Does the Wii really need another high-speed racer?
One of my favorite racing games of all times, Mario Kart games excluded, is Excitebike 64. It’s hard to completely describe everything that makes this game such a joy to play, but a lot of it no doubt has to do with the thrill that comes from high-speed racing, combined with some impressive-for-the-time visuals. And now we get a Wii title from developer Left Field that attempts to be the spiritual successor to the N64 classic. But how does it compare?
First off is the fact that there’s tons to do in Nitrobike. It goes far beyond the duty of a simple arcade racer, and in addition to offering a free race mode, there’s a full-blown career mode that is actually pretty fun. Of course, there’s no real story to this game — there’s hardly ever a story to any racing game – and Nitrobike certainly doesn’t suffer because of that. What’s neat about career mode is that it’s not just racing around the track a bunch of times and calling this a “career” — instead, this mode features a nice variety of different challenges to complete: winning races, of course, but also completing time trials and performing some more crazy, stunt-like actions on your bike.
But before I get too far ahead of myself, I’d best explain the premise of Nitrobike. There are certain aspects of a racing game that are pretty standard. What about a vehicle? Check. As you probably could have guessed from the title, you’re going to be doing all of your racing on the back of a motorcycle. Most good racers have something to distinguish themselves from the rest of the pack, right? Check to that, as well. The crazy addition to Nitrobike that makes it different from the myriad of other racing games out there is the fact that there’s a rocket strapped to the back of your bike. Needless to say, going really, really fast is a huge focus in Nitrobike.
Of course, going as fast as possible is a necessity in any racing game, and Nitrobike is certainly no exception. But in addition to the speed factor, the tricks that you pull off in a race are also important to your success. Why? Because for every trick that you successfully pull off, your boost meter will increase, which gives your bike a little bit more speed. But if you bail out during a trick, your meter starts to decrease, and only performing more tricks can get it going in the right direction again. It’s a fun addition to the game that ensures that those willing to work on mastering tricks will be rewarded, but at the same time you can still probably win without the help of the boost meter.
The courses in which you’ll race are not really a downside to the game, but at the same time they could have been so much better. A lot of people have (rightly so) compared Nitrobike to the Wii launch title Excite Truck. That game had you racing in some pretty fantastic, crazy areas, and sadly such is not the case with Nitrobike. Instead, the courses are much more traditional, featuring arena-like areas and other locales that you wouldn’t really be surprised to see in a racing game. The races are still pretty fun, but a wider variety of courses and some more “out-there” areas to race certainly would have benefited this title.
The control is another important aspect of Nitrobike, and sadly, this is where the game comes up noticeably little short. The controller is held on its side, and like Excite Truck, the turning of your bike is controlled completely via tilting the Wii Remote. Braking and accelerating are taken care of with the one and two buttons, respectively. Boosting is used via the d-pad, and performing tricks while in the air is done with various combinations of the d-pad and one button. The problem here? Well, the Wii control isn’t always as sensitive and responsive as I’d like it to be — which, incidentally, is a problem that also arose for some people in Excite Truck.
While we’re on the subject of Nitrobike’s problem areas, it’s appropriate to bring up the subject of the game’s visuals. To be blunt, they’re not nearly as good as they could have — and should have — been. I hate to keep comparing this game to Excite Truck, but there really are a lot of parallels. It’s pathetic, though, that a game released for the Wii more than a year ago looks significantly better than a similar game released present day. Bikes and their riders look a bit pixilated, and with all the action going on on-screen, the framerate occasionally takes a noticeable drop. Wii owners are probably used to it by now (that is, playing games with sub-par graphics), and it doesn’t hugely detract from the gameplay experience, but the game certainly could have looked nicer.
For those who can look past the game’s visuals, though, and the sometimes-annoying controls, there’s a lot of depth to be had here. The career mode, in particular, has a lot going for it all will keep you engaged for a while. There are tons of events to be completed, and while a lot of them are simply races, there’s also a good amount of variety to keep things fresh, interesting, and exciting. There are also some fun little mini-games, which don’t hugely affect the fun you’ll have with this game but demonstrate the efforts made by the development team to change up the racing genre and make the game worthy of the Wii’s general innovation.
And then, of course, there’s the multiplayer. Local multiplayer supports up to four people, and it’s a lot of fun to take part in the frantic action with up to three of your friends. The online multiplayer option is also fantastic and allows you to go head-to-head with people around the globe with copies of the game. The online will likely take up the majority of the time you spend with this game, and that’s by no means a bad thing: the online is fun and exciting, and will definitely appeal to hardcore, arcade-racing fans.
Ultimately, though, the thing that hurts Nitrobike the most is that it just doesn’t bring much new content to the table in terms of Wii racing titles. In fact, aside from the well-done online mode, it’s a near carbon-copy of Excite Truck. If you’re the type of person who, like myself, didn’t really care much for Excite Truck, you’re going to want to pass on Nitrobike. If you really loved it, though, or if you’re looking for a solid, well-rounded entry into the world of Wii racing games, then Nitrobike is certainly worth a look.
RATING OUT OF 5 RATING DESCRIPTION 2.8 Graphics
Even for the Wii, the visuals fail to impress; the one-plus year old Excite Truck looks noticeably nicer. 3.4 Control
The game controls manageably for the most part, but the Remote’s motion sensitivity doesn’t always respond. 3.2 Music / Sound FX / Voice Acting
Not much to be had here; the game’s music is fine, but it’s really nothing noticeable and doesn’t improve the game experience. 4.2
The career mode has plenty of depth, and the online features extend the lifespan of the game significantly.
3.4 Overall Rating – Fair
Not an average. See Rating legend above for a final score breakdown.