|System: Wii, DS||Review Rating Legend|
|Dev: EA Montreal||1.0 - 1.9 = Avoid||4.0 - 4.4 = Great|
|Pub: Electronic Arts||2.0 - 2.4 = Poor||4.5 - 4.9 = Must Buy|
|Release: Nov. 3, 2009||2.5 - 2.9 = Average||5.0 = The Best|
|Players: 1-4||3.0 - 3.4 = Fair|
|ESRB Rating: Everyone 10+||3.5 - 3.9 = Good|
by Robert VerBruggen
It's common wisdom that there have been a few too many Need for Speed games, but it's not until you look at the DS lineup that you realize how true that is: Undercover, Prostreet, Carbon: Own the City, Underground 2, Most Wanted Holy cow! That's one for each year since the system came out. Is there anything left for Nitro to do?
Well, sort of. Nitro, a very cartoonish arcade racer, is Need for Speed in little more than name; the developers came up with something new, but only by breaking the mold. Nonetheless, it's a fun, simple, well-made game that will meet expectations. Anyone who wants realism or depth should turn elsewhere, but it's a great way to waste a few hours.
The setup is easy enough to learn. You can accelerate, brake, steer, drift, use nitro, and perform special moves (when prompted). The drifting feels a little odd at first, but once you get the hang of steering and letting go of the brake, it gives you almost perfect control over your vehicle. There's a terrific sense of speed, especially when using nitro, though we wish the nitro bar filled a lot faster - you can only use a few speed bursts per lap, even if you're good at the kind of flashy driving that builds nitro. We also wish it were easier to jump; if you don't hit a ramp just right, there's nothing you can do to right yourself.
The special moves (or "heroic driving") are a new feature to this game, and while they're a certain amount of fun to watch, in the end they don't add a lot of depth. You can only perform them in certain situations: when you draft off another car for a few seconds, at the very beginning of a race, and when you reach an obstacle on the track (such as a police roadblock). An indicator moves along a meter on the side of your screen, and if you push X to stop it in the right place, you perform the move. You might get a speed boost or skid narrowly through the roadblock on two wheels. When drafting, the correct timing will make you jump clear over the car in front of you, which makes passing a breeze. Unfortunately, these are little more than quick-time events; cheap ways to enable you to do new things.
Another new feature is "tagging." Strewn about each track are circular power-ups, and when you collect them, the scenery around that area of the track turns to the color scheme you've selected. This is spiffy visually, and you earn points for doing it (your final placing depends on your points, not just on your rank in the race), but it's not exactly earth-shattering.
Speaking of visuals, they're rather impressive. The sense of speed is amazing for such a small screen, even on the early levels, and we noticed very few framerate hiccups. The overall look and color scheme have a lot of panache, making you feel like you're driving through a more colorful and vibrant version of the real world. Each of the six cities has its own slightly different flavor. Perhaps the only problem is that if you look into the distance, you can see the scenery popping in, but even this happens in style; the landscapes appear to draw themselves.
Single races are available, of course, but as usual the most engrossing part of the game is the career mode. There are six different cities, each of which hosts four to six races for each of the three main cups (Bronze, Silver, Gold). When you complete a cup, you unlock an especially challenging race in Nitro Cup. There are traditional races, "knockout" competitions in which the last place is eliminated in each lap, and checkpoint races. In the most frequent non-race event, you have to drive through destructible items on the track before time runs out. We could have done without these events; besides losing the sense of speed, they bring out the one severe flaw in the game's controls: when you drive in reverse, the camera swings around to the front of your car, making it impossible to tell what direction you'll be heading in when you start driving forward again. It's actually better to turn 180 degrees with a drift than to back up.