EA hates the DS.
Most games--regardless of how bad they are-- provide some kind of diversion. There are some rare occasions when a game is wholly unplayable. Some may blame camera issues, others blame the graphics, but the primary fault for a completely unplayable game is piss-poor control. Need for Speed: Most Wanted for DS is completely out of control.
Not that it doesn’t fail in other areas, (it does, and in spades) but the worst transgression is that at no point will you feel you have much control over your vehicle. The basics are there: left is left and right is right, but the problem is the degree of steering. No matter how acute or obtuse your turn angle may be, steering around the curve is never a simple matter.
Much of this problem is due to some detrimental graphical issues. I can forgive that the player’s vehicle lacks detail, since that alone doesn’t impede gameplay; but the environments are vile. The game requires you to memorize the tracks—which, at times, isn’t so bad since they’re sometimes reused—but winning a point to point or circuit race can be particularly difficult unless you have a photographic memory.
The reason is that you can hardly see anything. If a wall is coming at you, by the time you can distinguish that there are arrows to guide you and that they are pointing either right or left, it’s too late; you’re face-first in bricks. Another major frustration is black trucks on black pavement. There is nothing to distinguish the two until you notice that forward progression has ceased and that you’re now careening backward or at a dead halt. Unless NFS is attempting to tackle the survival-horror racing genre on the DS, there’s no excuse for phantom vehicles.
Again, I can accept the awful graphics so long as the control is tight. It could even serve to make the game more exciting: a hard turn would come up, and at the last minute, you could power slide and simply take off without losing too much speed. But the control sucks, and, while power sliding exists, it’s a bit hard to tell when the appropriate time is to hit it, since finding where the curve ends is impossible without repeated races. On top of that, you have to somehow avoid under-steering because you’ll hit a wall, and over-steering because you’ll be facing another wall.
As far as the actual gameplay, it’s pretty boring. There’s no sense of speed, and due to the lackluster environments, racing gets repetitive regardless of whether it’s point to point, circuit, or knockout mode.
Tangent time! I find knockout modes fascinating because they’re completely unnecessary. In knockout mode, the last-place car in each lap is disqualified from the race, but if you’re not in first (or a close second) the race is hopeless. So, what does it really matter if the AI that’s in third or fourth place is knocked out? Certainly, a case could be made for multiplayer, but since this game requires multiple cards to play in that mode, I’m not going to bother making that case.
The most laughable aspect of the game is the “pursuit” moments. The best reason to play NFS: MW on consoles and PC has been relegated to easily outmaneuvering police during a race, a slalom-style event in which you avoid hitting patrol cars, or playing some goofy minigame (Spin the tire! Three card Monte!) on the touch screen. The minigames don’t require the use of the stylus, but it’s still distracting having to touch the screen mid-race in order to be freed. Of course, all this is rendered pointless, because even if you succeed, by the time you finish the minigame, you’ve already kissed whatever lead you had goodbye.
You have to hand it to EA, though, in that they do know how to package a game. The opening screens are gorgeous and include a neat little FMV showing off the BMW that you’re attempting to win (of course, the only way to know anything about the “story” is by having played the console or pc versions). The menus are slick and easy to navigate, and customization is a breeze (if not excessively diluted). The presentation is hindered only by the in-game music, which is repetitive, bad, and nearly impossible to hear—perhaps a saving grace.
Actually, the sound design is comical throughout. The engine sounds are serviceable if unimpressive; but when taking a sharp turn, the sound of the tires’ friction is reminiscent of a gobbling turkey. You’d hear more realistic sounds from a 7-year-old playing with Hot Wheels.
Seriously, EA is dismissing the DS. While outsourcing development is fine, it seems that quality control is at a minimum. If the DS version has some tenuous connection to the main game it’s a port of, then it’s good to go for retail. Need for Speed: Most Wanted is a classic example of this attitude. The best that can be said for the game is at least it’s not a direct port of the GBA game. However, it would definitely be a better game if it had been.