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.These different takes on the old NFS formula all work pretty well and will keep you on your toes at first, but with 24 races in career mode you’ll soon find yourself falling into a routine. Doing the same four or five race types for six cities in a row gets a little repetitive, but the core gameplay is remarkably solid and the course design is colorful and creative, so career mode is fairly enjoyable overall. My only real issue with career is that you must play through it all the way on the bronze difficulty to unlock silver and gold. Bronze is really, really easy, which makes the game accessible for novices but players looking for a challenge will have to finish the lightweight mode before they can get it.
NFS Nitro gives you a wide selection of options for customizing your profile and vehicle. You can choose the color of the body, highlighting and rims, the specific body graphics and their color, and even the tag you use during races. If you don’t like any of the preset graphics or tags you can create your own in a decently deep image editor. You get a total of 33 cars to unlock, from vintage Fords and Dodges to Corvettes, Porsches and even a VW bus. Each one has its own handling but there isn’t as much variation as I would’ve liked. It’s still a nice selection for a car fan, though.
Nitro’s multiplayer doesn’t have as many options as career but you can play multi-card in either versus, co-op Tag’em All or co-op Smash’em All. Single card download play only lets you race on a single track but it is a nice inclusion. The multiplayer doesn’t include online play, but it’s robust enough to be a decent substitute for the venerable Mario Kart when you want something different for local play.
As you’d expect with any game backed by EA’s publishing budget the production values in NSF Nitro are a cut above. The courses themselves look very nice when you’re racing along at high speeds, just don’t slow down too much—the textures can get a bit grainy, but then again you aren’t supposed to stop and admire them at length. The cars are the real stars of the show and are all rendered beautifully. Their glossy specular highlighting gives them an almost cel-shaded appearance. The sound effects are a tad stale in comparison, but a healthy selection of licensed music fleshes out the audio portion. You can even scroll through the music tracks at will during a race. As an added bonus NFS Nitro is compatible with the DS ruble pack, a feature you don’t see too often.
Need for Speed Nitro isn’t revolutionary but it is a well rounded package with a lot of content. That content tends to repeat a bit but it’s enjoyable enough that you’ll feel compelled to finish the career mode. NFS Nitro might have had some issues on the Wii, but on the DS it’s a solid game that I enjoyed regardless of what mode or race type I was playing.