First acquainted with this game in Singapore at GCA 2009, I called NFS Nitro the "weird adopted red-headed child" of the franchise. It seems to have nothing going for it. Nature has abandoned it. It's on the Wii, the graphics are touch-and-go, there's no realism - it just can't stand up to recent racing titans like Forza 3 or even its sister title, Shift. And yet there's... something. It's almost like the developers understand your own very personal need for speed.
So it's on the Wii. Get over it. Wii owners are people too.
Testing this game included racing through a career, unlocking some content, customising my vehicles while stacking up cash for new ones, and employing various friends and fiancées to race some split-screen multi. I was fortunate enough to have a couple of different controller options at my disposal, so had a crack at it with these too. Nitro has impressed on a number of fronts, and despite a few failings, it's a quality racer for a system that this genre often leapfrogs.
Sidhe saw the value of producing a decent arcade racing game for the Wii back when they did Speed Racer. That game, too, had a face-melting physics engine that delivered an incredible feeling of pace. And that - in a nutshell - is what makes NFS Nitro such huge fun. In a Shelby GT at 153mph there's no room for error, so getting it right is that much more rewarding. Across several exciting game modes and with options galore, Nitro - the little engine that shouldn't - kind of does.
Oh, but it ain't perfect. The simplicity and lack of pretension with which Nitro succeeds, also means it lacks depth. And do we even need to get started on the graphics? I doubt it. For a Wii game they're okay, but gamers will know that it's capable of more. The trade off is that blistering pace and complex tracks, with few of the visual glitches that plagued the racers of old. While NFS Nitro uses real life vehicle franchises - letting you choose from super cars, performance cars or street cars - none of them are all that convincing. They tend to look like boxy cartoons, although the cartoon aesthetic has been carried over into cutscenes, characters, and into the game's menus and display. So at least it's consistent.
First up you can leap into an arcade race, choosing from the cars and tracks available before you've unlocked anything. You can race in Madrid, Cairo, Singapore and a number of other (2) cities. Your opponents will more or less match your car class as you go. With 30 cars in all, the scope is a wee bit limited, but it will still take you a long time to collect them all. In arcade mode, most of the race types available in the career are playable as quick races: your standard circuit, elimination race (where the vehicle trailing the pack gets cut off every 30 seconds until there's only one left), the drag race, time attack, etc. This is a great way to pick-up-and-play.
Career mode is where you have a few more options, and of course everything is recorded, measured and rewarded. At first you've got nominal cash to purchase yourself a car, so you're stuck with a VW bus or a Renault 4L. Neither is overly inspiring, but in your garage you can colour it, graffiti it, stamp it and otherwise trick it out ready for your race. Depending on your performance in each race, you'll be awarded stars and cash, with star levels unlocking your next challenges as you move along. Also depending on whether you're hot or not are the game's many secrets - these include anything from a new paintbrush for use in your garage, to a shiny new car available for purchase. In all, the the career mode has been well thought out and packed with plenty enough features you keep you coming back.
Not content to stick gamers with just one way to play, several control options are included. If you own the Mario Kart wheel, you can clip your remote in and use that, or you can go for a remote/chuk combo - steering with the analogue stick, and accelerating/braking with the predictable A & B. If you're not into a two handed approach (as the game explains up front, so you can play with one hand and use the other for a drink) you can just use the remote, steering by twisting it. In any control mode that uses the remote, a nitro boost is effected by giving the thing a good shake. Oddly, this doesn't negatively impact on your steering in the one-handed mode, which is excellent.
Also available - if you have them - are options for the Classic Controller and GameCube controller: a cheap way to get some multiplayer going if you don't have extra remotes but still have your old GC controllers kicking around. It's hard to mess up the controls for such a simple game, but I expected at least one of the methods to be a complete dog. Fortunately, my cynicism has been rightfully put to bed. Nitro controls exceedingly well, even at the breakneck pace the game dictates.
As is customary in NFS, the cops are out in force. Just as you sneak into first, some flashing police Hummer will slam you into a barrier and ruin everything. Fortunately, there are a couple of related pick ups that can reduce the impact of this horrible, horrible aspect of the game (yes, I know it's an NFS standard, I'm just not that fond of it). One is the police badge, which will drop your heat back and put the target onto a racer ahead of you. The other is the repair pick up (giant gold wrenches spinning on the tracks) which allow you to fix any damage on your car. Unlike other popular racing sims, the damage doesn't show all that well. There has been a cursory attempt made to convey damage visually, but often you will have to rely on the system giving you a cue with a pop-up. This is very distracting, and will often make you crash or take a wrong turn.
The multiplayer aspect of Nitro harks back to the glory days of split screen, which are all but a memory now, as people link or play online. The game experience doesn't change all that much, even on a crappy TV, which means that its just another way to squeeze the juice of longevity from it. Most of the game modes are available to you and your mates, just as they are in single player.
It's all rather simple: this game succeeds based on one factor - it delivers speed. I could attach so many old racing game cliches to it; high-octane is one that keeps on springing to mind, so I'm going to stop fighting it. This game is high-octane. The fact that it's on the Wii should only limit any negativity to those that don't actually own one. They'll never understand what we love about the Wii, anyway. If you're a Wii owner that has been waiting for a decent racing game (outside of Mario Kart of course) for your system, then this is it. And if you're an owner of multiple consoles, don't be too quick to write this one off.
Big splash in the grand scheme of quarter four 2009? No. Big splash on the Wii? For what it is, absolutely.