Our own Dave Gamble tried his hand at EA’s Need for Speed Nitro last year, and his experience
with the Wii version was less than a wonderful time. Supposedly his main annoyance came from being repeatedly schooled by his teenage daughter. I can’t vouch for the Wii version’s gameplay faults, but I admit that my mostly solo experience on the DS was probably more pleasant than being beaten by a whippersnapper. While NFS Nitro might be a tad too shallow and mired squarely between the E and T ratings on the Wii, the DS version is a competent little racer with a great deal of customization.
Of course I wouldn’t know it from the tutorial track, which crammed every basic action and mechanic into a small NASCAR circuit. This made the controls difficult to understand as I was presented with a rapid-fire laundry list of everything my car could do. I’m glad I pressed on to the main game because the gameplay is a lot more enjoyable once you’re out on the much more spacious normal tracks.
Nitro doesn’t strive for realism—quite the opposite, really. The whole game is about winning in style, and applying your personal attitude to your racing and competition. This translates to colorful ways of showing off in-game. You can pull off standard tricks like jumps and drifting to earn points, and if you hit special icons along the track you’ll tag large stretches of the course with your car color and a personalized graffiti. The titular nitro system is where things get a little crazy.
In the lower left corner of the top screen is a meter that responds at certain times during a race. If you hit the X button when the meter is in the sweet spot you’ll do a trick, earn big points and gain a speed boost. These tricks can be as simple as a turbo start or barreling through a police barricade, but they are most striking when you’re tailing an opponent. Stay on a competing racer’s tail long enough and the gauge will activate, letting you pull off a trick and boost ahead. These tricks are pretty jarring; your car will usually leap straight over the guy in front of you Speed Racer style, do a flip in the air and land with a full nitro boost. It’s totally unrealistic but fun and useful when you are falling behind. Successfully pulling off tricks also refills a nitro meter that lets you boost at will, which is a big help when you’re on the home stretch and in a dead heat.
NSF Nitro has two main modes: Race Now and Career. Race Now is basically free play, and lets you use any unlocked car on any available track, in any of the race types. Career is a little more structured, taking you through six major cities around the world, with four events per city.
The different race types offer a decent amount of variety on the basic racing theme. In Circuit you complete a set number of laps while doing as many tricks as possible—the racer with the highest score wins. Knockout plays like a standard circuit race, except that at the start of every lap the racer in last place gets kicked from the running. Sprint plays out on special tracks organized in a straight shot—it’s a no-frills race to the finish, and again you must grab the highest score to win. Smash Countdown and Smash’em All work about the same; they both have you rampaging around an open course smashing objects, but in the former you smash as many objects as you can in the time limit, and in the latter you try to smash everything before times runs out. In Tag’em All you try to hit a set tag score in the shortest time possible.
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