Developer: Left Field
Release Date: January 15, 2008
Every console system has had its in-demand racing games, the titles that appealed to our natural impulse to go fast and feel the wind through the pixels of our character's hair. PlayStation had its Ridge Racer, Xbox had its Project Gotham Racing, and the GameCube had its Mario Kart. Is Nitro Bike the killer racing app for the Wii? Have we finally found the title that will excite our sensibilities, and make us tightly grip our Wiimotes and fire up the console for a quick race whenever we feel the need for a quick rush of adrenaline? Well ... no.
The concept behind Nitro Bike couldn't possibly be simpler. You are a biker, a sort of motocross wannabe whose vehicle of choice has been souped up with the ability to summon forth a quick boost of nitro and gain some velocity in a pinch. Don't expect anything else in the plot here; you are put onto this digitized Earth in order to put the speed-based smackdown on your largely faceless opponents, and that's it.
The closest you'll get to "development" is unlocking new tracks and races, which opens up new methods of play and challenges, but even this feels very shallow, and there isn't any kind of appreciable difference from place to place. You'll do things like time attacks, racing through hoops (because I can tell you, one of my favorite events in actual motocross races is where they race through enormous hoops), and elimination events. It's all basically the same thing, though, except for the trick attacks, where you're required to pull off various tricks in order to complete the event.
The last time I saw a racing game with this few unlockables, it was called Ridge Racer, and as anyone who knows their racing games can tell you, that title was swiftly eclipsed by other, more involved titles on the same system. Take note, game designers: If you want people to enjoy your game for more than a few minutes, you're going to have to give them some kind of depth beyond a few unlockable bikes, drivers and courses.
The audio/visual elements of Nitro Bike are, quite frankly, surprisingly poor. The theme music for the title screen is depressingly generic, an unconvincing thrash track that blatantly shouts, "Listen to how extreme we are!" without ever giving the impression that it could be considered anything but comical. The gameplay music is no better, consisting of a generic guitar riff that is nondescript enough to not offend any copyrights. This is unsurprising, as everything about this title feels like it's low-budget, done as cheaply as possible in an attempt to appeal to the speed enthusiast in all of us without taking the time and effort necessary to actually make the experience good.
The video aspect is no better; explosion effects are fairly poor, and even your character's wipeout ragdoll animations are pathetic and unrealistic. As covered later in this review, this is something that you will be seeing on a very frequent basis, so why not appoint someone with the skills necessary to make the crash scenes more involved than brief pan-outs of your character going all string-puppet on you?
The worst crime committed here is one of gameplay, and in a title that is almost completely composed of gameplay, that's sort of like having a slice of filet mignon where the only thing wrong with it is the steak. In an exceptionally rare move away from the norm, the controller is actually too sensitive; even a slight tilt in one direction or the other (you will be holding your Wiimote like a conventional Nintendo controller for the duration of your gameplay and setting aside your Nunchuk) sends your character careening wildly out of control, and too hard of a right or left turn actually causes the game not to register any motion at all.
Worse yet, your bike is simply incapable of taking the hard turns at some points in the course, forcing you to either come to an almost complete stop while all of your competition sails right by, ostensibly laughing at you and shouting slurs about your ancestry as they take these impossible turns at top speed without a moment's hesitation. Explosions seem to occur at random for no discernable reason other than to distract you from the road, and while the game will sometimes let you ride off the track to your heart's desire, it will simply dump you unceremoniously back onto the track on other occasions with no clear indication of why one little outing was all right, but another got you dragged back to the course like a wayward child yanked by the ear.
Nitro Bike's gimmick seems to have been instituted in an utterly ineffective manner. More often than not, any worthwhile use of your nitro will accelerate you so powerfully that you will be completely unable to take the next turn without becoming wall pizza. You'll consume more time in respawning than would have been used by simply taking the curve at a normal speed. What about the challenge of managing the nitro consumption, you might ask. There is none. All "nitro" seems to do is increase a meter on the right side of your speed display; use it to your heart's content, so long as you don't overheat your bike. As an experiment, I spent one of the races using nitro at every opportunity, blasting through everything but the curves. The worst I ever got was a very brief warning screen, telling me that I might want to let up on the stuff just a little bit because my steel horse is starting to get a bit hot under the collar. Nitro is not special when it's at your disposal as often as you like, and the execution of the idea completely removes any appeal from its usage.
Nitro Bike is a concept without a home. People who are interested in technical accuracy will be turned away by the glaring inaccuracies in how nitro is used and the fact that it is nearly impossible to control your vehicle in any appreciable degree, and speed junkies will throw down their Wiimotes in disgust at how the game punishes you over and over again for actually using the edge you've been given. The most impressive trick this game ever shows off is the one that gets you to shell out your hard-earned cash.
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