Need for Speed NitroESRB:
Platform: Nintendo Wii
Developer: EA Montreal
Publisher: Electronic Arts
Up to 4 players
I’ve always been a fan of the Need for Speed (NFS) series through both the bad (Pro Street) and the good (Undercover II, Most Wanted, etc.). I have been eager to see the results of EA’s announcement last year that they were taking steps to change how Need for Speed games were developed. Interestingly enough, EA has brought the series to the Wii and I was really fascinated to take a look at what they did make this game Wii centric. So does this game live up to the NFS moniker? You will just have to read on to find out.
NFS Nitro takes a very Pixar or Disney-like approach to its look with over the top characters that follow racial stereotypes of the different regions featured in the game. Personally, I enjoyed this art direction. Vehicles are an interesting blend of real world models with a cartoony flair. It is effective since the different cars maintain their recognizability (editor's note: is that a word?) but have an original look to them. The action is impressively smooth throughout and I found the graffiti elements of the game impressive as well. You don’t really notice the latter until you’re in the lead, but seeing your chosen design spread out along the buildings ahead of you is pretty cool and adds a bit of artistic flair to the game.
It’s a shame that so many Wii titles seem to take an approach that’s geared towards a younger gamer. Developers just don’t seem to realize sometimes that with the installed base being as large as it is, there is a lot more than just kids playing these games. So what’s with the cartoony characters all the time? It’s just something I don’t really understand. Don't get me wrong, I like how they were able to make the game look like it does, but I just can't help but think that this may put off the more 'mature' gamers who has been playing the NFS franchise since its release on the 3DO or PSone way back in its early years.
Nitro’s auditory experience is adequate. As for how the cars sound, which is somewhat important in a driving game, don’t expect a Forza-like level of realism; however engines are nice and throaty sounding and they do sound good. Normally I don’t pay a ton of attention to music in a racing game, actually I usually turn it off, but with Nitro I found the music to be quite enjoyable. Finally, the voice acting is decent, if not a touch over the top, but it suits the source maters. In the end the whole audio package in Nitro is the type of case where nothing stood out either good or bad as it managed to get the job done.
Nitro is the first NFS title developed explicitly for the Wii. EA Montreal doesn’t stray too far from the NFS formula though, and as I played I found this to be both a virtue and downfall. While the NFS series on other consoles has taken a turn towards a more realistic representation of racing, Nitro is firmly a true arcade racer that integrates elements new to the NFS series such as Mario Kart-esque power ups and over the top graphics.
The game’s structure is familiar to fans of the series and offers varying levels of achievements with a star based system where you can earn up to five stars per race. Three stars are based on where you finish while the other two stars are based on certain performance objectives such as reaching a certain level of style points for example. New car levels and locales to race in are unlocked as more and more stars are earned. This model seems to be a good fit for the casual players that just want to progress through a game while those that like to complete a game at 100% will want to earn every last star available.
Unfortunately there is not a ton of stuff that is really new to NFS or anything particular that makes it stand out as a Wii title. Yes, there are multiple control methods that are enhanced for the Wii’s motion control, but these controls do not really bring anything new that we haven’t seen in other racing games for the Wii. NFS fans will instantly recognize the different race types that include circuit and elimination races, timed, drift and drag events. As eager I was to see what a Wii-specific NFS could offer, there just is not that much that is unique to the console. Sure, the power ups add a new dimension to the gameplay in that you can repair damage or deflect cops’ attention from you to others. While fun, I felt these didn’t add significantly to how the game is played.
Nitro offers an Arcade mode that is a collection of quick events for one to four players (locally) or you can play the Career mode where the meat of the game really lies. Arcade Mode is self explanatory. In Career Mode you play the role of a typical street race character who must work up through the ranks of the race world. Along the way you meet and race against different characters who are usually representative of the region you are racing in. Beat them to move on. It’s all very standard really and is nothing new to racing fans out there, especially those who have familiarity with the NFS series.
Thankfully, EA Montreal has included the one thing that I think really makes good NFS games stand out: Cop Chases; however as I went through the motions of playing what I consider a staple feature of NFS I found that these cop chases left something to be desired. The cops work in a pack mentality and simply exist to get in your way. I’m happy to see them in the game but they’re more of a nuisance to the race than the pursuits that you might be familiar with from past NFS titles.
I found that the controls took a bit of getting used to. The best way to explain it is that I felt that EA Montreal didn’t quite capture a natural feel of braking and drifting. You pretty much have to brake in a straight line only to avoid going into a drift. I’d be more critical of this if the game was taking a more realistic approach, but being clearly an arcady racer it is not that a big of a deal with Nitro. On more of a plus side, where the controls excel though is in the autosculpt portion of the game. Nitro has the same level of car customization as seen in other NFS games but actually being able to change the proportion of the various elements of the cars by simply pointing the Wii Remote and dragging said part is fantastic.
As critical as I’m being I think that it is a product of me being a pretty big fan of the NFS series as well as perferring a more realistic approach to driving game. So with that in mind Nitro is still a pretty solid game overall. At the very least it is a good start to a new franchise (so to speak) and a good base to build from given that this style of a NFS game does seem suited for the Wii crowd.
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