Drifting Onto Facebook: Need For Speed Nitro

I think I need thisElectronic Arts is known for releasing many of its games in tandem with something else in order to boost initial popularity and sales. If it’s a movie game, it comes out just before the film. If it’s Madden, it’s released just in time for football season. However, as the behemoth delves deeper into social games, it has moved to new means of sale boosting – releasing free Facebook apps to support the console title, and thus EA shows us Need For Speed Nitro.

The full version of the game is for the Nintendo Wii and DS, but with more than 350 million users on Facebook, producing a social rendition seemed like a prudent marketing decision. Yes, “marketing” decision. It would be naïve to think that EA is looking to make significant revenue off this free app rather than promote the $50 Wii version.

As a matter of fact, this isn’t the first time the console developer has utilized Facebook for this reason. Relatively recently, the company had also launched a Facebook rendition of Dante’s Inferno – which sent many a social user to hell – in tandem with the full game launch.

Well, if there is any one thing EA knows, it’s marketing. Of all game companies, they have one of the largest budgets around, and frankly, Nitro is one pretty nice advertisement. Unlike other similarly-purposed “games,” – cough, LEGO Indiana Jones, cough – Nitro wasn’t too bad to play. Not too bad at all.

Like most racing games, players start off with one big clunker of a car and are baited to keep playing by some of the sleekest and sexiest looking racers out there. In order to unlock said cars, not only is a hefty sum of prize money needed, a certain number of earned stars as well.

Nitro RacingWhat are stars you ask? They can be best described as race-specific achievements. For each race, the player chooses a track, up to three challengers, and items they wish to use in the race itself. Once they opt to begin, icons representing the four racers passively zoom about the track, in a top-down view, with a text feed showing what is happening. The whole ordeal takes about 20 seconds or so (at least on early tracks), and you can actually see where your car is slowing down, to improve your performance later.

Performance is actually the more interesting part of the game. While the race itself is unaffected by player input once it begins, users do have the ability to influence the outcome before hand. As players unlock stars for each race track, they earn points to put into driving skill. Remember how you can see the feed and the race occurring? Say your car slows down a lot on turns: You can put points into drifting and/or cornering to improve that skill and slow down less.

Another means of affecting the race is through three consumable items: Wrenches, Nitro, and Police Badges. Throughout the race, players can, in fact, be damaged by other cars, obstacles, and so on. Damage to your vehicle will obviously hinder capabilities, and the wrench will repair it, automatically during the race. Nitro, on the other hand, will provide a temporary, yet significant speed boost, and Police Badges will take a page from Mario Kart and misdirect any police attention from you to the lead car (think blue turtle shell).

Driving SkillAs far as complaints go, they are minimal. Considering the likely purpose of Need For Speed Nitro, the app does a pretty decent job. If it were intended to fly completely solo and garner a great deal of longevity, the chief quip would have to be repetitiveness. The entire time, the player is going through the same motions: Race, upgrade stats, equip items, repeat; with only the occasional deviation to buy a new car. This can get boring after a while. The only other complaint is the user doesn’t seem to have a clear understanding of what icons are what. For example, it is rather hard to tell when you have points to put into your driving skill so it really just became habit to go to that part of the game periodically to check. Simple mouse-over alt text of some sort would be more than helpful in this sense.

Despite a few issues, it has to be reiterated that Need For Speed Nitro is unlikely to be an app intended for solo flight. In that regard, Nitro does an excellent job at coaxing some interest for the Wii and DS titles, as well as granting the player a bit of free fun in the process.