You don't need to hang out with the producers of the upcoming Need for Speed: Nitro for long before they'll tell you that this is the first Need for Speed game built specifically for the Wii. Good thing too, because the previous iterations for the Nintendo console have ranged in quality from pretty good to, well...not so good. With Nitro, the developers at EA Montreal are infusing the game with a style all its own, evident from the game's look all the way down to its controls. We've seen Nitro a couple of times before, and recently EA came by the GameSpot offices to give us some updated hands-on time with the game.
The central component of Nitro's single-player game will be its Career mode, which will have you traipsing all over the world as you race in locales as varied as Rio de Janeiro, Singapore, Madrid, Cairo, and, eventually, Dubai. Producers told us that all of these locations have real-world underground racing scenes--a fascinating (if seemingly unlikely) prospect in a strict law-abiding society like Singapore--all of which were researched for this game. A good chunk of that real-world research has been tossed out the window (or, at least, used merely as inspiration) when creating the breakneck racing that is at the heart of Nitro's gameplay.
One cool aspect of Nitro's Career mode is its cooperative aspect--you can play with up to three friends in any Career mode race. Completing races and finishing in the top positions will earn you stars that you can use to unlock new content. When you're playing cooperatively, all of the stars collected by all human players will go to a central pool that can be used by the lead profile to unlock new areas.
Controls in the game are flexible and easy to learn. You can play with a Wii Remote and Nunchuk, or with the Remote by itself. The A button is gas, the B button is your hand brake (which you can tap to drift in corners), and you steer the car by twisting the Wii Remote. Drifting through corners will earn all-important turbo boost, which you can engage by flicking the Wii Remote. While you can't total your car in a race, damage will affect how much boost you can build up--if you incur too much damage, you'll lose your nitro boost altogether. To fix your car, you drive over repair wrenches that you can then use by pressing down on the D pad.
There are lots of different race events available in the game--traditional circuit races and elimination races (where the car in last place will be eliminated after a certain amount of time), as well as time trial and speed challenge events. Speed challenge races will measure your speed through a number of speed traps located at certain points on a circuit; the goal is to finish with a minimum total speed, added up at the end of a race. Unlike the other race types, speed challenge events won't let you repair your car mid-race, so if you bang your way around the turns, there's a good chance you'll lose your nitro boost altogether and won't have a chance of hitting your speed totals. There are also drag racing events, which put more focus on shifting at the right time (you shift by flicking the Wii Remote). As in our previous look at the game, drag events are tough because you have next to no time to react and get out of the way of oncoming traffic--in fact, just like last time, we weren't able to finish a single drag racing event before crashing. Here's hoping they significantly tune things before release.
Nitro's multiplayer races will be fast-paced affairs. (They won't be quite as quick as the single-player races, though, which are running at 60fps. Multiplayer races run at 30fps). Perhaps the biggest strategic advantage you'll have, besides simply taking the corners well and using boost judiciously, is the heat meter and shield pickups. Nitro races will have cops along for the ride, and as your heat level rises in a race, so too will the cops' harassment. To lower your heat level, you drive over shield boosts found on the circuit--activating a shield boost will lower your heat level and automatically put the heat on a nearby driver.
Whether you're tagging the world with customized graffiti when leading a race, or putting skulls and flowers on your Day-Glo orange van, Nitro will give you plenty of options for customization. You'll be able to change the paint scheme of your car, quickly add stickers and other designs to your car, and create custom logos that will pop up in the world.
Nitro might be built for the Wii, but it's coming to the Nintendo DS as well. The DS game is being developed by the folks at Firebrand Games who previously developed the TrackMania DS game. TrackMania's nutty influence is evidenced by the track design in Nitro for the DS--the last time we played the game, we drove one section of a race on a roller-coaster track, and the most recent time we played it, we were drifting through corners and taking sweet jumps on the moon, which pretty much answers anything you need to know about this version of the game.
Need for Speed: Nitro is due for release on the Wii and DS on November 17.