Bumps and prangs are easy to brush off during races, with the game happy to keep the car moving at high speed even when things aren't working out for you. There's also a drift mechanic that a three-year-old could grasp, with a tap of the B button sending the car into a sideways screech that's nearly impossible to screw up. There's also a simple Burnout-style boost system, which rapidly builds up through any positive driving manoeuvre, be it drifting, drafting opponents, or staying in the lead. Activating it involves flicking the Wii remote forwards.
A few trademark Need For Speed elements creep into the gameplay in the form of the police, who will join the race halfway through and try and run you off the road. Progressive damage hinders your ability to boost, so it's important to try and keep them off your tail - either by boosting out of sight, or picking up police badges from the track which ensure they chase one of your opponents instead. Should you take too much damage, spanner icons litter the track so you can perform instant repairs.
Where Nitro starts to deviate from the norm is the way it combines race performance with trackside art, so hoardings and buildings reflect the custom colour and design of the race leader as they roar around the circuit. When you storm into the lead and start to 'own' the race, the track starts to paint over your opponent's design with your own, or, as EA puts it, the game starts to paint "the story of racing supremacy". It's a gimmick, of course, but the slick, exaggerated art style is actually one of the most engaging aspects of the game, with a rock solid frame-rate and great sense of speed adding to the alluring arcade feel. Compared to some of the soulless Need For Speeds of the past, Nitro's kid's TV eyeblast injects an urgency that has been sorely lacking.
The game comes with around 30 disproportionately chunky car models to buy, unlock and drive, interpreted from the real thing. You get to choose from city cars, street cars, performance cars and supercars, including the Ford Escort RS Cosworth, Corvette Stingray, Subaru Impreza and the VW Type 2 camper van. Each is rated in terms of speed, handling, acceleration, drift and strength, but customisation is limited to cosmetic changes only, which unlock as you progress.
Despite all the in-your-face urgency of Need For Speed: Nitro, however, the truth is that the gameplay really doesn't hold your attention for long enough. Perhaps that's the point. Maybe EA assumes that its potential audience will pick it up for a quick blast, and come back to it over weeks and months - but that's a big 'if'. Played over the course of several hours, Nitro struggles to maintain your attention for more than 10 or 15 minutes at a stretch, the simplicity of control poorly supported by content that fails to compensate with ideas and evolution of its own. Repeat play is tiresomely monotonous, with the same few tracks blurring into one another, and the same handful of race modes offering precious little variety.
Even the distinction between car classes fails to develop the gameplay, and within the first half an hour you feel like you've seen pretty much everything the game has to offer. It might scream 'excitement' at the top of its tiny lungs, then, but Need For Speed: Nitro's initially endearing zest quickly degenerates into repetitive strain. Making an Wii exclusive for a casual audience is one thing, but stripping the game of any substance whatsoever won't do its chances any good either.
5 / 10