Earlier this year, a rumor was floating around that the Need For Speed franchise may be abandoned by Electronic Arts. It turned out that the rumor was wildly off base, as a full quartet of titles were announced for the franchise a few weeks later. This fall, the Wii will be getting special treatment courtesy of EA Montreal’s Nintendo-exclusive Need For Speed: Nitro.
Out of all of the announced titles, Nitro is the closest to the franchise roots. After picking up the Wii Remote and jumping off the starting line, it was obvious that this was an arcade-inspired racer much like many of its predecessors. Nitro throws realism out the window with the bathwater and the baby, as I quickly learned that fine-tuned driving skills were completely optional. Nitro is all about controlling your consistently-drifting car through the turns, which fills up your Nitro meter if done successfully. This meter can be unloaded at any time, allowing drivers to easily catch opponents or create a huge buffer zone between yourself and those too unskilled to glide across the pavement.
EA Montreal also added a bunch of little numbers to this arcade racer that are worth noting, including the new "screwdriver" control configuration. While all of the standard Wii race-control methods are supported (Wiimote only, remote and nunchuck, etc.), those are all old hat. The "Screwdriver" setup is the new hotness, and is performed by pointing the Wii remote straight at the screen. Here, wrist rotation handles the turning, as subtle movements are captured on-screen by neckbreaking drifts. Although unusual at first, driving a car while pointing is easy to get the hang of. This is even truer if you utilize the Nitro while drifting, a feat that both fills and reduces your meter at the same time.
Sadly, Nitro doesn’t break any ground on the graphical front. This speedy title screams "Wii" when you first look at it, but the developer did throw in some added touches to distract you from the poor visuals. The game features dynamic graffiti that peppers the walls of each stage. Each driver can chose or create their own pattern, and their tag will be plastered across the landscape when they are winning a race. This feature adds a nice bit of customization, but also invokes a gameplay element by allowing players to see who they should be gunning for. Thankfully, the game runs at a steady 60 frames per second, even when playing thein four-player split screen matches.
Like Bizarre Creation’s competing racer Blur, Nitro features power-ups beyond the boost meter. They are more subtle here, offering small repairs or the ability to send a cop after another player mid-race. This idea of pick-ups pushes the title further down the arcade side of the racing genre, which should please fans that are disappointed by NFS:Shift‘s more realistic approach.
In the end, Need For Speed: Nitro is a casual title at its roots. Before departing the kiosk, I was told the game will supply racing fans with a diverse list of 30-35 licensed cars, all of which will be customizable. Unfortunately, the single-player and local multiplayer races will have to be enough to keep you busy, as Nitro does not include online play.
Need For Speed: Nitro will ship in Fall 2009 for the Wii and Nintendo DS.