.
In addition to the single-player portion, players can jump online for a bit of competitive action. You can choose to either play anyone in random races, or hook up with friends using the infamous Friend Code system. We were pleasantly surprised by the online multiplayer for Excitebike, as it has two huge things going for it: the gameplay is lag-free, and within just the first few hours of the game’s release, there were tons of players eager to connect. Our very first race took only a few seconds to get going. Matches are for up to four players, and though the lobby system is super basic, it works without a hitch. It’s obvious from all of the online traffic that fans were eager to get a new Excitebike game, but the lack of a leaderboard might leave some folks without incentive to keep coming back.
Lastly, there’s a track editor to allow players to create their own devious courses. It’s a very simple toolset, but it’s also very easy to use. Each of the track assets from the main game are included in the editor, though unfortunately, you can’t change the background for custom tracks. You can, however, share your tracks with friends, which should extend the life of the game significantly for some folks.
In terms of unlockables, World Rally comes up somewhat short, merely offering a selection of new colors and skins for your bike. Nabbing these extras is no small feat, either, as you’ll be required to get S ranks in races in order to get at most of what’s hidden. You do, however, earn points for playing online, and there are a handful of skins you can unlock just by competing against others in multiplayer.
Local multiplayer is conspicuously absent, which is, of course, disappointing and somewhat counter to Nintendo’s mission of bringing gamers together in one room. At 1000 Wii Points, stacked, split-screen multiplayer was absolutely expected.
In terms of presentation, World Rally is a pretty bare-bones affair. Visually, it looks like an early Gamecube game, though the water effects are often quite lovely. Flames and turbo effects add a bit of flare (no pun intended), and the bikes are admittedly adorable. More importantly, however, the framerate is fast and consistent. This holds true when playing online as well, and most folks will be likely be too focused on races to care much about the extras. Moving from pixels to true 3D comes with additional benefits aside from merely looking better. The handling of your bike is much more precise, making control more involving and interesting than the original game.
The music is as frugal as the game’s visuals, but again, everything’s wrapped up nice and tight. Playful tunes sit well in the background, and the sound effects – though sparse and almost lo-fi – add another fun element to the experience.
Excitebike: World Rally isn’t a revolution for the series; heck, it isn’t even an evolution, really. However, over 20 years later, the gameplay holds up incredibly well and fits the WiiWare platform like a glove. The lack of local multiplayer is truly a drag, and for the price, the unlockables don’t do much to strengthen the value. That being said, Excitebike has a lot of personality, and it’s certainly a game worthy of a new lease on life.
RATING OUT OF 5 RATING DESCRIPTION 3.5 Graphics
Background textures are pretty rough, and everything’s very plain-Jane. Since the view is pulled back, however, your focus will be on the races themselves, and a silky-smooth framerate makes gameplay a joy. 4.3 Control
Both control options work fine, though the Classic option offers near-flawless fun. Shaking the Wii Remote to get back in a race isn’t a necessary addition, but it doesn’t take anything away from the experience, either. 3.5 Music / Sound FX / Voice Acting
Neither the music nor the sound effects are ambitious in any sense of the word, but they both work well alongside the gameplay. 3.5
World Rally is, surprisingly, as fun to play today as the original Excitebike was over 20 years ago. Online multiplayer is rock solid, and being able to create and share custom tracks with friends is a nice addition. At 1000 Wii Points though, the game needs a little something extra to give it real value. Where’s the local multiplayer?
3.9 Overall Rating – Good
Not an average. See Rating legend above for a final score breakdown.