Need for Speed: Nitro Review

By Jake Gaskill - Posted Nov 03, 2009

With the recently released Need for Speed: Shift, Electronic Arts appeared to have its beloved racing franchise back on the right track. Sadly, EA decided to release another Need for Speed game this year, Need for Speed: Nitro, and tarnish the critical and commercial success attained by Shift in one blistering-fast lap. The game definitely has some good ideas, but when it comes to the core experience, it's a pretty bumpy ride.

The Pros
  • Tons of vehicle customization options
  • Hefty amount of events
  • Great sense of speed
  • Four-player co-op career
The Cons
  • AI looks and acts ridiculous
  • Difficulty doesn't fit the tone of the game
  • Wiimote-only controls are unusable
  • Police-controlling power-up hurts more than helps

With the recently released Need for Speed: Shift, Electronic Arts appeared to have its beloved racing franchise back on the right track. Sadly, EA decided to release another Need for Speed game this year, Need for Speed: Nitro, and tarnish the critical and commercial success attained by Shift in one blistering-fast lap. The game definitely has some good ideas, but when it comes to the core experience, it’s a pretty bumpy ride.

Need for Speed: Nitro

Strong Off the Line

One of Nitro’s biggest successes is the depth of its customization options. Every car in the game can be painted, decaled and modified in an infinite number of ways. The Wiimote controls make the process simple too, as you can rotate, resize and paint simply by twisting and motioning with the controller. There are crazy amounts of decals, patterns and colors to choose from, and, you can mix and match layer after layer until you have created your vehicular masterpiece.

Another nice customizable option is your personal racing tag that is used to paint the environment as you race (Think de Blob for a visual reference). Whenever you are leading in a race, the environment will reflect your tag, which adds a cool kind of vibrancy to the races. It would have been cool if the game supported online multiplayer, since players could eventually come to recognize other players by their graphic, which would have added a fun little dynamic to races. Guess that will have to wait until the sequel.

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…I know. And Such Large Portions.


Nitro certainly doesn’t want in the number-of-races department. In career mode (which you can play with up to three friends cooperatively), there are three cups to complete. Each cup consists of dozens of challenges spread across five cities: Rio de Janeiro, Madrid, Cairo, Singapore, and Dubai. Each cup culminates in a five-race Gran Prix event, where the racer with the highest accumulated points across all five races wins. The challenges are your standard fair: circuit races, time trials, and elimination events just to name a few. Drag Racing is more of a mini-game than an actual race mode, since it just requires you to shift at the appropriate time and change lanes to avoid traffic, while the computer does the rest.

Adding to the game’s challenge depth is its stars system, which allows players to progress through the game without having to win every single event, and is used to unlock cars, kits and events. You get a set number of stars for finishing first, second or last, another star if you beat the track time challenge and a final star for points earned during the race. This system allows for casual and hardcore players alike to get as much or as little as they want out of the game, and that’s very much appreciated. 

The game supports every controller type imaginable, and the opening tutorial even informs you that you can drive using the Wiimote in only one hand, thereby freeing you up to drink with the other. Sure, the game quickly says “soda,” but it’s still an iffy bit of advice for the kids out there. Although to be honest, a better use of your other hand while driving with just the Wiimote would be playing something you might actually be able to win using just one hand. Unless you’re a magician of some kind, the wand-only controls are pretty much useless. The game requires so much focus and control to win that the one-handed option just doesn’t cut it. I used the Wiimote/nunchaku combo, and found it worked well enough most of the time, if a bit tiring since you have to shake the Wiimote for boost, and you’re almost constantly boosting.

Need for Speed: Nitro

But Then We Started Driving…


Nitro’s tone and style are clearly reminiscent of Criterion Games’ acclaimed Burnout series, albeit a bit more cartoonish. Thanks to powerful nitrous boosts and supped-up rides of all makes and models, you’ll be whipping around tracks at break-everything speeds, trying to avoid the fuzz at every turn. However, the game’s colorful and casual tone completely contradicts the game’s difficulty level. Some of the challenges are Project Gotham/Gran Turismo kinds of hardcore, which means that a lot of younger players are going to be in for a rude awakening if they decide to pick up the game incorrectly thinking that it will be a somewhat challenging arcade racing game.

The AI is one of the most ridiculous aspects of the game, because in classic bulls*** fashion, it lets the computer travel as fast or as slow as it wants without any consideration for anything that is actually happening on the road. It’s like rubberbanding on steroids...if the steroids were made of rubber bands. There are also plenty of instances where you’ll smash into a wall and not slow down a bit, or you’ll glance a wall and come to a complete stop. These kinds of inconsistencies make for races that are more about trying to suppress your rage than actually enjoying the over-the-top arcade racing action.

During races, you can pick up two usable items, one that is used to repair your vehicle (and restore your ability to use nitrous boosts), and one that lets you target the nearest driver and have the cops focus all their attention on that car alone. The send-cop power-up is actually a nifty little option; however, more often than not, it will end up screwing you over more than the driver you targeted with it, because the cops will either smash into you on their way to the targeted car, or when they smash up the other car, they’ll be blocking your way once you reach them. What’s the point of a power-up that you don’t want to use?

Crash With a Little Help From Your Friends

The game supports four-player split-screen multiplayer as well as cooperative career play, and while the resolution definitely takes a hit when everyone is playing at once, the framerate doesn’t skip a beat, which is much appreciated when you’re flying around tracks at 200 MPH. All of the challenges from career mode are available in multiplayer, with the addition of a team race, which is exactly what it sounds like. It’s decidedly more fun to play against other people, because then you know that at least three of the other drivers aren’t controlled by the ridiculous AI. But with no online support, the multiplayer might end up easily be underused by a lot of players, most likely in favor of the co-op career mode.

Need for Speed: Nitro

(Little) Need for Nitro

Ultimately, Need for Speed: Nitro just feels like another throwaway racing game. Despite its deep customization options and visual flair, it just doesn’t deliver in the actually racing department. Yeah you’ll go really, really fast, but there are just too many things preventing this very simple concept from being enjoyable. If you’re craving a Burnout-style racing game for the Wii, then a Nitro rental might scratch the itch. But beyond that, you’ll probably just want to keep on driving.