With a long list of titles spanning some 15 years, EA’s Need for Speed franchise is well established as one of the most successful racing series ever. Of course, the NFS games have evolved over the course of time, and with the recent NFS: Shift receiving plenty of positive feedback from the punters, we were interested to see how the latest title would rate.
We do have to ponder whether the Wii is the best platform for a racing title of this type. Aside from the very popular racers featuring cartoon characters in karts, the Wii is always going to struggle as a serious race platform. Graphics, physics and drive mechanics are king in the genre, and unfortunately the Wii is not in the supercar category. However NFS: Nitro is not trying to be another ultra-realistic sim racer like NFS: Shift. Instead it’s very much an arcade-style racer, with stylised graphics to better suit the console for which it was custom-built.
With several different controller options, you’re certainly spoilt for choice… although some choices are more user-friendly than others. First up we have the Wii remote – with or without the Wii wheel. We found neither of these appealing, and quickly abandoned both in favour of the Wii remote plus nunchuck. You can also select classic controller or even GameCube controller, if that is your preference. There’s an onboard tutorial to cover off the basics, and learner drivers can even engage Steering Assist until they’re more confident behind the wheel; however it doesn’t take long to come to grips with the controls.
Arcade Mode allows you to jump in and get a quick street racing fix. Career Mode follows the same formula as previous NFS titles: win a series of street races and earn stars to unlock more tracks, better vehicles and new ways to trick them out. As expected from a NFS title, the pool of licensed vehicles is large and varied, and there are plenty of customisation options for you to explore. This time around you get to make your mark (literally) on your surroundings. Each car has its own custom ‘tag’; the lead car paints the environment to match its tag, faster than a whole army of graffiti artists ever could. The effect looks garish, but it’s kind of fun, too.
The Drag and Drift elements first introduced in NFS: Underground, are also available to play in NFS: Nitro. The first requires good timing and coordination to nail gear changes at just the right moment, and the latter takes a bit of practice to pull off successfully. There are two pick-ups on the tracks: a spanner to repair any damage you suffer from collisions (this can affect your ability to boost, so it’s best to deal with it promptly). The other item allows you to reduce your heat level and even increase an opponent’s heat, making them a more attractive target for the cops.
Yes, the boys in blue are back… and they’re not afraid to ram you, if that’s what it takes to bring another law-breaking street racer to justice. Avoiding the police adds an element of strategy to what would otherwise be just another racer, but even with the new additions to NFS: Nitro, we did find the game a bit of a grind after a while. There aren’t an awful lot of tracks to race, and we would’ve liked to have seen a bit more variety between them.
There are no online options whatsoever, which is a real head scratcher and disappointing as well. There is however a local multiplayer option and as you might imagine, this is a lot more fun than playing alone. Up to four players can take on any of the events on a split screen, in both Arcade and Career Mode.
Visuals, while not exactly stunning, are chock full of bright, vibrant colours, lending a cartoonish feel to the game, while a smooth frame rate and some nice boost effects create a genuine sensation of high speed. Background music and sound effects are pretty bog standard for this genre – pleasant enough but hardly memorable.
If the Wii is your only games console, then NFS: Nitro certainly fills a need; however we have to question if in fact such a need exists. Whatever the answer, NFS: Nitro is undeniably a valiant attempt at making it work well on the Wii - and for the most part it does, but its generally unforgiving controls and repetitive gameplay will not hold your interest for the long haul. Some of the franchised Nintendo racers are just more fun, plain and simple. Nevertheless, NFS: Nitro is very entertaining in small doses - particularly when played with a group of friends, and is worth consideration as a stocking filler for the boy (or girl) racer in your life.