“We’re jumping bridges! We’re hurting feelings! This oughta be illegal!” That’s how announcer Greg Tomlinson welcomed viewers back to the 2000 X Games, as they were about to watch some Moto X Freestyle, which means riding a dirt bike around doing stunts. Tomlinson had good reason to be hyped. The X Games, which had been around since 1995, had introduced a generation to the idea of extreme sports.
With ESPN’s reach, X Games introduced athletes like Tony Hawk and Matt Hoffman to a world already taken with the magical idea of “alternative.” Alternative music, alternative movies, why not alternative sports? The X Games proved they could be just as lucrative as traditional sports, especially when it came to video games. The developers of Tony Hawk Pro Skater had watched X Games footage to understand how skaters moved, and the payoff had been tremendous.
While skateboards had translated perfectly to video games, helping to define the first 3D era, other X Games-related sports still struggled to make inroads. There had been a number of motocross games, racing motorcycles over dirt tracks, but none had quite stuck the landing. By reaching into its past, Nintendo was able to translate the extreme with Excitebike 64, which came out in the year 2000 and is available to play right now if you’ve subscribed to Nintendo Switch Online + Expansion Pack.
Excitebike 64 is a fun game, especially because it doubles as a time capsule. The game’s predecessor, Excitebike, was mainly known for being the game Shigeru Miyamoto directed before Mario. The new game wipes the slate clean in an attempt to capture an extreme moment. Full of record-scratching and No Fear imagery, the game lies firmly in '90s aesthetics. It feels like a slice of x-treme life, something that could sit comfortably next to an early 2000s movie like Vin Diesel’s forgotten not-quite-masterpiece xXx.
New players will have six tracks to choose from, varying a little in setting and style of race. A few are outdoors, most are in arenas. Some have players moving through streams and forests, others have bumpy hills to climb and bounce around on.
Some of these tracks could have benefitted from Mario Kart-style mischief, but the racing does keep one core component from kart racing games: wiping out doesn’t mean you’re done. Steady turning and hitting jumps with turbo just right will keep a player competitive no matter how many times the announcer will tell the crowd that they have taken “a soil sample.”
Maybe the announcer will annoy some, I loved the guy. He’s always talking about riders getting soil samples and tasting dirt, he’s so excited when somebody moves from 5th to 4th place. It’s a little repetitive, but I appreciate the genuine feeling that the voice actor put into this work.
The game has six racers, some of whom are better at jumps, speed, turbo, turning, some who are balanced. Maybe some would prefer real motocross racers, but personally I thought “Tricky” Ricky Stern and Sarah “Sugar” Hill were fun. They wear No Fear logos and do tricks. The extreme sports craze did not last forever, but Excitebike 64 can stand proudly with Tony Hawk as a game that immortalized a moment.