In Excitebike the player chooses to race solo or against computer-assisted riders, they race against a certain time limit. The goal is to qualify for the Excitebike (the championship) race by coming in at third place or above in the challenge race (preliminary race). The times to beat are located on the stadium walls (for first place) and in the lower left corner (for third place). In any race, the best time is 8 seconds ahead of third place. When the player places first, then they get a message: “It’s a new record!” Additional points are earned by beating the previously-set record time.
The player controls the position of the red motorcycle with the Y-axis of the directional pad, and controls acceleration with the A and B buttons. Using B causes greater acceleration, but also increases the motorcycle’s temperature shown as a bar at the bottom of the screen. When the temperature exceeds safe limits the bar becomes full; the player will be immobilized for several seconds while the bike cools down. Driving over an arrow will immediately reduce the bike’s temperature.
The pitch of the motorcycle can be modified with the X-axis of the directional pad: left raises the front, while right lowers the front. In the air, this rotates the bike, but can also be used to create wheelies on the ground. Pushing up or down turns the handlebars left or right, respectively, when the bike is on the ground.
If the player runs into an opponent, lands badly from a jump, or crashes into a ramp, they will be knocked off the bike and land in the grass. Pushing A repeatedly allows the player to run back to the bike and continue the race.
At the start of the game, the player can choose one of five tracks in which to race.
SXXTYUVV : Never overheat
YEXIKOYA : Recover fast after crashes
PEXIEZLA : Reduced enemy bikes in game B
AAUSEYAO : Timer runs at half speed
GAUSEYAP : Timer runs at quarter speed
ENUKGEAP + GESGPALA : Turbo speed on ‘A’ button
EVUKGEAP + TESGPALA : Mega turbo speed on ‘A’ button