When I first saw Excitebike 64, I was quick to dismiss it as another dirt bike racing venture with the 'Excitebike' namesake slapped on. Was I ever wrong; using concepts found in the original and then some, Left Field has made quite the unique motocross game. Even though the controls take some getting used to, the enjoyment that can be had is worth the time spent.
I was quite impressed with the game's graphics. Although the Nintendo 64 isn't famous for clean textures, Excitebike is filled with them. Not only that, but also each racing locale is quite a site to see. Everything from deserts, mountain ranges, to indoor arenas are meticulously detailed pushing the 'fun machine' to the limits. What really gets me though are the racers and their humble dirt bikes. Though the models aren't smooth, small details such as turning wheels and revving engines are given to each character. Then there's some obvious eye candy - lens flares, transparencies, and such - all at a decent framerate (somewhere in the 30fps range). The only shortcomings involve the game's slows pace and some clipping issues. Yep, I like seeing half of my biker disappear into a wall. Though in all seriousness, the game is easily one of the best-looking N64 games.
So how does this sucker play? Actually, it's a test in patience and frustration at first, but the trials pay off in the end. The control scheme is basic - accelerate, brake, turbo, and slide - but the off-road aspect is where the pain comes in. Coming from the school of arcade racing (thank you Ridge Racer), I've never really known how the same cornering tactics would work in mud, dirt, and sand. Let's just say it takes some readjusting to; running around corners will require a fair degree of braking and turning skill. Brake too much and there's not enough momentum to get good speed on a straightaway, turn too hard, and the bike over steers A LOT. Just imagine me trying to take corners with powersliding in mind and you'll understand why I had to re-learn racing. After coming to grips with the controls, the game really opens up. Much akin to the original Excitebike, the bike's engine heats up as acceleration is used, with turbo boosts taking things into dangerous territory. Overheating the bike stalls the motor, which could result in nasty accidents. Other than turning and watching the motor, managing the jumps in each track is important. Taking ramps straight is key, as is learning to adjust height in mid-jump. Learning to do so results in some incredible aerobatic acts on the track. There's also the inclusion of a tutorial mode that gives players the chance to learn all of the basics mentioned above. Even after the tutorial and a few races, I still had a hard time, but believe me when I say that all the times landing last place were worth it.
Once the controls are mastered, and a few races have been won, it might be time to check out all of the modes available. In Excitebike 64, there's a Season, Exhibition, Time Trial, Special Track, and Track Editor mode. Season is the main portion of the game, sending one player through a set of tracks against computer opponents. Placing in the top 4 earns points, and the highest score at the end wins. Winning a cup can open up another cup, a higher difficulty, or a special course. Exhibition lets 1 to 4 players challenge a single track. Tracks that have been unlocked in Season are available here. Time Trial should be self-explanatory, but what really had my attention were the Special Track and Track Editor modes. Special Track is where all of the E64's chicken resides. A hill climb, soccer on bikes, a desert run, the original Excitebike, and an update to the NES classic are all here. I was impressed with the original NES game most of all; each track was here, as was the track creator. As a bonus, tracks made can even be saved! Finally, there's the Track Editor mode, which is can be likened to the oner featured in the NES version. Notable differences are that you're able to create 3D dimensional tracks, designate names for each track created, and allows up 4-player simultaneous racing. Providing an abundant number of features was a wise choice by Left Field, and a definite bonus for players.
Continuing with positive merit, Left Field has demonstrated substantial effort into the game's music and sound. Music varies from techno, to more guitar-riff tunes, which I liked overall. While it's not bad, it tends to become a bit repetitive and may not appeal to everybody. Surprisingly enough, the sound effects are audibly impressive. Excitebike 64 is full of engine squeals, revs, and enough yelps for every crash you're bound to have. What's even more impressive is the announcer. Although the commentator is exceptionally enthusiastic, and somewhat fruity; useful info is uttered periodically alerting you as to who's leading the race, or who trailing from behind.
With solid controls, outrageous tracks, and plenty of extras, those that possess an interest with Excitebike 64 will not be disappointed. Heck, I wasn't even enthused about the game until AFTER I played it, so maybe everyone should try it. Be sure to have an abundance of tolerance on hand though.
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