There's nothing especially remarkable about the racing action in Juiced 2: Hot Import Nights for the Nintendo DS. It's just another Need for Speed: Underground knockoff in which you collect cars, trick them out, and race them against other car buffs to earn prestige and wager money. Nevertheless, the courses and car handling are solid, and the graphics are probably the best we've seen to date out of a 3D racer on the DS.
You'll find all of the usual event types and customization options you've come to expect from games like this. The career mode is split into 10 different leagues, each of which contain a number of different circuit races, eliminator races, perfect-lap challenges, and drift competitions. Winning the events you enter is your main goal, but you also need to accomplish specific criteria-related goals to unlock new cars and move on to the next league. These goals typically involve winning bets, tailgating specific opponents, and reaching certain point levels in drift events. As you go through the career mode, you'll amass a collection of approximately two-dozen real-world vehicles from brands such as Scion, Infiniti, Lotus, and Mitsubishi. With your race winnings, you can buy engine and nitrous upgrades for each car, as well as deck them out with different bumpers, spoilers, hoods, and side skirts. You can also edit paint schemes and design your own logos freehand using the stylus and touch screen.
Car handling is best described as weighty, loose, and extremely forgiving. You'll find it easy to drift and slide around corners when you need to, but not so easy that you'll ever spin a doughnut unless you're actually trying to do so. Bumping into guardrails and overpass supports won't slow you down all that much, and your car's plentiful nitrous supply ensures that you can accelerate back to its top speed in no time. Generally speaking, the courses are small, but they contain a satisfying mix of straights, twists, and curves that will give your fingers and the D pad a workout.
Each race involves a total of four competitors, including you. That number seems about right, considering the size of the courses. However, the CPU programming is robotic and predictable, to the extent that you will often feel as if you're really competing against your own ability to finish the event without making too many mistakes. Computer-controlled opponents always follow the same racing lines, and they finish in the same pecking order every time. For instance, Hiro is always the best CPU driver in the first few leagues. If he zips ahead of you right at the beginning of a race, you immediately know to quit and switch to a better car. Conversely, if you speed ahead of him and he doesn't catch up in five seconds, you know you're a lock to win. One particularly interesting wrinkle is that you can spook CPU drivers by tailgating them. They'll spin wildly out of control, which can really help you jump out to a commanding lead. All told, the predictable CPU doesn't kill all of the fun, but it's still rather disappointing. Obviously, you won't experience that problem racing against friends in the multiplayer mode, although you will need to convince your friends to buy their own copies of the game if you want to race against human opponents.
If graphics are a big deal to you, the game's super-polished presentation should help you forgive its shortcomings. Juice Games, the developer, has concocted a 3D engine that pushes a crazy number of polygons out of the DS, at a frame rate that's almost always silky smooth. The cars and roads exhibit a good amount of detail, and the structures and buildings surrounding the courses look clean. Unlike so many other racing games that have come out for the DS, objects such as guardrails and signs rarely look blocky or distorted. This is definitely one portable racing game that lets you admire the car you've customized and the course you're driving it on. Unfortunately, the audio isn't as elaborate, but the generic thrash rock music and canned engine noises do at least suit what happens on screen.
Juiced 2 for the Nintendo DS is one of those rare cases where sweet graphics actually elevate an otherwise unremarkable game into a worthwhile purchase. Racing around courses that look this good, in cars you can actually admire--on a portable game system that's not known for its graphical horsepower--is very, very nice, even if the AI and multiplayer options aren't quite up to snuff.