IGN Review of Need for Speed: Nitro
The Need for Speed series is going through quite a bit of change this year, with the HD versions heading in the direction of Shift -- a highly realistic, technical racer -- and the Wii and DS versions going towards a more arcade-intense style with Nitro. For Nintendo fans, Need for Speed has been a regular addition to the Wii library year over year, though it comes with some ill feelings. Each version felt like a port, with little polish to the tilt controls or any true Wii continuity to the interface/design. It felt like a bare bones crossover title with very little effort involved.
EA is looking to change all that with Nitro, which borrows heavily from the old Hot Pursuit 2 days and the blazing fast Burnout series, wrapping it all up in a casual-friendly package fit for Wii. And for the most part, the company succeeded.
First things first, though: Nitro isn't your regular Need for Speed experience. Gone are the traditional and realistic car designs, replaced by over-the-top arcade renditions, an over-exaggerated sense of speed, and five main regions to tackle -- each with their own "boss" of sorts. The character designs in Nitro are also very over-the-top, with characters pushing region stereotypes to the max in a Punch-Out!! like fashion. It's all good and fun, but it's also pretty whacky and not exactly par for the Need for Speed course.
The core experience is centered around an almost Guitar Hero-like star system, so players will kick things off in Class C with a few basic roadsters, earn stars by winning races and completing mini-challenges within them (lap times, style points, and so on) and then use their winnings to unlock new races and regions, as well as cash for purchasing new rides. It's a pretty linear affair, but the star system will keep players pushing to unlock the next car in the garage.
In fact, I found that car customization was by far the most entertaining aspect of Nitro this time around. Racing is fun, sure -- more on that in a bit -- but the pointer-based customization is easily the most Wii-feeling experience in an EA game thus far. Slapping on decals is as simple as hovering over the car, using + and - to change the size of it, and pressing A. Stamps can be mirrored, layers can be locked, and various brushes are unlocked as you play, allowing you to physically paint all over the car in total freeform editing.
Changing body types is a more simplistic (and slightly more shallow) experience, as players literally click on the part of the car they want to change and watch it morph on the fly. More options would be nice, but there's more freedom in customization than any other Need for Speed Wii offering, and it's all made possible with the Wii pointer. Very cool.
Of course this brings up another point about Nitro: its lack of online connectivity. After I spent all that time customizing rides and making true works of art, I wanted to show them off. Unfortunately, it's a local multiplayer affair only this time around, and any hopes of trading cars, creating online showrooms, sending photos of my car to Wii system buddies, or even racing online for pink slips against other racers is going to be left to a potential sequel.
If EA can find a way to harness the ideas found in other racers (a way to sell your creations as skins to other players for in-game cash would rock, borrowing from the concepts found in Forza 3), Nitro would be a serious contender not only on Wii, but across any platform out there. The gameplay might be arcade-like in nature, but expanding on the creation elements of the game will really make Nitro feel like an experience all its own.
On the street, Nitro is a grab-bag of both good and bad for its first run. The starting spin-out system is a great way to kick off races, the nitro system is great, and the options for control are pretty robust. Players can even play with just a Wii Remote, twisting like a doorknob to turn and leaving another hand free for a drink (EA shows a soda in one of its tutorials, but we know what the company means...).
For those looking for a more traditional racer, the inclusion of GameCube and Classic Controller support is also implemented, though it needs a controller map option. I picked up my trusty, dusty GCN controller only to find that accelerate was locked to R, with brake on L. If I could have mapped those to A and B, I would have been a very happy camper. Instead, I opted to go with nunchuk/Wii-mote instead, which mixes nitro flicking with analog steering.
Racing is fun for the most part, but it's certainly got some room to grow. There's no cockpit or even bumper view, and compounding that with the game's furious speeds and an unreliable camera spells disaster. I've rammed into traffic and had no idea they were in front of me, totaled cars during drag races after I had clearly dominated the competition, and there's no real workaround. In fact, when blasting nitro the camera actually lowers and zooms in towards the back of the car, but that only makes seeing in front of you tougher. This needs changing.
The other main issue comes with how the game handles braking and drifting. The button is the same for both moves, but when drifting you can actually see the car's control state shift, often forcing the car into a 45 degree angle in the process. It looks unnatural, and controls a bit odd as well. Steering into the drift (basically forcing the car to push wider) will actually force you out of the drift, so when turning right for example you can only adjust steering by turning more or less to the right. Pushing left with take you out of the drift instantly. A few tweaks to the drift system and camera will go a long, long way with Nitro 2, which I'd assume is already in production. EA likes money, and we like good games... I see no problem with a 2010 sequel.
As for the rest of the package, Nitro does a nice job of blending arcade racing with a casual-friendly experience. Multiplayer is fun, even allowing knocked out racers to join back in as police officers, and despite all of the control oddities there's still an undeniably entertaining feel to the entire Nitro experience. Boost starts rock, being able to engage double nitro with a second flick of the Wii Remote is awesome, and the visuals push Wii to an impressive extent, mixing in 60 FPS with a nice overall style. Levels feel a little too tiny, and more than five regions is absolutely essential for a sequel, but Nitro lays some great groundwork.
The only other gripe I've got with the game comes in arcade mode. Not only are some modes unavailable (drift, for example) in arcade mode, but it also uses a "showroom" system that allows for just under a dozen cars active at a time. If a buddy wants to come over and try out a different car, you'll have to go into the showroom, remove one of the other rides, and add in the new car. Why all cars aren't available (and unlocked, for that matter) at any time in arcade mode is beyond me. EA should take a lesson from Guitar Hero 5 on that one and add in a fully open offering to one of Nitro's modes. It's being billed as a casual-friendly racer that encompasses that "party" feel to Wii. If that's the case, it needs a fully accessible mode for people to pick up and play with.
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