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Need for Speed: Nitro – hands-on

Graffiti: art form or urban blight? Publishing suits don’t seem to care – the kids like it, why not crowbar it into every game? Need for Speed: Nitro’s big ‘thing’ revolves around tracks being ‘tagged’ to reflect whoever’s in the lead. The leader’s chosen paint color splashes roadside buildings, with a tag sprayed on top for good measure – presumably to help distinguish the winner should two street racers both decide they like purple.

Problems with this: 1) Who’s doing the tagging? Unless you’ve got very long arms, it’s not you. 2) So you actually notice the color changes, EA have translated exotic locales into rows of brown cuboids. Rio de Janeiro and Cairo? They look more like cereal boxes with wholemeal bread stapled to the outside. 3) The tags themselves are far from the vibrant artings they attempt to trade off. The swirly circle tag is the same logo our washing machine uses to denote a drying cycle.

Nitro also debuts another barking control scheme, worthy of Need for Speed Carbon’s ‘pretend the remote is the gas pedal’ set-up. EA reps were proud to show off what they refer to as screwdriver-style driving. You know, like driving with a screwdriver? A and B control gas and brakes, while – yep – screwdriver-ish twists steer the car. We’d describe it as: screwy. Rumors say next year’s scheme will have you accelerating by pretending to stroke an invisible heron. It’d make just as much sense. Plug in the Nunchuk or a GameCube pad and you make the bad controller man go away.

Get down to racing and Nitro is solid, if unspectacular stuff. This is EA’s first Nintendo-exclusive NFS, and you sense the game trying to find its footing. There are powerups for the Mario Kart crowd – fixing your car or redirecting your police heat to a rival – but nothing as silly as bananas. Carbon’s police are also back, but more as an arcadey obstacle than ruthless AI presence.

Need for Speed hasn’t had a good run on Wii. Carbon, ProStreet and Undercover are about as welcome around here as War, Pestilence and Famine. Nitro is on the road to retribution. Question is: can it resist spoiling it with lime green vandalism?

Sep 23, 2009