Crispy Gamer

Games for Lunch: Excitebike: World Rally

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Developer: Monster Games
Publisher: Nintendo
Release Date: Nov. 9, 2009
System: Wii
ESRB Rating: E
Official Web site

0:00 The original Excitebike was hands down one of my favorite NES games, but I was severely underwhelmed by the overly technical 3-D update on the N64. This one looks more like the original, but with online play and track sharing. Sounds like a winning formula to me!

0:01 I've already downloaded the game to my SD card, but before I can play it I need to clear 201 "blocks" on my Wii system memory so the system can load the game. So long Wii Fit Channel. I wasn't using you regularly enough anyway...

0:02 A few seconds of loading and a nondescript title screen pops up. I like the synth- and nostalgia-heavy remix of the original's intro music. Once that 10-second bit runs out, though, the tune advances to some new hair-rock anthem that's not nearly as good.

0:03 "Normal" controls let me tilt the Wii Remote to tilt the bike. "Classic" controls let me use the d-pad. It's a no brainer for me ... Classic! Some games do NOT need motion controls.

0:04 The options screen lets me set the "lane indicator" to "Terrain," "Flat" or "Off." Wish I knew what the difference was between them. OK, off to the World Tour. The Bronze Cup is all that's available. I guess I'll do the optional training first, even though I doubt I need it.

0:05 The first lesson teaches me how to switch between the four arrow-straight lanes by tapping up and down on the d-pad. There's a regular gas pedal and a turbo pedal that can lead to overheating if I use it too much, just like in the original. I'm also introduced to arrow-shaped "cooldown strips" that reset the engine temperature magically to zero. Is that what those are? Did they cool down in the original game too? I saw them all the time but never knew the purpose! Hey, I never said I was GOOD at the original.

0:06 Tap back on the d-pad for a wheelie. Do it as you jump off a ramp for the somewhat obviously named "wheelie jump." I seem to remember being able to hold wheelies for a long time in the original. Here, they're just a canned animation, tilting back briefly then falling back onto two wheels. I also seem to remember being able to lean back so far that I'd wipe out in the original, which isn't possible here. Or maybe I'm just misremembering?

Excitebike: World Rally

0:07 I can adjust my angle midair to make for smooth landings. Reminds me a bit of Trials HD, except much more forgiving, thank god.

0:08 I can wheelie over concrete barriers, and also over opposing bikes. If you could do either of those in the original, I had absolutely NO IDEA! And that's it for training. I'm surprised they didn't discuss knocking out other bikes by cutting them off with a quick lane shift. Oh well ... that'll be our little secret, I guess. The first track is Kyoto. My color choices are "Flame Red" and "Midnight Blue." There are 17 more colors locked, and I can't imagine caring less about how I have to unlock them.

0:10 The game tells me that the "B grade times" are under 1:17.00 as the camera slowly pans across the entirety of the course. I tap 2 to cut it off and start the freaking race already.

0:11 I crash into another bike almost immediately, falling to the side of the track. I have to shake the Remote vigorously to get back on track. Strike one, game. Anyway, this first track is kind of boring ... just a few really simple jumps followed by long ,flat sections. I overheat once when I overuse my turbo, and stick mainly to the regular gas pedal after that. My 1:12.18 time gets me just a B ranking. I KNOW I can do better than that...

0:14 I lean heavily on the turbo this time around, aiming for those cooling strips to help me ovoid overheating. Despite stupidly crashing into another bike at one point, my time of 1:06.74 easily gets me an S ranking. The course is still kind of boring, but more exciting when speeding through with the turbo. Keeping one eye on the engine temperature and another on the weaving of the constantly refreshing supply of opposing bikes helps capture my interest.

0:15 The next course is "Canada." Why was the first course named after a city in Japan and the second named after an entire country? This is the kind of stuff that keeps me up at nights.

0:17 Canada features a few double-lane grassy areas that slow me to a crawl if I don't avoid them ... but I do avoid them pretty easily. Apparently I can cool down my engine by cutting off and knocking over other bikes, an incredibly helpful technique! The cooling strips are super-important too, as I'm riding the turbo prettttty hard now. I actually got some nice air there too... going off the top of the screen at one point. It's pretty simple so far, but also pretty satisfying.

0:18 "Mexico" is up next. Another whole country. What's going on?

0:19 I have to learn to stop revving the turbo in midair ... it just heats up the engine without helping my speed. Getting smooth landings is starting to be important on this course -- if I'm off just slightly, a nasty bumpy landing slows me down quite a bit. I actually run into another bike in midair during one particularly big jump over a grassy area. That was pretty cool.

0:20 OK, why does "London" get a course and not "England"? I give up...

0:22 A glowing yellow blob on the London track makes the ramp ahead of me grow taller. That concept has some potential, I feel. My favorite moment so far ... landing a jump on top of another bike, sending him tumbling with a satisfying clanking sound. The tracks still aren't so difficult, or even so well designed ... just big jumps into empty flat track. Was the original harder than this? Or maybe I was just a worse player back then.

0:23 "Congratulations! A new paint color is available." Both Lemon Yellow and Forest Green. Be still my heart. Silver Cup here I come. The first course is Fiji, where tropical shoreline and palm trees line the track. A nice touch.

0:25 Wow ... the track didn't FEEL that much tougher, jump-wise, but somehow I'm running into opponents and overheating left and right. There are fewer cooling strips, I guess, and more jumps between them. And is it my imagination, or are the opponents racing more aggressively now? My 1:25.13 gets me a C grade. Yuck. I can do better.

0:27 1:14.48 for an A rank the second time around. I was a little trigger-shy on the turbo to avoid overheating, which made things feel quite a bit slower. I only crashed once this time, into a concrete barrier that I really thought I had wheelie'd to avoid.

0:29 I'm just noticing that trying to overtake opponents doesn't work as I'd expect. I'll be keeping pace with them while on the regular gas, for instance, but then when I crank up the turbo I don't gain on them at all. This despite them not using their turbo. Weird.

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0:31 My 1:27.08 time is enough for an A on the Mexico track. The tracks are definitely getting trickier, with some sections where I don't get enough distance and end up landing on the near side of a ramp, leading to some momentum-sapping landings. I also totally misjudge one landing and go tumbling for the first time on a jump. The increased challenge is making things much more engaging.

0:33 Note to self: In a choice between driving into speed-sapping rough and crashing into an opponent ... choose the rough.

0:34 1:32.32 gets me a B on Madrid. Lots of rough patches and steep jumps make it easy to lose momentum, which I do. Despite pulling off wheelie jumps, I'm still not getting enough distance to make all my landings smoothly. Maybe I have to whip my bike in the air to get more distance or something.

0:37 1:15.27 gets me a B in Canada. Overheating in a grassy area on Lap 1 costs me oodles of time. The course design is definitely picking up -- lots of sections where I have to land with a perfectly smooth landing on the far side of a ramp to set up the next jump almost immediately. It requires a decent amount of precision.

Excitebike: World Rally

0:38 I jump over to the online mode, where I figure the game will live or die in the long term. I don't think I'm good enough to compete yet, but hopefully it'll be fun anyway. Let's "Race Anyone." I'm "Searching for Match" for about 15 seconds, then "Connecting" for about 15 more. I'm set up against PAT, ZMAN and KIRBY, all of us sitting in a lobby. Apparently they're mid-race. I can watch the remaining time and their shifting rankings. It's not very exciting, but better than nothing, I guess.

0:40 "RACE IS OVER" and they return to the lobby. Not that I can talk to them or anything ... ZMAN leaves when he sees me. He's obviously scared. Random-course selection roulette leads to the Gold Cup Paris course. I'll be going in blind! Gulp!

0:43 Well, that was surprisingly thrilling. I get two midair crashes early with the endless stream of white computer opponents. Then I accidentally pause my local game when shaking the Remote to get up, putting me in an early third place. I come back thanks to some clutch, engine-cooling takeouts, and end up third by just 0.21 seconds. Not bad for my first time. I get 1 "Everyone Point" for my trouble.

0:45 The next randomly chosen course is Bronze Madrid, which I'm at least familiar with. I was dominating most of the race by getting more cooling strips than the others, but one crash on a missed cutoff lets them catch up a bit. I end up winning by 0.06 seconds on a thrilling last-second turbo jump! +4 "Everyone Points" for first place. Yay!

0:48 Get some early engine cools off newcomer Walter, who constantly runs right into my back wheel for some reason. The game is showing some lag problems now ... it looked like I took out one opponent, but he stays upright. Another time I get taken out despite not touching the guy. I end up second to another racer named who's also named ACE, which is kind of confusing. Still, racing real people is definitely more exciting than racing the clock.

0:51 I crash on the final jump this time, letting PAT pass me for third place. I've got to get better at wheelie-ing over opponents, but I just keep forgetting it's even an option. I'm also starting to miss my wheelie jumps, which had been remarkably easy before. Hrmm...

0:54 Just me and Walter racing now. First I overheat, then he does. A few takedowns on computer-controlled opponents give me a half-second edge at the end despite a second overheat. I'm up to 11 "Everyone Points" now. I'm loving the fast pace of these races. As soon as one is over, it seems like the next one is about to start. The lobby system is simple and the action barely stops.

0:56 ANOTHER race on the Canada track. That's three in a row! I've already begun to memorize it at this point. I crash once, but make up for it by taking out newcomer DANW2, who has an annoying habit of tailgating me. He gives me a run for my money at the end, but a few smooth landings let me edge him out. Thrilling!

0:59 First place the whole way on the FOURTH repetition of the Canada track. DANW2 actually wheelies over me at one point, but I wheelie over him right back. When I turn on the turbo and cut across three lanes to just barely cut him off, I think he knows it's all over. The other two can't even compete.

Would I play this game for more than an hour? Yes.
Why? Simple yet exciting gameplay combines with a simple yet exciting online mode to make a simple yet exciting racer!

This column is based on a retail copy of the game provided by the publisher.

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