Did you know that while Need For Speed is one of the biggest-selling gaming brands in the world year after year, no one gives a stuff about the Wii versions?
Don't believe me? Last year's Need For Speed Undercover was, wait for it, the 126th best-selling Wii game in the UK, at which point "best-selling" seems like the wrong description. NFS Undercover on Wii was outsold by gaming powerhouses such as Pippa Funnell: Ranch Rescue, Big Catch: Bass Fishing, and the unforgettable My Horse and Me. To put it into perspective, Mario Kart Wii outsold it 66 to one. Wahoo indeed.
But is anyone surprised? It's been glaringly obvious since the Wii launched that few people want a graphically crippled version of a multiformat game with novelty controls. And you can't exactly start on the Wii and scale up either. That's probably why EA has finally taken the decision to craft versions that play to each format's strengths instead.
So far it has paid off, with the highly promising Need For Speed: SHIFT rebooting the flagging franchise in some style on PC, PS3 and Xbox 360. This week, it's the turn of Need For Speed: Nitro to demonstrate that a cartoony, more casual approach to arcade racing can get us excited in a completely different way. In theory, anyway.
Developed in-house at EA's Montreal studio, the contrast between SHIFT and Nitro couldn't be greater. With realism thrown out of the window like an empty crisp packet, Nitro is the product of a team high on a Starburst sugar rush, giddily recalling the sweet innocence of old-school SEGA racing games rather than the fretting about double wishbones and adverse camber. Evoking the primary-colour madness of Crazy Taxi, the gurning sideways-screeching of OutRun and Burnout's face-wobbling boosting, Nitro cherry-picks some of the most enticing ingredients that arcade racing fans could desire.
With this you get the standard Arcade or Career modes, and race types in each comprised of our good friends Circuit, Elimination, Drag Races and Time Attack, as well as Speed Trap, which, as you might recall from past NFS titles, means having to clock up unfeasibly fast speeds through a series of three checkpoints. Events take place in five locations - Rio, Cairo, Madrid, Singapore and Dubai - and progress is a matter of accumulating the required number of stars across each tier before the next one unlocks. Standard stuff, then.
The control system conforms to all the configurations under the sun, with support for the Wii wheel, Classic Controller and even the GameCube joypad. If you prefer steering by pointing the Wii remote forward and twisting it left or right, you can do that, though being horribly old-fashioned I plumped for the nunchuk style, where you actually get to steer with the stick. On the track, you can boost off the start by tapping the A button to keep the revs in the green zone, and then you rarely need to let go of the throttle.