If you can overlook the graphics, Need For Speed Underground 2 is one of the few games that actually has something in common with its next gen counterparts. The gameplay has plenty in common with the console version of the same name, so much so that you can actually use the skills that you acquire playing it on one game system and transfer it to the other. Of course the GBA version isn't as loaded with features and it doesn't have the same Grand Theft Auto-based premise and format. Working on a fraction of the processing capabilities, this GBA version is still a good racing game in its own right. The fact that you can actually compare it to the next-gen console version speaks volumes.

There's little about NFSU 2 that will change your taste for racing games if you're not into the genre. There is a lot of customizing and there are plenty of modes as well as mini games but it's all racing related which is a big payoff for fans of both racing games and the GBA.

Utilizing the GBA's processing abilities to the max, the faux 3D engine works well with plenty of environmental detail such as buildings, sidewalks and ambient traffic with just the slightest hint of a slowdown on rare occasions. Like the last game in the series, this sequel forfeits great graphics for a smooth running engine with plenty of scope. The tradeoff is a smart one since a slow framerate would render the game unplayable and the urban background environment really adds a sense of realism. With jump ramps and hidden shortcuts, it's interactive and a pleasure to explore.

Races include circuit, knockout, time trials, drag and drift. The drift races require you to use your brakes to drift, or powerslide, into turns. The cars are licensed and therefore won't display any damage. Hit a building, wall or rail and if you don't bounce back onto the track immediately at the very least you might lose a couple of seconds.

Taking shortcuts is one way to take and maintain a lead. They appear all over but you have to be on the lookout for them and react in a split second. Of course once you get familiar with the course you'll have it aced and for this reason the AI always manages to catch up with you regardless of how fast you're going or what shortcuts you take.

Money earned from successful races can be spent on upgrades. Cosmetic upgrades such as paintjobs, fenders, scoops, rims, tints and neon actually improve the appearance of the car models. Some of the car manufacturers include Nissan, Toyota, Subaru, Ford and Volkswagen. Performance enhancing upgrades can actually be felt. Upgrades here include engine, tires, exhaust and a nitro kit which uses nitrous to give you a boost when you need to break away from the pack.

The cars have a weighted feel to them and the controls are responsive. It's easy to make out turns in advance thanks to the environmental detail - as long as you're not driving at turbo speed. The sound effects are punchy and varied. The tunes are comprised of hip-hop and techno beats which in themselves are repetitive but by choosing these styles of music the developers are able to save more processing for the graphics engine with no one the wiser. Smart move.

With tons of courses, races, upgrades and modes including a multi-player mode, if you get bored with this game you better increase your Ritalin dosage.

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System: GBA
Dev: Pocketeers
Pub: EA
Release: Nov 2004
Players: 1 - 4
Review by Dean