Need for Speed: Underground 2 (Game Boy Advance) - Review by Andrew



Last year?s Need for Speed was undoubtedly an impressive piece of handheld gaming and for a system that was never meant to cope with 3D it certainly proved its critics wrong. EA were clearly pleased too and have once again signed on developers Pocketeers to produce the sequel. As with the original though forging a GBA version from a considerably more powerful console version is always a challenge not to mention the fact that a sequel requires improvements and, hopefully, improvements and new features. It's a tall order I know but the one thing we all want to know by the end of the review is: 'Is this latest version worth buying if I have the original?' Never fear, we've given it a full road test and this is what we came up with...


As with the last outing you can choose to tackle the racing in a number of different ways but it's the 'Go Underground' section which 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 customizing, upgrading and actually tuning 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 always worth entering one of the easier sections first although this is dependent on your skill level and what car you picked. We selected drag first which challenges you to use your 'drift' facility to rack up points. It's not as simple as it first appears though as hitting one of the many obstacles reverts your score to nil. 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.

One truly new addition to the latest Need for Speed outing are the mini games which 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 buttons 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 well being and development. Finally there's the multi-player which we thought we'd mention anyway though it hasn't actually changed from the original. Just to let you know it's still actually there.


Clearly this is arcade orientated and a real driving sim would have an uphill struggle finding an audience of a GBA. That said Pocketeers have made some significant improvements to the controls making moves such as 'drift' a great deal tighter and more important to the gameplay. Overall though it's still as solid and playable as it was in the original but there's no denying that the cars not only handle better (especially when you spend some money on them) but also more realistically.


As soon as you switch on your GBA you'll notice huge improvements with the visuals and the user interface has been completely overhauled for this version. Not that this wasn't absolutely essential as the original featured some of the blandest and worst implemented design we'd seen for some time. The actual racing engine is still solid with the cars well designed and, unlike some other titles we could mention, shows absolutely no signs of slowdown of pesky graphical glitches. If you didn't play the original we also have to mention the camera shake during the 'drag' sections which is not only a great idea (and sensibly retained) but also manages to give a wonderful illusion of speed.


While most areas show huge improvements compared to the first outing the audio does appear to be one area where compromises have been made. Whether due to time constraints, licensing or simply space, the soundtrack is not nearly as accomplished as the original and outside of the engine noises there is little to get you tapping your foot. We can only assume that the extra space was given over to the mini-games and while we did criticize the sampled music on last year?s cart for being looped a little too often it was still quality stuff.

Final comments

Outside of the soundtrack everything in this latest outing really has moved up a gear (sorry about that) so even if you already have a healthy collection of handheld racers this one is still worth considering. What makes Underground 2 so great is that the developers have taken the criticisms of the first on board and had a decent attempt at rectifying the shortfalls. This is mostly concerned with presentation and extended gameplay (more tracks, cars etc) but they've also tweaked and refined some of the controls making some of the game?s areas much more meaningful and skills driven. Sure it's never going to be as accomplished as console based racers or even, for that matter, Urban Asphalt on the DS, but it's still very desirable on the GBA. So the question remains to buy or not to buy? From our point of view there's more than enough enhancements to warrant a purchase but if you're still unsure, why not give it a spin at your local game store.

Pro: Much Better Presentation
Con: The Soundtrack
Final score: 8.1


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Boxart of Need for Speed: Underground 2 (Game Boy Advance)
Platform: Game Boy Advance
Genre: Racing
Developer: Pocketeers
Publisher: Electronic Arts