The heart of any quality racing game lies in its vehicle control and track design. But these are often buried beneath layers of custom paint jobs, licensed soundtracks, and scenic backdrops. Nitrobike is that odd game where vehicle control and track design would seem to work well enough on their own, but they achieve disastrous results when forced together as a team. This, combined with the game's lackluster extras and painful visuals, means there's not a lot to draw your attention.
The main reason the courses and bikes can't quite mesh is that they tend to cancel out each other's best qualities. With the bikes, it's all about speed; the most exciting moments come when you engage the titular nitro boosts. Fire erupts from the bike, the screen goes blurry, and you feel like you might just rocket through time itself. Not only is it exciting, it's also rewarding because you'll have to earn extra boost by doing midair tricks while keeping a watchful eye on your gauge to make sure it doesn't overheat. It's a nice balance that adds a lot to the experience.
Unfortunately, the tracks are filled with far too many twists and obstacles for you to really let loose. The motion controls are serviceable--like most Wii racing games, you hold the Wii Remote sideways and tilt to steer--but not terribly reliable when pushed too far. That fact is especially obvious with the hairpin turns littering most of the tracks. At the apex of these tight corners, your character will occasionally ignore whatever you're doing with the Wii Remote and drive straight into a wall then explode--an infuriating problem you won't face when speeding through the more gradual turns. In addition, the tracks are absolutely clogged with other racers. This wouldn't be much of a problem if the collision physics weren't so punishingly unpredictable. Sometimes you can bounce off the other racers, but at other times, merely bumping someone will send you flying 20 feet into the sky. You'll also find yourself contending with inanimate objects on the track that produce equally confusing results. For example, you can effortlessly plow through a wooden bridge or tower, but if you try to tear through one of the nylon signs on the side of the track, you'll earn yourself a one-way trip to the emergency ward. With all these hindrances, you wind up feeling like a Lamborghini owner stuck in rush-hour traffic.
Some of these problems are mitigated by switching gameplay modes. While career mode forces you to earn medals in a sequential series of courses with hardly a setting to toggle, exhibition races allow for much more fiddling. You'll be able to adjust the difficulty and number of riders while focusing on the tracks that put less of an emphasis on that gritty, smash-mouth brand of racing, for example. You can also play against others online, but only when you can actually find a match, which is pretty rare.
Unfortunately, you'll need to trudge through career mode to unlock new tracks and bikes if you want any sort of variety. Doing so also gives you access to certain extras, such as concept art, but it's hardly impressive. It's generally the sort of quality you'll find sketched on a school notebook. There's also a bowling mode you can unlock by exploding your bike a certain number of times, but the less said of that, the better.
That underwhelming theme is carried through in the game's presentation. As far as the sound goes, you'll experience the same droning, cheesy hard rock that seems to accompany most lackluster sports games on the Wii these days. On top of that, the visuals suffer from precipitous drops in the frame rate, uninteresting drivers, and bland backgrounds.
All told, it almost seems as if Nitrobike's driving mechanics and track design were pulled from two completely different games. They simply don't fit, and that lack of harmony results in a frustratingly difficult experience. If that weren't enough, insult is added to injury when you consider what little incentive there is for battling through this mess. Wii owners itching for a quality racing game will want to pass on this one.