The Wii occupies an interesting niche in the hierarchy of video game consoles. On one hand, it is probably the most accessible console ever; just about anyone can pick up a controller and learn to play one of the plethora of shallow and/or simple games that seem drawn to the Wii like paparazzi to pantie-less pop starlets. On the other hand, the combination of the Wii remote with the Motion Plus add-on allows for a natural and precise control of sports games such as golf and tennis. Somewhere in between those extremes are games like EA's Need For Speed Nitro, a racing game developed specifically for the Wii.
For a number of reasons ranging from it's comparatively low cost to the branding of Nintendo as family-friendly, many a Wii is purchased for the kids to play with. Many kids start their console racing careers on the excellent Mario Kart game. But where are they to turn when they reach that uncomfortable stage between kids games and T for Teen games? Well, that's where NFS Nitro comes in: it's like Mario Kart for cynical pre-teens. It's cartoonish, but in an edgy Cuban-like sort of way. It's a racing game, but without the cutsey Nintendo characters. It's easy to play, but not too easy. And it allows for a level of creativity in the customization of the cars.
Being a Need For Speed title, it is not surprising that there are the standard racing modes available. Circuit racing is as it sounds: driving in a straight race around a track laid out on city streets. Elimination is similar, differing only in the fact that the last place car is eliminated from the race every thirty seconds. Speed camera challenge is focused solely on your speed as you pass checkpoints on the track. Drift mode will score your ability to slide through the turns, and time attack is a solo, against-the-clock race. Up to four players can participate in a split screen race, although people like me who have had their Wii relegated to the smallest, least desirable TV in the house will find that the screens are pretty small. I can't actually prove that my difficulty in seeing the small part of the screen reserved for my viewing was the reason I was soundly beaten by my teenage daughter, but, well, it is.
One of the biggest weaknesses in console-based racing games is the lack of finesse available in the standard controller. The half inch throw of the typical analog stick creates a nearly binary steering experience with your only realistic steering positions being full left, middle, or full right. That's been my experience (excuse?), anyway. With NFS Nitro, you can use the Wii remote to steer with, either by holding it straight in front of you and twisting it, or holding it in the same orientation used with the Mario Kart steering wheel. In both cases, the larger range of available control travel allows for a higher degree of controllability. Not that you need it, mind you; my daughter beat me quite regularly using the tried and true method of simply bouncing off of the walls and other cars. Not that I'm bitter about my defeat or anything.
Also unsurprising given its heritage, Nitro prominently features law enforcement officers that are so dead set against your illegal street racing that they are willing to chase you down and pummel your car to pieces. You can either try to out run them or attempt to pick up a protective shield on the track. Kids weaned on Mario Kart will have no problem grabbing a shield at every opportunity; adults who have spent the last thirty years avoiding things in the road will not do nearly as well. It's a bit of a disadvantage, as is the natural loss of reaction skillz that comes with aging. Things happen fast in Nitro, and even faster when you use, well, the nitro. Earned and stored through some type of on-track activity that I was never able to fully discern, nitro gives you an extra burst of speed when you need it most. Or when you need it least - it was not uncommon for me to engage the nitro just in time to face plant my car against an extremely immovable wall, much to the enjoyment of the aforementioned teenaged daughter who was very willing to turn the tables of mockery on the guy that's been trying to teach her how to drive a real car.
Nitro carriers an 'E' 10+ ESRB rating which is appropriate to the intended audience. Adults will find it too simple to have any real staying power, but the too-old-for-Mario but too-young-for-Grand-Theft-Auto crowd will find it entertaining. If, that is, they can get over not having projectiles to fling at fellow racers.
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