Customization might not be the most important aspect of a successful racing game, but it certainly can't hurt a game's chances. The upcoming Need for Speed: Nitro, heading to the Nintendo Wii later this year, amps up the arcade pace of previous NFS games on the Xbox 360 and PS3 and tosses in a liberal dollop of car customization in the mix. And, as an added bonus, you can race ridiculously souped-up vans. Which is cool. Because, you know, vans are cool. Right?
If you’ve followed our previous coverage of Nitro, you probably know that there's a graffiti element of sorts to the racing in the game. As you speed around the tracks--which are set in exotic locales such as Madrid, Cairo, Singapore, and Rio de Janeiro--the leader of the race will see his chosen graffiti style, as well as his chosen logo, splattered throughout the buildings and objects that make up the level. There's no real reason for this--it just looks cool, and with that in mind, your color, graffiti style, and logo will all be customizable in the game.
Both logo and graffiti style will come with a number of preset patterns you can choose from, all centered around a basic color palette you select. Things get interesting when you design the paint job of your car. You start with the aforementioned color palette and then can select from multiple brushes, as well as a wide variety of patterns and stickers you can place on your car and adjust the size of at will. You add these elements with the Wii Remote--when drawing a pattern on your car, for example, you'll be moving the Wii Remote almost like a paint brush. When placing a sticker, you can twist and turn the object by twisting the Wii Remote until the object is set as you like it.
When you aren't tweaking the look of your car, you'll be blasting it through the streets in drift-heavy races full of sharp turns, aggressive opponents, and, this being a Need for Speed game, cops. You can expect the fuzz to show up any time you drive too aggressively around the circuit, and they'll bust you if you give them a chance. That said, staying away from trouble is typically pretty easy, thanks to the many pickups you'll find as you race through the courses. In addition to wrenches, which you can collect and use to repair your car during a race, you can also pick up police shields which, when used by pressing the Z button on the nunchuk, will lower your police heat level and subsequently raise it for an opponent car.
In addition to standard circuit racing in both single- and multiplayer, the game will include a drag racing mode that is reminiscent of the drag racing found in Need for Speed Pro Street. Here, you race in point-to-point races against a handful of opponent cars, shifting gears at the ideal time (as indicated by an onscreen meter) by moving the Wii Remote back as if it were a gear shift. Shifting early will result in slower acceleration, and shifting late might tear up your engine, so you'll want to be accurate with your shifts, while avoiding the oncoming traffic that can make your race a short one.
Need for Speed: Nitro is the first NFS game built specifically for the Nintendo Wii (as well as a DS version, which is also on the way this fall), and as a result it’s a completely different experience from the Xbox 360 and PS3 NFS game, Shift. It's also a significant departure from recent cutscene-driven NFS games on other platforms, so it represents a bit of a gamble on behalf of EA. Will it be enough to bring racing fans to the Wii? We'll find out when the game is released this November.