Need for Speed: Underground 2 (Nintendo DS) - Review by Andrew
Like Electronic Arts? The Urbs, Need for Speed Underground is a dual GBA/DS review but unlike the former we've had to wait some 6 months for its release. Coding for this version has again fallen into the very capable hands of Pocketeers who have had great success with the other handheld versions of the N4S series. Unfortunately this game has arrived just when things are starting to feel a little crowded. It?s the third driving game released in the DS's short life and that's before we even mention the substantial list of rather great GBA racers. Obviously any serious gamer will want to own all these but if you can only stretch to one, is this it?
As with the GBA version you can choose to tackle the racing in a number of different ways but it's the 'Go Underground' section that really gives the gamer what they want. Simply put, this offers everything petrol heads require from simple circuit racing to drag racing not to mention the chance to customize, upgrade and actually tune your car in a series of mini games. It's up to you how you tackle the action thanks to a handy menu system that indicates just what the challenges are and how much you have completed. Because these generate wealth and unlock extras it's worth entering one of the easier sections first although this is dependent on your skill level and what car you picked. The drag option is now far more involved than the original with some commuter traffic thrown into the mix. It doesn't take a genius to work out that speeds of 30mph versus 125 are going to cause some problems but again it's all down to your skill as a driver.
Replacing the 'drift' section is the much more demanding 'Own the Zone' which has you tearing around the courses in the fastest time in order to gain parts of the now segmented track. This splits existing courses into a handful of zones and times your car entering and exiting them, recording the fastest speed in each. That?s not it though as opponents can take these zones from you by simply clocking a faster time over a given number of laps. It's a shame that this feature couldn't be included in addition to the rather enjoyable if quite pedestrian 'drift' but it's a welcome addition none the less.
Another thing ported over from the GBA outing are the mini games that challenge you to tune up your car. These are really nothing more than simple shockwave games where, for instance, you must keep a moving object within a given area or tune an engine by pressing the correct combination of controls but the rewards are great and success unlocks one of the many special upgrades which are unavailable until then. The outcome though is a pleasant diversion from the driving and does give a more 'hands-on' feel to your car?s development. Finally there's the multi-player, which sadly requires more than a single cart to enjoy but which does give Ridge Racer a considerable lead in the DS driving arena.
The car controls are surprisingly good giving most of the cars a realistic feeling of weight. Clearly this gets some getting used to and you will have to alter your control methods when entering other events but this simply makes the whole thing that much more satisfying when you cross the finish line.
With the huge improvements in the hardware capabilities of the DS we were expecting something quite special with this game but to be honest there's only a marginal improvement from the GBA version. Whether that's a testament to just how good that was, or how qlitchy this is, the fact remains that this simply isn't as accomplished as Asphalt Urban GT. It is rescued, to some extent, by the impressive frame rate, which provides a wonderful illusion of speed but age old problems such as pop-up and muddy textures seem to slow the whole thing down. All this will also cause the occasional unforeseen collision because of questionable lighting and the lack of sort of noticeable difference between the road and surrounding objects.
One thing that has deteriorated over the various N4S outings is the audio and this one sees both music and sound effects slipping yet again. Gone are the licensed tunes, which have instead been replaced by a kind of generic backbeat. A little like listening to a song through a brick wall while you try and guess just what it is. The sound effects are similar with all cars sounding the same regardless of their location.
As we've come to expect in DS racers the bottom screen is used first and foremost as a map and statistics screen although it does tend to be a little slow with some important information when you most need it. Another use is to activate your car?s Turbo facility giving you a much needed speed increase when it most matters but given that this causes you to take your eyes and fingers off the main game it's much easier to use the shoulder buttons to achieve the same thing. Probably most successful is the Art Program that allows you to design a logo for the side of your car. This will no doubt delight gamers although the interface could have been given a little more thought.
It's probably fair to say at this moment that if you combined all three racers currently available on the DS then you'd undoubtedly have something approaching a perfect game. The problem is they all offer something very different and while Asphalt Urban has the looks and Ridge Racer the gameplay, N4S is clearly going to last you the longest. Frustratingly N4S flaws lie in the fact that it just doesn't feel like a DS title but merely an enhanced GBA game, which the Pocketeers have been producing for some years now. That said it is early days with this new development system and it may be some years before we see just what the DS is capable of. For the time being though it's hard to ignore the quality features of the other two offerings and with that in mind it's probably a good time to go down to your local gaming outlet and give all three a test drive.
Pro: Loads Of Tracks
Con: Muddy Visuals
Final score: 6.8