Fondly remembered as a launch title on the original NES, Excitebike was in many of kids’ video game libraries and represented something that wasn’t the norm for its time: a smooth side-scrolling racing game.
The game was designed by the legendary Shigeru Miyamoto, creator of Super Mario Bros., so it should come as no surprise that the game has lived as a cult classic since it’s American release in 1985.
The game features a few modes including a solo race, a race against another computer and a track design mode. The track design mode made Excitebike a killer app for 80’s kids, as you could create any dirt bike track your heart desired.
And who can forget the classic animation of crashing, falling off of your bike and having to trot back, pick it up, and get back to racing!
I also believe that the other killer aspect of this game was the basic nature of the NES controller. We often forget that gaming consoles had joysticks and other crazy button layouts, while the NES controller had a simple d-pad and two main buttons – this made Excitebike accessible for anyone to play. It was crazy simple, yes, but the game was nuanced enough that you couldn’t just jam on a single button to accelerate and win.
You had to make sure your engine didn’t overheat, alternating when you hit the gas or not. Going to fast would also lead to bad spills off of jumps, so timing and strategy were integral to such a basic game. (Yet another reason it became a timeless classic.)
No doubt you’ve experienced this quarter-sucker of a game in the arcades as a youth, or at least another game which was inspired by it.
Button-smashing was prevalent in a lot of arcade games, but Commando may take the cake for non-stop action. Back when you had to “get gud” at games, this one was fairly unforgiving for an arcade-to-NES translation.
If you didn’t break a controller smashing the fire button, you may have in frustration otherwise as each of the nearly copycat levels ramps up in difficulty through the end.
The game, however, is fun. Part of that frustration would come from perfecting firefights as you would complete each “mission” which is a batch of four levels – and with four missions, there’s a lot of repetitiveness.
The action scrolls from bottom to top, as you avoid bullets and obstacles, finding hidden “underground” rooms along the way. The protagonist, “Super Joe” (great name by the way) can shoot in 8 directions, including diagonally. Grenades and a machine gun power-up round out the weapons at your disposal.
The levels end with a barrage of enemies storming the screen. It’s these showdowns that make the game special, as you duck, dodge, fire back, and fight to win the missions.
You are then rewarded with the usual 80’s cheesy cutscenes, complete with awful English translation.
The game ends, ***SPOILER ALERT*** with one of the worst few-line “thank you” screens you could think of too!
In all, Commando is still a fun game that harkens back to button-smashing shooters of yesteryear. It’s not Call of Duty and by today’s standards, most kids would probably get bored with it quickly.
For those of us who enjoyed mastering titles, however, it’s well worth picking up and playing. (Especially if you enjoyed Contra.)
Super Mario Bros.
This wasn’t really a bucket list item, as any child who grew up with a Nintendo in their living room had (and beat) this game multiple times. I just wanted a quick Sunday stroll down memory lane and to play from 1-1 through 8-4 with no warp zones.
This game was and still is a masterpiece in every sense of the word. I love the small variations in the levels, like the night time worlds and the silver pipes.
PS – was there anything more annoying than the springboards?