Really Cute Racing.
Know what I miss? Arcade-style racing games. It seems like these days everyone’s focused on realism and simulations. That’s why it’s fairly refreshing to jump into Nitro and blaze through a few laps; it’s not exactly brimming with power-ups or cartoon characters, but it’s less focused on the real world and much more interested in slightly wacky fun. And chibi cars.
Players assume control of a faceless, nameless racer intent on clawing their way through the ranks and become the best at driving cars really, really fast. After picking a starting vehicle it’s off to the track to rank up, unlock new cars, and stockpile materials necessary for various upgrades. Getting around makes use of the fairly typical iOS racer control scheme (i.e. tilt to steer), however acceleration and braking require tapping virtual pedals on the sides of the screen instead of being handled automatically. Each one-on-one race is a stepping-stone to fame and fortune, and win or lose, all the spoils can be saved for later use.
Despite being cutesy and cartoony, Nitro has some pretty impressive looking vehicles. Sure they aren’t exactly realistic, but they’re surprisingly detailed and sport a fair amount of shine as they tear around the track. Those little moments where they make a huge jump and the camera swings around to show them in slo-mo glory are also pretty nifty.
Of course what actually makes the races fun is the constant temptation to take a few risks for lots of potential rewards. Each track is littered with materials (represented as large glowing icons) for upgrades as well as shortcuts. It can be a tough to make a snap decision to avoid grabbing some much needed fiberglass in order to beat an opponent, but that’s what makes Nitro so interesting.
Being a huge fan of customization, I also have to admit I’m rather fond of all the upgrades I’ve been talking about. Each one requires a bit of cash and metal/metal-like substance to craft, of course, but it can also make a marked improvement in a car’s performance both on and off road. Although what I really like about them is the way they can change a car’s appearance. And since upgrades don’t cost all that much cash-wise, there’s plenty to put towards the acquisition of a new set of wheels – which naturally leads to a full stable of vehicles that can be upgraded across several categories and multiple levels, leaving completionists with no shortage of content.
The slight “wackiness” found in Nitro‘s tracks can be problematic at times, however. The relatively constant shift between on and off road, even when sticking to the main path, puts any unbalanced cars at a disadvantage. This can be offset somewhat through upgrades, but it’s still a bit irritating. Similarly the more complex tracks can become something of a confusing mess to navigate with their multiple forks and gaps in environmental details that look like shortcuts but really aren’t. I also have to admit; as much as I love the upgrades, I think it’s sort of a shame that they adhere to a set path. In other words there’s no real “Pick A or B” moment that will truly set one player’s maxed out Flare from another’s.
Nitro is good at providing plenty of simple, no-frills fun. That also means it’s not exactly an incredibly deep experience, but it doesn’t need to be. It’s fun, silly, and full of upgradeable cars. Mmmmm… upgrades…