Need for Speed: Nitro First Hands-On

The long-running arcade racing series is coming to the Wii and the DS, and we've got a hands-on look.

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Need for Speed: Nitro isn't the first Need for Speed game on the Nintendo Wii, but it does hold the distinction of being the first game developed specifically for the Nintendo console. Considering the track record of mediocre ports of previous NFS games, starting from scratch with Nitro is probably a good thing. At EA's recent pre-E3 press event, we got a chance to check out Nitro on both Nintendo's Wii and DS to see what the fresh approach will mean for the long-running Need for Speed series.

First up, the game's graphics are built off of a modified version of the Black Box engine that's powered the NFS series for a while now, and they have a look all of their own. On the Wii, Nitro has an exaggerated, almost cartoonish look that suits the game better than the old, lower-resolution ports of previous games. The best example of the game's look is the cars themselves. Though Nitro will feature real-world makes and models, the cars have an exaggerated look, with bigger logos and larger rear wheels, which gives them a more toylike appearance that pairs well with the game's blistering 60-frames-per-second pace and arcade physics.

Nitro's controls are designed to be as friendly as possible to NFS veterans and rookies alike. The game will support several different control schemes, including the racing wheel that has shipped with games such as Mario Kart Wii. During our hands-on demo, we tried a couple of different control setups. The first used just the Wii Remote by itself. We held the Wii Remote normally and steered the car by twisting the Wii Remote left or right. To accelerate, we pressed the A button, and the all-important handbrake was on the B button. Powersliding around corners seems to be an important skill, given that it builds up turbo boost, which you can use with a simple shake of the Wii Remote. We also played the game with the Nunchuk attachment, which moves car control to the analog stick.

Speeding through the environments during the races that we played, we noticed a couple of things. First of all, the game will have power-ups strewn around the track. The only power-up available for us was a wrench that would let you repair your damaged car with a simple press of the down button on the directional pad (or the Z button when using the Nunchuk). Producers told us that more power-ups will be available in the final game, including the ability to lower your heat level when dealing with the police that will be in the final game. In fact, cops were few and far between in the build that we played, but we were told that they'd play a big role in races in the final version. Your heat level will determine how much the cops hassle you in races.

One other noticeable bit in the demo that we played was a graffiti system that would mark any nearby buildings that we drove by when we were in the lead of a race. You'll be able to customize the look of your graffiti in the game so that your tags appear in the races you lead. The producers told us that the tagging system will be integral to judging your performance in the game; for example, winning a race will earn you three stars, whereas winning the race and tagging the most territory will earn you four stars.

The Wii game will take place in five cities: Rio de Janeiro, Cairo, Madrid, Shanghai, and Dubai, with a storyline that will follow the progress of your up-and-coming racer as he makes himself known across approximately 130 missions on the world street-racing circuit. Other modes in the game include Race, Drag Race, Time Trials, and Drift Race. In addition, the world tour mode will feature cooperative multiplayer for up to four players; where you'll be able to unlock new cars, parts, tracks, and more.

We also had time to check out the DS version of the game, which, like the Wii version, has been built from the ground up for the handheld. The game has a similar concept of tagging areas of the six cities that will be found in the game but, instead of merely leading a race, you'll need to drive through a series of circular triggers on the track to tag a section of the race. Cops will have a presence in the game but act only as roadblocks; to get around them, you can press the X button and your car will hop into the air and avoid them altogether.

The game will feature 10 game modes and tracks that take some unexpected twists (in one case the road we were driving on turned into a twisting and rolling rollercoaster track). In addition to a standard circuit and point-to-point races, we had a chance to try out one of the minigames, which required us to drive around a baseball stadium and destroy a bunch of pinatas as quickly as possible. It didn't make much sense, but minigames rarely do, right?

Need for Speed: Nitro is coming to the Nintendo Wii and DS this fall. We'll have more on the game in the coming weeks.

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