Remaking an old game can be tricky, especially if it is a title that is heralded as a classic in its own right. There is such a fine line that is walked in producing the remake; it is very hard to find the right balance between updating enough of the game to make it relevant to today's audiences and leaving enough alone to ensure that correct homage is paid to the original. Nintendo's original Excitebike game is one of those games that I think many would consider a classic. It is also one that I think many people would watch closely in the process of a remake. Nintendo remade the game back in 2000 for the Nintendo 64 and it received a pretty good reception by the gaming community. As good as that game was, which happens to still rank as one of my favorite games in that generation, it was a far cry from the Excitebike that gamers knew and loved back in the '80's. Now, nearly a decade later, Nintendo has decided that it is time to try it again. This time however, they did not make such a drastic change to the formula. One look at the new game and it is evident that this is pure, classic Excitebike through and through. It does not just look like it though, it plays like it too.
The Wiiware version of Excitebike: World Rally plays almost exactly like the original Nintendo Entertainment System and arcade versions of the game. You will see the same style of graphics, hear the same style of music, traverse the same obstacles on the courses, and race in the same manner (control wise) as you did 20+ years ago. Everything just has a slightly updated look. Graphics wise, Nintendo opted to keep the same artistic design as the original game and simply up it to a 2.5 dimensional style rather than the basic 2 dimensional look. This creates a very simple yet cool look for the game and sort of looks like a (really, really good) Lego / stop animation video. The characters all look like little plastic figures, which fits the mood of the game.
The game still feels exactly the same as the original title(s); you will do little more than move your character up and down through the lanes and occasionally switch between the gas and turbo buttons. They kept it as clean and simple as the 8-bit original. There are a few gameplay tweaks thrown into the game to give it that fresh feel, namely the heat management of your bike. Using the turbo button not only speeds up you bike, but it cause the temperature gauge to increase as well. If you get too hot, your bike will overheat and be forced to the side of the road to cool, costing you valuable race time. This is the same thing that you had to manage in the original but the only option that you had in that version to curb the overheating effects was to ride over the occasionally cooling strips that appeared on the course. While the cooling strips still appear in World Rally, players now have other means of cooling their bikes down. If a player manages to knock another player down by either cutting them off or landing on top of them (coming off of jump), their temperature gauge will be reset to zero. Is it realistic? No. Does it add a lot of fun and new strategy the races? Yes.
Another new feature that Nintendo has brought to the game is the addition of online play. Players have the option of either racing against registered friends or searching for random, open matches with various players across the world. The process for the latter can be quite lengthy at times, but I have found that once you connect to a game, the players involved usually stick around for quite a few races. This means that you won't have to repeat the search following every match and it can also create some heated battles that stretch across numerous tracks. I have not experienced a single instance of lag during my time with the game, making it one of the most enjoyable online experiences that I have had with the Wii thus far. Oddly enough, Nintendo neglected to include a local multiplayer mode for the game, so don't expect to race with your friends on a single console.
Excitebike: World Rally isn't all racing with no purpose, there is a "game" / career experience to be had here as well. When playing through the single player mode, gamers are striving to earn the highest ranking(s) possible through a series of races in four different cups: Bronze, Silver, Gold, and Platinum. As players move up the list of cups, the competition gets tougher and the target times for each track get tougher and tougher. Each individual cup consists of four races which span the globe in the locations including Mexico, Kyoto (Japan), China, London, and Canada. Winning first place on a track secures your ability to move onto the next race, but to truly master the game you will need to shoot for the S-rank times on each level, which can be quite tough on the last two cups. In order to achieve these times, you will need to master both navigation of the tracks and the management of your temperature meter. If you play it right, you can run the entire race with the turbo held down, but you have to take advantage of your competition in order to do so. Achieving an S-rank on courses will unlock additional color selections for your bikes, so you are working towards something.
The final mode included in the game is the return of the classic track editor. World Rally not only lets you to build your own courses for personal amusement, but allows you to share them with friends you have registered on your online friends list. This helps to ensure that you will have an ever-changing gaming experience and as long as you put the work into it, you could theoretically have an unlimited source of original tracks. The editor is extremely user friendly and a course can be made in a matter of minutes. This is definitely something that can add a lot of life to the game.
Excitebike: World Rally is a really good example of how to take a classic, simple game and bring it into the modern era. While it isn't technically spectacular compared to other HD games today, it has a fun factor and quality that is rare in gaming all together. It would be very safe to say that if you loved the original Excitebike, this game will be no different. World Rally, is fun, polished, and a really great bargain if you are looking for something to pick up and play rather than having to sink hours upon hours into a game. The game does have its drawbacks, namely in the lack of local multiplayer and limited career mode, which could have been so much longer, but it all "works" in the end. If you are looking for an enjoyable, casual game, you cannot go wrong with Excitebike: World Rally.
Rating: 8.5 Very Good