I was kind of psyched when Ubisoft’s Nitrobike arrived in my mailbox. I still like the original NES Excitebike, and Excitebike 64 left me with fond memories. I was more excited to learn that Left Field Studios, the guys who made the latter, had developed Nitrobike. It was with weighty anticipation that I popped the disk into my Wii, grabbed a bag of popcorn, and let the fun begin. Oh, but life, that cruel mistress, rewarded my heady enthusiasm with callus indifference, forcing me to endure a game so basic, generic, and limited that I felt like I was being punished. Nitrobike is not Excitebike.
The game is bland in ways which you will not fully appreciate without playing it firsthand. The post-apocalyptic setting is nothing new, the characters look beyond horrible (is that a woman or Marilyn Manson?), and the bikes are all exactly the same, except for different paint jobs and stats. The environments include junkyards, post-apocalyptic junkyards, forests, and snowy courses. Aside from the snow course, all of the racetracks are dark and impersonal. Trash litters the sides of the raceways, begging you to run into it. The courses themselves feature a good amount of twists and turns, but shortcuts are markedly limited or absent given that you’re strongly encouraged to stay on the designated path.
At least the controls aren’t awful. Much like the far superior ExciteTruck, players hold the Wii Remote NES-style. You turn your bike like you’d turn a steering wheel, and you can tip the Remote back to raise your bike’s front tire during jumps. 2 is gas, 1 is brake, and pressing the D-pad activates the boost. Turning feels overly sensitive, making it very easy to over-correct. If you boost for too long, you explode. After hitting a good-sized jump (there aren’t many), you can press a simple sequence of D-pad directions to activate an incredibly dull trick. If you successfully perform four tricks without crashing, your boost meter will max out. This would be more useful if racetracks featured more straightaways. As it stands, you boost into a corner, brake, find your line, then boost out of it…then you hit another corner. While boosting is definitely integral to winning races, the course design doesn’t exactly encourage it.
Multiplayer is present in the form of local split-screen and Wi-Fi. This was my first Wi-Fi game, and I was disappointed to find that nobody on the planet wanted to play with me. I blame the apparatus, though. There are only two ways of getting into a game: Friend Codes (yippee) or game hosting. To host a game, you must select the type of game and a distinct number of opponents. If the stars align, you will connect with somebody else who is looking for the same variables and is not already involved in a game. You cannot join a game already in progress. and there is no centralized lobby. I found one other player to race with in the fifteen minutes I tried to connect with people. The entire race lasted three minutes. Offline, multiplayer is fun because you and a friend are both boosting into corners and being forced to break. You can choose a number of bots to race with, too, which is kind of cool. Of course, there are MUCH better multiplayer offerings out there (like ExciteTruck), so my buddies and I quickly found something better to play.
Single-player is split into Career and Exhibition. Exhibition is basically Quick Play, in that you choose a course and the number of bots to race against (if any). I suppose Exhibition is good for learning the twists and turns of a particular course, but Career mode is where the meat is. This solo campaign pigeonholes you into completing various challenges (like time trials, races, and variations on those two themes) which you must complete in order. The very first race will have you cursing like a sailor. A loading screen that says you must earn gold medals in all of the challenges in order to unlock everyting is so disheartening!
Comparing Nitrobike to ExciteTruck is unavoidable, what with the exact same control scheme and the name's obvious derivation from Excitebike. ExciteTruck is the better game by far: it features some awesome course design, encourages shortcut-finding, has several-hundred-foot jumps, an old-school arcade feel, and above all, personality. Nitrobike has none of these things. If you veer off the beaten path for even a second, a message appears: "Get back on the track!" If you don’t immediately obey, the computer will reposition you itself. Exploration isn’t tolerated. What's more, course designs are limiting and don’t really take advantage of the "Nitro" in Nitrobike. But worst of all, the game’s generic characters and setting rob it of any personality. Nitrobike is not extreme—it’s just boring.
Avoid it, dear readers. Go buy ExciteTruck instead.