Earlier this year, Need for Speed: Shift was released to some of the highest praise the series has ever garnered. The game was re-focused on simulation-style racing, and it wowed players in terms of depth, control, and production values. However, even though Shift took the NFS franchise in a new direction, there are still those who like the fast-paced action of the old NFS. For those who fall into that category, Need for Speed: Nitro was created.
Interestingly, instead of crowding the PS3/Xbox 360 crowd with NFS titles, Nitro was made Wii-exclusive. Although this decision may spark instantaneous judgment of the game being “too casual”, or even worse, “shovelware”, the reverse is actually true. Need for Speed: Nitro is the first racer for the Wii (that doesn’t involve karts) that is actually fun to play.
The setup of the game is fairly simple, and the game’s career mode involves participating in track-specific challenges and circuits in order to earn stars. Earn enough stars through the various events and you’ll unlock the next track. There’s no overarching story or experience point system, and the entire experience is amazingly simple. I found the formula here refreshingly simple, and after mounting hours in both NFS: Shift and Forza 3, I was happy to experience some good, speed-driven gameplay without having to worry about nuanced turns or gaining XP.
But if you think Nitro is all about Speed, think again. There are definitely some strategic elements that will need to be implemented for success in the game. One element of the Need for Speed franchise that has been minimized in recent iterations is the presence of the cops. However, in Nitro, the cops are back, and they are very aggressive. If you don’t slow down when passing the cops, you can expect more than flashing lights in the background.
In addition to some retro value, the addition of police to the gameplay adds some much needed strategy into the mix. Police in Nitro have their own personal fleet of Hummers, and if you accrue a high enough wanted level, police will start ramming your car with their Hummers. This means you’ll have to either outrun them or sneak past them to save your ride (and your race!). There is also a collectible item that allows you to get the heat off your car and place it on a rival.
Though the police certainly are a big part of the regular quickplay and circuit races, there is plenty more to NFS: Nitro than being chased around by the police. There are several different race types you can take part in, including staples like elimination, drag, and drift challenges. There is also a new speed trap mode that challenges you to get the highest speed at certain cop stakeouts to earn stars. While nothing really stands out as extraordinary in the different modes, there are enough modes that the gameplay never really feels boring.
However, there are some things in NFS: Nitro that could have been better. For instance, while I appreciated all of the events I mentioned above, repeating them over four times to unlock the game’s meager 15 tracks can get monotonous fairly quickly. This is definitely not a game you’ll want to spend hours with at a time.
Another issue I had with Nitro was the length of playtime. Since the game has no online modes whatsoever, I was expecting a long career mode or a deep garage with plenty of cars to unlock. However, NFS: Nitro’s license mode is incredibly short (it will probably only take you three or four hours to finish) and the game’s paltry 30-car garage is easily unlocked in less than ten hours. Though racing with local friends can provide some replay value, NFS: Nitro feels a bit hollow overall, and I can’t really see myself playing this one six weeks from now.
One aspect of the game that does not disappoint is the visuals. NFS: Nitro is one of the most polished third-party games on the Wii. Cars look smooth and animations are surprisingly consistent. There are almost no jagged lines, and I was pleasantly surprised at how technically sound the game was. Even the different tracks have a certain vibrancy to them, which was basically unheard of in a Wii game before. There are plenty of moving elements in the background, and as you travel through tunnels and under bridges, the lighting effects and shadows change around your vehicle. Though these may sound like relatively minor details, when you talk about games on the Wii, it is often these small details that are overlooked. However, it seems fairly obvious that EA Montreal took their time with the visuals in NFS: Nitro, and their hard work definitely shows.
As far as control is concerned, NFS: Nitro is a mixed bag. There are four different control schemes to use: Wii-mote, Wii-mote and Nunchuk, Classic Controller, and GameCube Controller. Interestingly, if you use the Wii-mote alone, you’ll have to tilt the Wii-mote from side to side as it sits lengthwise in your hand. This is a huge contrast to most Wii-mote-controlled Wii games, which have you using the Wii-mote sideways and tilting it up and down (like a wheel). However, what is not surprising is that this control scheme doesn’t work too well. Using just the Wii-mote is imprecise and doesn’t give you enough control over Nitro boosts. The button for engaging turbo boosts is also a little too far away.
Fortunately, there are three other control schemes that do a good job of picking up the slack of the Wii-mote option. The Classic/GameCube selections are the best, as they allow you to use the shoulder buttons to accelerate and brake (like a traditional racer) and use the thumbsticks to steer. Controlling with these two options feels very precise, and if you have either the Classic or GameCube Controller, these will be your best bet for controlling the game. However, the Nunchuk and Wii-mote combination isn’t half-bad either, allowing you to use the Nunchuk’s thumbstick for steering, which provides ample precision.
I’m not going to pretend that Need for Speed: Nitro can live up to the grandiosity of Shift. However, for an arcade-style racer, Nitro is a ton of fun. As a racer for the Wii, Nitro is phenomenal. If you are still waiting on a racer for the Wii that is actually playable, here’s your game. It may not have the depth of Shift, but it’s got plenty of speed to spare, and it will not disappoint fans of the original Need for Speed formula.
RATING OUT OF 5 RATING DESCRIPTION 4.0 Graphics
Cars are nicely detailed, and tracks are surprisingly vivid for a Wii game. 3.8 Control
Your experience will vary widely depending on your control setting. Classic/GameCube Controllers work amazingly, but using just the Wii-mote is imprecise and frustrating. 3.9 Music / Sound FX / Voice Acting
The soundtrack features plenty of high energy rock tunes; perfect for high speed chases! 3.5
Though there’s only a handful of modes, the game has a very high “fun factor” and is great in small doses.
3.7 Overall Rating – Good
Not an average. See Rating legend above for a final score breakdown.