Matt Bassos
23 Jan, 2010

Need for Speed: Nitro Review

DS Review | A great dose of nitro.
Need for Speed has been around for some years now. It’s never been a franchise to shy away from multi-platform love, so it makes sense NFS has been hitting the DS since its release. Undergoing different style changes throughout the series' existence, the latest handheld outing Need for Speed: Nitro, recreates an arcade racing experience on the dual screens. Well, to a certain extent. It’s not perfect, but it’s a solid portable racer for the most part, which makes sense seeing as it's developed by Firebrand Games, who have a lot of experience with driving titles.

Nitro tries to replicate the extreme nature of street racing, albeit on a much smaller scale (and screen). In this way it does succeed. It’s got its own style and vibe, being very much an arcade racer suited for a broader casual audience. There are plenty of cars, tracks and content to keep you gunning on your DS for some time. The career mode itself offers quite a lengthy experience divided between multiple countries and race courses, as well as four trophies to conquer in bronze, silver, gold and nitro. The first thing we noticed with Nitro was how simple it was to pick up and play, which follows the casual appeal of the game. After a brief tutorial, you’re on your way to becoming the world’s best driver. It starts off quite easy allowing you to get a good feel of the racing mechanics, but progresses nicely as you conquer the cups and territories.

Speaking of racing, Nitro does many things well but there are some problems. General handling of cars is responsive and there is a great sense of speed. Drifting around corners, which is glorified power sliding, becomes a little more difficult. You need to hold the d-pad in the opposite direction to where you're turning, and while it’s serviceable, it certainly feels harder to use effectively than it should be. Ramps can lead to big air time, but again controls will fight against you. It's impossible to move and position yourself while airborne leading to disorientation many times when you do finally descend.

Yellow sparks away!

Yellow sparks away!
It’s a shame because you’ll want to master things like drifting because they add to an overall race score. The standard race is less about winning (though it’s still important), because positions go on a points system in many races. Points are awarded based on driving ability, overall finishing place and a nifty tagging system. As you race along tracks, icons can be collected to ‘graffiti’ an area of the environment with your own car's tag. It becomes a tug-of-war match with your competitors trying to collect icons to take control of certain track locations. At the finish line, the person with the most tagged property wins a nice share of bonus points. You can even customise your car’s tag, which gives you something else to play around with when you’re not carving up the bitumen.

Visually, Nitro is, surprise surprise, also a mixed bag. As we said earlier it does convey a great sense of speed, but there certainly are moments of slowdown and when they hit, things crawl. For a 3D DS title there are certain amounts of visual pop-in while textures load, and when they do they aren’t all that crash hot. This is thankfully offset by the fact that you’re always moving at a fast pace, and therefore hopefully not paying attention, although extended bouts of play may cause mild nausea. Some other effects also look just plain bad, such as nitro boosting from cars. However, the saving visual grace are the tracks, which have some great diversity and interesting elements.

The tracks are in fact the best element about Nitro, which is a great compliment considering they can make or break a racer. As each is set in a different part of the world, they have their own personality and charms and there’s quite a few bundled into the game. Some even have their own environmental hazards which need to be navigated, adding extra flavour to the races. The tracks also offer multiple routes, none of which take you very out of the way, but we're not going to complain about more diversity in a racer. Like most NFS games, those goody-two-shoes cops are present in Nitro. It’s a small presence though, as their goal is to set up road blocks against race contestants in an attempt to wipe them out. They can be easily avoided with some quick timing using Nitro’s Heroic Driving System.

I told you riding on a roller coaster would call on the cops.

I told you riding on a roller coaster would call on the cops.
This system is actually a rather cool idea and helps it stand apart from the previous NFS games on DS. It works in the same vein as the quick time event mechanic, although much more simplified. Hitting the X button at certain moments will let you perform amazing feats of driving talent, whether it be propping your car onto two wheels sliding past police patrols, to air vaulting over leading cars. While it is indeed awesome to be pulling crazy car stunts it can weaken the overall difficulty of races.

For example, the traditional starting line speed boost in many arcade racers that has players accelerate at just the right moment, has been replaced with this Heroic System. Hitting the X button at the right time (which is indefinitely easier) will now send you flying past your starting opponents. You can even leapfrog cars you are trailing with this system and as long as you can hit the X button at the right time you will easily take the lead. If you’re a good tailgater the Heroic System is a godsend.

Complimenting the Heroic system are Legendary secret areas, which are special hotspots found on certain tracks. With some quick reflexes and the simple press of the X button, your car will perform a death-defying stunt that even Evel Knievel would blush at. These moves are generous shortcuts which can be a little unfair against AI driven opponents. The premise works a little better in multiplayer (as everyone can use it), with Nitro having both single and multi-cart play.

ILooks like the Duke boys may have found themselves in a spot of mischief.

ILooks like the Duke boys may have found themselves in a spot of mischief.
What becomes the main concern with Nitro is that it fails to deliver a great deal of long term diversity. There is plenty to unlock, with awards for specific achievements, but it just feels a little too familiar over time. There are a few game types, but they are essentially variants from the others. This is one DS game that was intended for shorter bursts, which works very well in those circumstances, but you'll feel constant déjà vu the longer you play without breaks. It's nice knowing Nitro is so content packed, as long as you remember it's better to explore over smaller periods.

When you do have some time to kill, Need for Speed: Nitro is a competent arcade racer. The tracks themselves are fun to navigate, and have their own crazy charm. Combined with the pick up and play mentality of the game and the general ease of controls for most functions and you have a racer that goes hand in hand with with the DS's hand-held mobility.
The Score
Nitro does a great job at being an arcade racer for a broader casual audience. It's not perfect and struggles with repetitiveness after long bouts, but it is the best Need for Speed title for the DS yet.
Looking to buy this game right now? PALGN recommends www.Play-Asia.com.

Related Need for Speed: Nitro Content

Need For Speed: Nitro images
21 May, 2009 Four Wii shots and three DS screens.
Ridge Racer 7 Review
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4 years ago
4 years ago
THEMAN wrote
Back in my day - the fact that we had portable handhelds with a colour screen was a big deal! How we've advanced.

Seriously though. How many need for speed games do we need?
4 years ago
Did they even try to make it look good. Looks like some crap Indy game for an old console.
4 years ago
Sambo110 wrote
Did they even try to make it look good. Looks like some crap Indy game for an old console.
looks like an early nintendo 64 game haha
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  Pre-order or buy:
    PALGN recommends: www.Play-Asia.com

Australian Release Date:
  26/11/2009 (Confirmed)
  Electronic Arts
Year Made:

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