With no Wii histrionics, this game has to stand on its own.
Need for Speed: NitroPublisher: Electronic Arts
ESRB Rating: Everyone
Developer: EA Montreal
Release Date: 2009-11-03
Need for Speed: Nitro, like so many Wii titles released alongside comparable 360 and PS3 games, has its work cut out for it. It bears numerous similarities (in design, and less noticeably, in tone) to its cousin, Need for Speed Shift, a recent next-gen offering. No longer do Wii games pretend to the graphical heights of games produced on PCs and more powerful consoles. Now the Wii must often rely on two things: its audience’s lack of knowledge of the competition, and their delight in motion control-infused gameplay.
Need for Speed: Nitro also negotiates the morass of middling driving games (on the Wii) relatively adeptly. Like the best of them (say, Mario Kart), the game lets you drive without using the Wiimote for the most part. Most companies don’t have the time to create a workable Wiimote driving model. As such, the Nunchuck control stick and buttons handle most driving duties. The only time that you’ll ever wave or waggle (and you can opt out of these controls) is when activating certain power ups.
This mode may be practical, but it also isn’t terribly exciting. With no Wii histrionics, this game has to stand on its own. Unfortunately, what Nitro fails to do is create a strong personality for itself. The game is packaged as some kind of extreme (yet family-friendly) street racing game. Young people wearing pointedly youthful clothing listen to loud, moderately hip music. You can outfit your cars with mildly intense paint jobs, featuring skulls, fleurs-de-lis, and other exciting decals.
All in all, the game’s tone and “characters” are almost instantly forgettable. You won’t remember who any of the cavorting drivers are just as you will quickly tune out the personality-less tunes. Admittedly, the option to paint and design the decorations for your vehicle is fun. It definitely helps add some personality to a personality-free game, something you will quickly come to appreciate as the game progresses.
Progression is handled in a fun, entertaining way. As you earn stars during races (you earn stars by winning, by fulfilling certain goals, and by driving in certain ways), you unlock new areas, new races, and new race types. You also earn money, which you can spend on a variety of cars and upgrades. While not as deep as some racing game systems (car tuning is mostly unnecessary and absent from Nitro), Nitro’s upgrades and unlocks are spaced well enough that you’re always just a few wins away from something new, whether that something is a new set decals for your car or a new racing circuit. This kind of dangling carrot incentive system can be hard to master, and Nitro handles it adroitly.
Sadly, while the single player portion of Nitro is entertaining enough, the multiplayer support is surprisingly absent. You can play with two people on the same system using split screen, but beyond that, the game’s multiplayer options cease. You cannot play online, and you can’t even play four-person split screen.
This is a truly surprising decision. Perhaps the game is too graphically intensive for four-player splitscreen (although I doubt it, as the graphics are serviceable yet grainy). Really, if a company’s racing game forgoes online multiplayer, the least that they can do for their customers is provide an excellent four-person couch-ridden alternative. Instead, you can race with just one other player. It’s fun, but it feels empty and shallow.
Need for Speed Nitro is a fun game, but it isn’t fun enough to justify the various shortcuts and omissions that become increasingly distracting. As a racer, it strays a little too much into arcade territory, and it never delivers a fun enough arcade experience to warrant this shift. Perhaps the developers assumed that a game with low-res graphics (and a supposedly less “hardcore” consumer base) had to be simpler to sell. As it is, Nitro plays like a mildly exciting, creatively dead version of Mario Kart (without the weapons).
It’s a game that feels like two games mashed together, and it doesn’t play well no matter which way you look at it. Just when more cars start to open up, you begin to get a sense of the game’s lack of car depth. Different cars don’t really handle all that differently. Yes, fast and maneuverable cars will be a little more responsive on the road, but Nitro’s basic driving model is so unresponsive, finicky, and vague that it’s hard to discern what each new car has over the last car. Driving these cars is like playing a round of bumper cars. You never know quite which way you’ll be bouncing, and damage is obfuscated by a moderately incomprehensible interface.
The game’s arcade style never really comes into its own. There aren’t really any power ups, the game’s cars are not fun to control, and the various obstacles that you face (damage, police pursuit) are only vaguely fleshed out. Like the rest of the game, it feels half-baked and uneasy in its own skin. Maybe if the game knew what it wanted to be, we could enjoy it without making excuses for it.