Two-wheeled motorsports today have a strong and dedicated following, with WorldSBK superbike third most popular motorsport behind Formula 1 and MotoGP, and motocross having come a long way since the ‘scramble’ races of old.
In short, motorcycling is a passion shared by millions. Not everyone can afford a brand new BMW GS series, of course, so some turn to digital depictions for their motorcycling thrills. Back in the golden age of arcades and early consoles — even before the rise of straddle-able life-size reproductions for controls starting with Hang-on in 1985 — motorcycle games used to be more common. But in recent times, there’s been a shift, and cars seem to dominate the video game scene. Motorbike-focused games generally see lower sales and fewer development dollars.
By contrast, all tastes are catered to when it comes to car racing games, spanning multiple sub-genres. Console gamers get awesome, feature-rich titles, from Codemasters’ Formula One series to Need For Speed, Gran Turismo, and kart racers featuring just about any cartoon IP you can think of. They dominate on mobile, too, to the extent that the aesthetic moves well outside racing. Coral’s online slot games include Wild Chase Tokyo Go which features lots of car-related action, speed and thrills. Even the future seems to be cars — take F-Zero clone Cosmic Challenge Racing, for example. Bikes are sometimes an afterthought or late addition to long-running series such as Mario Kart (where they didn’t appear until the fourth game), but it's never the other way around.
Despite cars dominating the gaming market, there have been some fine motorcycle-only games, and for those looking to experience thrills on two wheels digitally, these are the games to go for.
It might seem a little odd to claim a rather primitive side-scrolling game from 1984 is among the best bike games. But believe it or not, the original Excitebike is a real blast. Don’t let the cute 8-bit graphics and bleep-bloop audio of the motocross game fool you — it’s as fiendishly difficult as anything of its era. The basic concept feels at home with two wheels and would influence later titles like Joe Danger. The Nintendo 64 version (Excitebike 64) is a very different game but also highly regarded for the fun factor, adding some fun split-screen multiplayer modes.
We’re in an era when photorealism, with the help of a few small tricks, is starting to confuse people, as illustrated by the reaction to footage from Milestone's Ride 4. But anyone looking for a modern, premium simulation of a bike racer probably needs to look no further. The official tie-in series that takes a slow, iterative approach to each release, MotoGP pays incredible attention to the physics and other details of the sport. One to sink your teeth into.
Another old-school title spawning a bunch of sequels, this time starting in the 16-bit era (1991). The basic concept is an illegal street race where punching your opponents off their bikes is a key mechanic, and it’s a hoot. Definitely not something you’d see on four wheels, though neither something we’d recommend recreating in real life (imagine wanting to make all those repairs to your beautiful Bison gear). While the 3 Genesis titles were great, other versions had great features. For the best of all worlds, the 1994 3DO version for CD-based systems included cool art, awesome licensed music and sprite-based 2.5D graphics that just pop better than the early 3D of the era. Road Redemption is another more recent title that took the concept and ran with it if you want a deeper experience.
Although they don’t get nearly as much love as car-based games, there are a number of standout, fun and original bike games out there. And as long as there’s demand, we can expect more to come.