A’s “Need for Speed” series is no stranger to just about every game platform ever released. It was always the racer that tried to please everyone and ended up enthralling no one. This year, after a tepid critical and commercial performance for “Undercover,” EA decided to split the series into a serious experience approaching a simulation on the HD consoles, and a more playful and colorful game on the Wii and DS. After spending some time with the Wii and DS versions, “Need for Speed Nitro,” this is looking like a good move.
I wasn’t expecting much from “Nitro” on the DS, mostly because you can count the number of good racing games on the platform on one hand. I am pleasantly surprised. “Nitro” is a solid game, though not spectacular.
Before I get to the impressions, some perspective. I am not a serious racing fan. I think the best racer is one that doesn’t take itself too seriously. I love “Burnout” games, “Mario Kart,” and “Mashed.” “Forza” and “Gran Turismo” are, for the most part, beyond me. Perspective provided, moving on.
Instead of trying to show up “Forza 3,” “Nitro” wisely features exaggerated caricatures of real cars. The game pays little attention to reality, other than the fact that the cartoon fancy sports cars are in the higher tiers. Your first choices will include ’60s VW vans, Renault hatchbacks, and Nissan Cubes. The cars are cosmetically customizable, but the only way to improve your performance is to switch to a different vehicle.
Surprisingly, driving using the DS’ D-pad feels great. It basically controls like an older console game, not taking advantage of the touch screen at all, which is completely fine. It just doesn’t need it. The game also looks quite good for a DS game – the solid framerate contributes to a nice sense of speed.
here are a few interesting mechanics sprinkled into the standard gas-brake-drift racing gameplay. The first is the context-sensitive X button, which basically makes you do an insanely ridiculous trick involving whatever is in front of you. This can be driving on two wheels between cops that randomly appear to block the track, and it can also be doing front flips over your opponents, if you draft them long enough. This is a fun mechanic that really embodies the game’s style.
Winning in “Nitro” requires a bit more than just getting first place – you also have to get the most stunt points. In addition to the expected drifting and airtime, you can also drive through a series of icons to paint your logo on nearby buildings. This easily nets the most points, and the first racer through an area has the first chance to grab these icons. Thus, if you are in first, you will end up with far more stunt points than your lagging competition, so this mechanic essentially becomes meaningless. However, it doesn’t really detract from the racing, and it’s fun to spray your customizable icon up on sections of the track.
he game’s structure is really its Achilles’ Heel. You go “around the world” (pick things from a menu) and do races at various exotic locales. The DS seems to lack the car upgrades its console cousin features, featuring only cosmetic changes, so career basically boils down to doing the same four event types at six different tracks. There are four “levels” of play that basically repeat the same six tracks. The tracks themselves are fairly mundane, with a small number of alternate routes and hazards – they don’t really do anything interesting, like risk/reward shortcuts.
The DS version of “Nitro” is probably best played in small doses – that was the only way I was able to enjoy it. More than two or three races in one play session really starts to drive the game’s weaknesses into the forefront. Still, “racing game with real cars” is not the most common kind of game on the DS, and hey, there will certainly be a sequel that might improve on the game’s flaws next year.
[!/mrface3.jpg "Mr. Face say this game OKAY. Mr. Face never wrong!")
*Mr. Face say this game OKAY.
Mr. Face never wrong!*
*Review based on a copy provided by the publisher and played for around four hours total. Wii review coming soon!*