As a first-party Nintendo game, Excitebike never really had the popularity of its fellow NES alumni such as Super Mario Bros., The Legend Of Zelda, Punch-Out!! and Duck Hunt. While fans of Kid Icarus and Ice Climber saw their heroes returning in Super Smash Bros. Brawl, anyone with a soft spot for the original Excitebike would have to resort to hoping they'd get to see the little bikers appearing as a lowly Assist Trophy.
Not to worry, though. Much like Punch-Out!! received a Wii update last year, Excitebike has received a 21st century lick of paint and is now available on WiiWare for 1,000 Points.
As with the original, the concept of Excitebike: World Challenge is simple. You have to complete two laps of a motocross obstacle course in a given time. This isn't a race to beat the other riders, they're only there to get in your way (and believe us, they do). The game is played with the Wii Remote on its side and there are four different lanes on the course, which you can switch between by pressing up and down. The 2 button accelerates while the 1 button lets you go even faster but raises your bike's temperature. If it overheats, your engine blows and you're out of action for a while. If you manage to cross the finish line quickly enough, you'll unlock the next, trickier, course, until you unlock all 16. And that's more or less all there is to it.
As is always the case with the best Nintendo games though, while Excitebike: World Challenge is very easy to get to grips with, it'll take you an awfully long time to master every course and get S-ranks (for exceptionally fast times) on every single one of them.
World Challenge has been developed by Monster Games, the same team behind the excellent ExciteTruck on Wii, and it's pretty obvious. The same C-to-S ranking system has been lifted straight from ExciteTruck, and many of the environments are the same as those in the Wii racer (Mexico, Fiji and so on), albeit in the form of a side-scrolling 2D racer instead. The Wii Remote makes exactly the same overheating noise as it does in ExciteTruck, and the music's also fairly awful (with the exception of the remixed versions of the title screen and results screen from the NES original). There are even odd track-modifying power-ups that make hills and ditches, just like in Nintendo's truck-fest.
The Race Is On(line)
The single-player mode in Excitebike will take you a while to complete but that's only half the story. World Challenge also offers full online multiplayer for up to four players. Unlike the single-player mode, this is a race for first place, and the unpredictable nature of the game (there are other CPU bikers who appear randomly on the track, making it more difficult to find the quickest route and stick to it) ends up making it really compelling.
The online set-up has more or less been nicked from Mario Kart. Everyone chooses a track they want to race on then, after everyone's voted, the game uses a roulette-style method to determine whose pick is chosen. You get points depending on where you finish in the race, but you don't necessarily need to finish first to get some points. The more points you earn, the more new bike designs you can unlock. There are also two different types of points you can earn - one type for playing with friends and one type for playing with randoms, and certain points can only unlock certain bike designs. This is an interesting way to encourage more people to get to grips with the Friends Code system. What's more, we've been testing the online multiplayer for a while now against American opponents and have found no trace of any lag whatsoever. This is how online should be done and for including this option, Monster Games should be applauded. There's even a track editor in there, where you can share tracks with friends and try them out online against people on your friends list (not randoms though).
Excitebike is great fun and a commendable attempt to retain the addictive gameplay of the NES classic while also giving it a modern day makeover. The lack of local multiplayer is a crime but the superb addition of online play still makes makes this well worth getting, whether you're a fan of the original or have never played it.