If you look back through our reviews of previous Need For Speed games on the Wii, it makes for grim reading. 59% for Carbon, 66% for ProStreet and (most recently) 39% for Undercover should suggest that when it comes to EA's racing series, the Wii is always neglected in favour of other systems. EA is attempting to make amends for this with Need For Speed: Nitro, the first game in the series designed with the Wii in mind, and the difference in quality is clear. This one's actually really good.
Nitro is a much-needed return to basics, offering simple street racing with very little messing about. It reminds us of the great Need For Speed: Underground that was popular on the PS2 back in 2003 before the series got obsessed with odd gimmicks and cinematic storylines. Instead of messing around with canyons and all that rubbish as in recent NFS games, here you've got a much more familiar choice of race types.
Wheelie Good Fun
There's the classic Street Race, where you have to try and finish first over a number of laps. Then there's Elimination, where the last-placed racer is knocked out of the race after certain intervals. Drag racing is all about changing gears at the right time while you avoid traffic, while Drift races see you scoring as many points as possible by skidding your car round corners. Time Attack is self-explanatory, and the Speed Traps races have you passing set points on the track at as high a speed as possible. The better you do in each race the more stars you collect, and as you get more stars you unlock new races in different locations. You also earn money that can be used to buy new cars, which you can then customise from bumper to bumper. And that's more or less all there is to it.
Although everything's a lot more straightforward than it has been for a while, Nitro still has a gimmick or two. The most obvious of these - even though it's been done countless times in racing games - is the ability to use nitro boosts, hence the game's name. These see you building up your nitro meter by performing drifts and the like, then shaking the Remote to activate the boost. There's a nice sense of speed when this happens, but it's not really anything we haven't seen in a hundred other racing games before.
Another major aspect of Nitro is its graphical style. Much like EA's other big franchises such as FIFA and Madden, Nitro gives Need For Speed a more cartoony look, which may sound bad but actually gives the game a sense of character and makes it more enjoyable. Each of the game's different countries has a unique look and feel to it, and is introduced by a short movie showing the most notorious racer in that region. For want of a better word, it's just fun.
Also impressive is the extensive customisation options, which allow you to colour and paint on all of your cars. You can also choose a special icon to represent your car, which can not only be stamped on your car but also comes into play throughout the various game modes. As you start to perform well in a race, your icon and team colours will be 'tagged' on various parts of the surrounding environment, showing the other racers that you 'own' the track.
Need For Speed: Nitro doesn't do anything remarkable. It doesn't have a fancy gimmick that no other game has featured before, it doesn't have the sort of visuals that will blow you away, and it doesn't offer outstanding online multiplayer gameplay that will have you playing for years to come. It's simply fun to play, and in focusing on quality over quantity EA has managed to put together one of the best racing games on the Wii. Hopefully the developers can now build on this great framework and add a bit more meat for the inevitable next game in the series. For now, this is a huge improvement and more than makes up for the shameful, half-hearted efforts that have tainted the Wii over the past few years. Well played, EA.