Up until this point, the racing experience on the Wii has been dominated by Mario Kart, with little competition from other games. It’s not for lack of trying. The shelves at game stores have plenty of racing games to choose from; there just hasn’t been one that plays well enough to dethrone everyone’s favorite Italian. EA is trying to rectify that problem with their latest entry in the Need for Speed series, Nitro. Following the template set by earlier Wii versions of titles like Grand Slam Tennis, Madden NFL 10, and FIFA Soccer 10, Nitro is a highly stylized racer that holds true to the basic tenants of the NFS franchise. Unfortunately, those same qualities have been true of the game for years, and there’s actually little new about this most recent game.
Those of you expecting some sort of narrative along the lines of the rich and engrossing stories of Most Wanted or Undercover will be sorely disappointed. Those of you hoping the thin plots of the last few games would be ditched in favor of improved gameplay will be happy. All you have to do in Nitro is race. Not that racing wasn’t the main element of previous games, but now you don’t have to additionally follow along with some insanely bland story about pink slips or taking down an illegal racing league that also runs guns. There are five cities for you to race in as you try to win one of three cups. All the NFS standard race modes, such as Circuit, Speed Trap, Elimination, appear again, though I think I could live without ever having to do another Drift Challenge in my life. Thankfully, you won’t have to win every race, or get the highest score to proceed. The better you perform in a race, though, the more stars you earn, and the more stars you earn, the more races/cities/upgrades you unlock. The three cups won’t actually take that long to complete, but there’s a bit of replay value in going back and earning 5 stars on every race. All in all, completing the game shouldn’t take more than a weekend.
The game is never difficult, but at times it can be a bit frustrating when your car doesn’t respond the way you hoped it would. Nitro has a handful of different control schemes for you to use, and the only one that was absolutely horrible was the default “remote only” setting. It’s bad. Really bad. Like, stay away from it at all costs bad. All of the others work well, and I myself ended up just using the “controller plugged into the Mario Kart wheel” scheme because I like to look like a fool in my living room. The one key thing missing from the standard game is the true feel of a police presence. Sure, they’re in this game, and they’re chasing you down during certain races, but escaping them never requires more than driving fast. Other NFS games had some really decent cop AI, and it’s a bit disappointing that this game didn’t receive the same treatment. I’ve always enjoyed that part of this franchise the most, and it’s especially strange that it’s not present here considering how little game mode content there actually is.
The game has 40 different licensed vehicles, ranging from the rare Tesla Roadster to the classic Corvette Stingray. There’s quite a selection, and even though you can’t tune the cars yourself, the developer has made sure to give the vehicles different stats so they all drive differently. While the game doesn’t make use of performance upgrades like better tires or engines, there’s a surprising amount of car customization from a design aspect. There is virtually no limit to what you can do to your car to personalize it. Each and every vehicle has different body kits and spoilers, and certain parts of a car can be morphed to your liking. What really makes a car yours, though, is the paint job you give it. It all starts by choosing a color scheme and tag. When you’re in first place during a race, the surrounding area is painted according to your tag. You might not notice it during the first lap, but the second pass through a level, you’re bound to see that you’ve left your mark. Beyond that, you can design your detailing to look anyway you like. Want to cover your Challenger in “01” decals? Done. Want to recreate the A-Team van using a VW Bus? Sure. Design what you want to your heart’s content. It’s not as intricate as Forza, but it’s also pretty unlimited. I futzed around with the feature on a few cars, and not once did the game tell me I was running out of levels or slots. The only disappointing thing about such an interesting feature is you’ll never get to see another person’s creation since there’s no online play for the game whatsoever.
Nitro has a very cool stylized look where the cars are instantly recognizable, yet look like nothing you’ll ever see on a city street. Colors pop off the screen, and your eyes will be under a constant vibrant assault. While NFS doesn’t traditionally fall under the EA Sports banner, it’s pretty interesting that the developers decided to continue the exaggerated style so prevalent in this year’s Wii sports titles. Despite the fact that each of the five locales is pretty varied, there are only a few tracks at each location, and they repeat multiple times during your career. I didn’t notice any framerate drops, which is impressive considering the amount of crap you can put on a car. There’s also a really good sense of speed, but the game’s catch-up logic doesn’t really give you any true sense of just how fast people are traveling around you. Even though the game does have a split-screen multiplayer option in which you can play any of the game’s race types, the lack of online at this point is pretty disappointing. While it’s true friends can play with you during the career, sharing your creations with other people, and actually playing against them online would have made this game a much better experience.
Need for Speed: Nitro does a good job of washing the taste of the last few entries of the franchise out of your mouth, but it doesn’t really do anything to establish a new status quo. The racing is fun, and the customization is cool, but outside of that, there’s not a whole lot going on here. There’s not a lot of replay other than to earn more money or stars, and the distinct lack of online multiplayer hurts this game more than I think the developers thought it would. If you absolutely need to have a new racing game this year, Nitro’s not a bad choice, but it’s certainly not a must buy.