Growing up, I had a few friends who had dirt bikes. I did not. I was always a little jealous. The closest I could come to my own personal motocross was taking my bicycle to construction sites and riding it on dirt piles. Well, that and playing Excitebike.
Based on my performance in Excitebike, it’s probably good that I didn’t have my own dirt bike. There’s a non-zero chance that I would have broken my neck. I would have been like Evel Kneivel, but without the skill. So…just a lot of medical bills.
Excitebike debuted for the Famicom in 1984. It came to North America the following year. Shigeru Miyamoto and Toshihiko Nakago worked on the game together, taking frequent trips to Tokyo where they would share a hotel room during development. Akito Nakatsuka (Clu Clu Land, Zelda II: The Adventure of Link, Mike Tyson’s Punch Out!) composed the soundtrack.
The game allowed you to choose between a number of tracks to race. You could also choose whether or not to race against the time or the time and other players. Your mission was to qualify for the Excitebike race by finishing in the top three places. The times to beat were located on the stadium walls. To win a race, you had to finish eight seconds faster than the racer in third place. To accelerate, you pushed the A button. The B button could make you go even faster, but would also increase the speed so much that your bike overheated. A temperature gauge at the bottom of the screen showed how hot your bike was, if it got to high your bike would stall. Tracks included jumps.You could adjust the pitch of your bike after taking a jump, raising the front or back of the bike. However, you had to be careful. Position the bike wrong and you would crash on landing. You could also crash by running into another racer or colliding with a ramp.
Excitebike had another entertaining feature: design mode. In this mode, you could create your own track, adding hills and obstacles and setting the number of laps required. You could then choose whether to race the course solo or against other competitors.
Despite my general lack of racing skill, I remember loving the game. It was one of my earliest introductions to the world of video game sports, a love that would grow into a full blown obsession in later years.