Monday, 12 January 2009

Excite Bike (Famicom Cart)

With today’s entry you may be wondering why I decided to review the Famicom version of Excite Bike instead of its US or PAL counterparts their is always a risk that Famicom games will be unplayable due to Japanese texts but in this case it seemed there was nothing to worry about as there doesn’t seem to be so much as a single Japanese character in the entire game. My real reason for enough buying the game was thanks to an eBay seller including it with a batch of several cartridges so it really cost me next to nothing. Sadly it was just the cartridge on its own and I had to spend several minutes giving it a good clean before I could even get it to load thankfully a good bit of elbow grease later and the cartridge pins were cleaned, ready to play.

Being one of the earliest and even one of the more popular Nintendo games I don’t think there are many Nintendo fans that haven’t played or heard of Excite Bike. The Famicom version was released in 1984 designed by the Mario master himself Shigeru Miyamoto so we can expect something special.

On loading the cartridge I was presented with a plain blue screen and 3 options Selection A, Selection B and Design. A allows you to race each individual track on your own, B pits you against several racers with the aim being to finish in the top 3 to proceed. Design is a unique feature for a Famicom game (especially for the time) where the player can actually change pieces of the racing track and create their own race for playing by themselves or with the computer racers, as an added bonus if you have access to a Famicom Data Recorder (effectively a tape drive) then each track can actually be saved to be replayed at a later date.

The Data Recorder was only released in Japan and never made it overseas but from what I have been able to discover the Design save feature remained for all other copies released outside of Japan with the message "Save and Load menu selections are not operable in this game; they have been programmed in for potential product developments" printed in the game manual. I can only assume that Nintendo planned to release a similar Data Recorder or even the Disk System unit across seas but decide against it in the end. It could have made for some interesting games to say the least. I have included a few pictures that I managed to find on eBay but the unit itself rarely seems to make an appearance in auctions and when it does sells for a tidy sum.

The game itself plays extremely well and for such an old Famicom title the bike responds quickly. Up and down moves the bike between lanes to avoid the various other riders or pitfalls such as ramps, mud pits and jumps. Left and right moves in either direction with pressing too far in either direction resulting in your bike performing a wheelie or falling flat on the riders face after a jump. With the A and B buttons changing your speed, this isn’t a simple matter of breaking at the press of a button. Pressing A moves the bike at a casual speed but holding B selects turbo, propelling you at a much faster speed and especially handy for upcoming jumps. If you are thinking that holding B all the time is the easy way to win then I’m afraid you are in for disappointment as a heat bar at the bottom of the screen increases the more you use the feature. Only driving with A pressed for a time causes it to lower so you actually have to plan your way around each track deciding when to use the boost for big jumps or overtaking other riders. Overheating causes your bike to stop completely and be dragged to the side of the track until the engine cools down, losing precious seconds off that race time.

The game is surprisingly simple to look at and despite the description I’ve given so far it does have a lot of depth too it. Timing and skill is required to successfully navigate some jumps and the other riders always seem to keep you on your toes. The design feature is a little basic with a choice of jumps represented by the letters of the alphabet and all you need do is move in any direction placing or removing obstacles as you like. The main benefit being the ability to race with computer opponents after you have finished by which after a few seconds of messing around I was able to place a ramp that filled most of the screen followed by several mud pits for an interesting jump to say the least (yes I crash and burned but it was worth it for the speed!).

Out of all the Famicom games I have played so far this is right at the top of the list for playability and I always have the cart close to the Twin Famicom for a quick burst play every so often. If you haven’t played this yet then where have you been all these years?

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