Need for Speed: Nitro is EA's attempt to transform their popular racing franchise into something more immediate and accessible for less experienced driving fans. Built exclusively for the Wii and DS, the game has a heavy arcade focus mixed with plenty of customisation options and a quirky design concept. The DS version packs in plenty of races, a relaxed control system and character-filled tracks, but the lack of variety in the game modes stops this from being a winner.
The locations in Need for Speed: Nitro may not look great, but they sure have a lot of character.
You begin Career mode by racing in six cities: San Diego, Dubai, Rio de Janeiro, Cairo, Singapore, and Madrid. As is common in racing games, you'll have to keep playing to unlock cars, starting out with street racers like Dodges, Fords, Nissans, and Renaults and moving on to slicker wheels like Porsches and Lamborghinis. There are four events in each city, which you unlock gradually by earning points in a number of different ways while you race. For example, you get points for coming first in a race, but you also get points if you race a little more creatively, such as drifting wherever possible and picking up tagging items along the track. There's also the Heroic Driving System--a quick-time event that lets you earn more points for pulling off spectacular moves in order to avoid cops, push past other opponents, or drift in style. You're given an onscreen prompt to press X three or four times in a race, but you have to keep your eyes on a small meter on the bottom left-hand corner of the screen that slides quickly between a green zone and a yellow zone. If you press X while the bar is in the green zone, you'll earn the maximum number of points for pulling off a particular move. This adds a little spice to the races and gives you an incentive to go back to a particular racing event more than once, trying to earn points for different things.
Earning points quickly is easy to do thanks to the game's controls, which are responsive and straightforward. Like in some previous Need for Speed games on the DS, the steering control is assigned to the D pad. It will take a little while to get the hang of turning correctly, since the D pad is pretty sensitive and some corners require only a slight tap. Once you master this, the rest is a breeze. The remaining controls are intuitive enough: A to accelerate, B to brake, L to drift, and R to activate nitro boost. There's a great sense of speed when the nitro kicks in, and sometimes you'll find yourself zooming happily around the tracks without paying attention to earning points or coming first simply because it's a lot of fun.
The Heroic Driving System lets you maneuver out of tricky situations with the press of a button.
There's no shortage of races in which to do this: after you've completed the four events in each of the six cities, you'll start all over again in the Silver Cup, Gold Cup, and Nitro Cup. This is great if you play the game in short bursts, but it can get monotonous if you keep at it in long sessions. There are only a handful of race modes in the game, which get repeated over and over: standard circuit races, which get a few different makeovers in the style of knockout races, sprint races, and race-against-the-clock races; race events that have you destroying certain obstacles in a set amount of time; and tagging races, where the aim is to pick up as many tagging items along the track as possible.