Compared to other racers that are available for the Game Boy Advance, Need for Speed Carbon holds its own. It's a solid, albeit unremarkable auto romp that gives you plenty of cars, parts, and courses to fiddle with. However, when you compare the GBA version of Carbon to the console versions, or even the DS version, you can't help but feel as though you're getting the short end of the stick. It's not just that many features from the console versions were either scaled back in the GBA version or left out altogether. Somewhere along the line, they just forgot to give the GBA game the same amount of attitude that the other versions have.
Taken on its own merits, the GBA rendition of Carbon comes across as a decent arcade-style racer. Your assigned goal is to take over the six turf areas situated throughout the city, which you accomplish by beating the different thugs in various race events. Races involve two opponents and your wingman, but you also have to watch out for commuter vehicles that can send your car flying if you run into them. Every time you win a race, you'll earn money that you can use to buy new cars or upgrade the ones you already have. The physics and handling are loosely based on reality, but they're also reasonably forgiving, to the extent that a few scrapes with a wall won't slow you down much. Your worst enemy is the relentless CPU, or, more to the point, the rubber band artificial intelligence that always keeps at least one opponent right on your tail. To combat the CPU, you can set up your wingman so that he or she will act as a blocker or a drafter during the race. A blocker will try to sideswipe the nearest CPU car, while a drafter will get in front of you and refill your nitrous tank. In theory it's nice to have a choice, but for some crazy reason the nitrous doesn't actually do anything meaningful, which means you'll just end up choosing a blocker for every race.
The robotic, overly predictable AI and the broken nitrous feature aren't major issues in one respect, but, in another respect, they do eliminate much of the liveliness that makes the other versions of Carbon so engaging. In the console and DS versions, you'll frequently send opponents into the wall or find them smacking into your bumper. And if they get too far ahead, you can kick in the nitrous and actually catch up. On the GBA, your blocker can slow down a CPU vehicle, but your own swipes will hardly do anything. They're always right on your tail following their preset racing line. Nitro is useless. All it does is cause everything on the track to move faster. Also, the story isn't as fulfilling on the GBA. Obviously, the system can't handle all of the full-motion video that the console versions have, but it could've managed animated comic book-style scenes similar to those employed in the DS version. Instead, the story in the GBA game is told through plain, static cutaways with dull fonts that exude as much flair as your monthly bank statement.
Some of the other cutbacks are more understandable. Canyon and drift races didn't make it into the GBA game, for example, and they didn't include the "scout" wingman type. Races in the GBA game involve only three competing cars, along with commuter vehicles, likely as a result of the system's lack of overall horsepower. At the same time, the GBA game doesn't offer anywhere near the number of tracks, cars, or upgrade parts that the other versions do. That's not so terrible, though, since the 18 tracks, 66 total events, 15 cars, and 60-plus performance and body parts it does have are more than sufficient compared to what similar games on the GBA have to offer. The cars are all based on real models too, from manufacturers such as Audi, Mazda, and Mitsubishi.
In terms of sights and sounds, Carbon delivers about what we've come to expect from racing games on the GBA. The 3D car models are sharp and detailed. As you turn the corner during a race, you can actually admire the decals and body kits you applied back in the garage. The 3D texture-mapping engine that handles the road and surrounding environment keeps the frame rate moving at a smooth clip, but the low-resolution textures sometimes lead to problems. Specifically, the trees and buildings in the environment can go from crisp to blocky in the blink of an eye, which can make it tough to see what's up ahead. At least they made it so that an arrow appears to warn you when a turn is coming up, so you can watch out for hairpins. As for the audio, there isn't much to say about it. The various engine and skid noises seem appropriate, and the knockoff rock and hip-hop beats fit the atmosphere more often than not.
It's worth stating again that Need for Speed Carbon on the GBA is a decent racing game. If you're looking to collect some cars, dress them up, and race them, you'll probably be satisfied. Just don't expect to find the same fire and attitude that make the other versions of the game so engaging.