Compared to other racers that are available for the Game Boy Advance, Need for Speed Carbon holds its own. It's a solid, albeit unremarkable auto romp that gives you plenty of cars, parts, and courses to fiddle with. However, when you compare the GBA version of Carbon to the console versions, or even the DS version, you can't help but feel as though you're getting the short end of the stick. It's not just that many features from the console versions were either scaled back in the GBA version or left out altogether. Somewhere along the line, they just forgot to give the GBA game the same amount of attitude that the other versions have.
You can set up your wingman to attack your opponents or get in front of you to provide a slipstream draft behind them.
Taken on its own merits, the GBA rendition of Carbon comes across as a decent arcade-style racer. Your assigned goal is to take over the six turf areas situated throughout the city, which you accomplish by beating the different thugs in various race events. Races involve two opponents and your wingman, but you also have to watch out for commuter vehicles that can send your car flying if you run into them. Every time you win a race, you'll earn money that you can use to buy new cars or upgrade the ones you already have. The physics and handling are loosely based on reality, but they're also reasonably forgiving, to the extent that a few scrapes with a wall won't slow you down much. Your worst enemy is the relentless CPU, or, more to the point, the rubber band artificial intelligence that always keeps at least one opponent right on your tail. To combat the CPU, you can set up your wingman so that he or she will act as a blocker or a drafter during the race. A blocker will try to sideswipe the nearest CPU car, while a drafter will get in front of you and refill your nitrous tank. In theory it's nice to have a choice, but for some crazy reason the nitrous doesn't actually do anything meaningful, which means you'll just end up choosing a blocker for every race.
The robotic, overly predictable AI and the broken nitrous feature aren't major issues in one respect, but, in another respect, they do eliminate much of the liveliness that makes the other versions of Carbon so engaging. In the console and DS versions, you'll frequently send opponents into the wall or find them smacking into your bumper. And if they get too far ahead, you can kick in the nitrous and actually catch up. On the GBA, your blocker can slow down a CPU vehicle, but your own swipes will hardly do anything. They're always right on your tail following their preset racing line. Nitro is useless. All it does is cause everything on the track to move faster. Also, the story isn't as fulfilling on the GBA. Obviously, the system can't handle all of the full-motion video that the console versions have, but it could've managed animated comic book-style scenes similar to those employed in the DS version. Instead, the story in the GBA game is told through plain, static cutaways with dull fonts that exude as much flair as your monthly bank statement.