This week’s game is #9 on my NES essential play list: ExciteBike by Nintendo.

I’ll be the first to admit that sports and racing games generally don’t pique my interest, and as such you’ll find them under-represented in my Essential Plays lists. Similarly, puzzle games also rarely thrill me very much, so you’re likely not to see many of them as I progress through my Essential Plays lists.

That said, ExciteBike is one of the exceptions to my aversion to sports and racing. ExciteBike was released in 1984 (1985 US) and was one of the earlier titles for the NES in Japan and was a release title in the US. ExciteBike was one of the very first racing games for the NES, and certainly one of the most popular.

Excitebike was beautiful in its simplicity. The player controls a red dirtbike/motorcycle along a a linear course for a number of laps. The goal is to qualify for the final race by coming in third or better in a challenge race to qualify for the championship race. There are 5 maps that can be raced on, and once you place third or better on a track, it’s unlocked for unlimited play afterwards. And that’s pretty much it: you race to achieve better times in the tracks.

In keeping with the simplicity of the game, the controls are easy and fairly intuitive as well. There are four lanes down which you can drive, and pressing up and down changes between these lanes. The A button accelerates and the B button provided a boost that also caused your engine to heat up. If you heat up too much, the bike overheats and you have to stop for a bit. During jumps you can use the up and down pads to change the pitch of your bike so that both wheels of the bike touch the ground at the same time, maintaining your speed. As you progress along the track there are jumps, obstacles, and boots/coolants for your bike and the basic play is to learn how to tackle these obstacles and get the best time.

Whee!

In ExciteBike there were three modes of play:

Mode A – Solo “Time Trial” races where you would try to get the best time while driving alone on a track.

Mode B – You race with 3 computer controller racers. This makes things more complicated as these other racers can cause you to crash, but you can also make those racers crash. This mode is generally more fun, but more frustrating than mode A. Again, the goal is to get the best time that you can.

Design Mode – This mode is probably the singular reason why ExciteBike is an essential play. Design Mode in ExciteBike was probably the first game that included an accessible sandbox for players to build their own levels, something we take for granted these days. I would hazard that most people spent more than half of their time playing the game messing around in Design Mode.

Of course, after playing the game for more than an hour usually resulted in the exact same thing. You would head over to the design mode, pick one of the tracks and erase everything, making a long, straight course. Next you would load up that course in Mode B. Once you had that nice, long straightaway with which to play with, you would spend each lap trying to crash the computer players as many times as possible. Bonus points if you could get all three to crass in a chain reaction. Good times.

-Confusion is a state of mind, or is it?

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