Review by niniendowarrior
Ambitious... but falls short on the target.
Need for Speed is arguably the most recognizable racing franchise ever, and the franchise's main thrust needs no introduction. With street racing becoming more prominent through certain films and some surprising games, it was inevitable that the NFS franchise veered towards this concept. EA's Need for Speed Underground is the official entry of the NFS franchise to the 'seedy' underground world of street racing. It is important to note, however, that this is also EA's first official NFS entry to the Gameboy Advance. Seeing early shots and write-ups of the game, it was clear what EA and Pocketeer set out to do. To keep the game as close and true-to-formula as its console brethren. With many technical advancements and ambitious goals, NFS: Underground truly comes close to achieving this, but falls short of its goals.
It is indeed a technical achievement for Pocketeer to utilize a full 3D engine on such small hardware capabilities. The technical advancement is truly astounding if not astoundingly difficult to see. Pocketeer's 3D engine renders everything in full 3D glory, from cars, to city, to the traffic. Although the resolution is pretty low, it is definitely an achievement worth noting. The frame-rate is for the most part, consistent but can slow down in some moments. All the tracks look quite generic, the only difference lies in the actual layout. You'll be occasionally thinking of having gone passed this route on another track. The turns are pretty hard to see as the muffled finish of the low resolution 3D makes the view very much undecipherable. Not only does this frustrate players, it can cost races, which doubles that frustration. Also completely annoying is the presence of traffic. With the low resolution graphics, it is very difficult to cross an intersection and get by without you getting hit by a car you never did see coming. Indeed, the graphics pushes the limit, and unfortunately, the graphics here show that it isn't always a nice thing. However, the technical advancement proves that full 3D can be done and observing the way Pocketeers made and designed the game, I don't see how they would've made the graphics rendering any different. I doubt if they can pull it off with 2D graphics anyhow.
Definitely another department worth noting, Pocketeers push the GBA sound capabilities by being able to integrate song loops. At last, you can finally have real music on your tiny portable. The songs are quite muffled, but they get the job done. Reality sets in though. Since the hardware can only do so much, only 4 songs are included. Atleast, you have 4 songs! Truly a remarkable job and unlike the Graphical problems, the songs don't derail the enjoyment of the game. The sound effects are equally nice and the game really pulls off some interesting quirks to the sound effects, such as adding some extra sound-effects for specific car add-ons you install. Overall, pretty nice touch.
Pocketeers decided to include three control schemes for players to choose from. Automatic allows you to neglect the gear shifts and use the trigger buttons for nitro and a special brake (which I reckon is emergency brakes, or maybe handbrake). Basic allows the standard fare controls and the Advanced have a more restrictive version of the Basic controls. Nitro is moved to up in both Basic and Advanced. Back mirror is mapped to the select button. The car control is pretty tight, but recovery from a spin out (most often because of collisions with unseen cars) can be difficult at times as you cannot seem to spin back efficiently.
NFS: Underground provides many options to trick out your car and it also has quite a selection of cars to choose from. Options such as paint job, vinyl patterns, tint, and car part customizations such bumpers, side skirts, etc. truly make this game surprising. Those looking for a portable racer that comes close to console racing games will have their smiles ear-to-ear with the number of things you do with the cars. The game's bread and butter is the Underground Mode where in you climb the underground world and claim your crown as king of the underground street racing. The game starts off pretty easy and the difficulty gradually ramps up after a couple of races. This can give you some sort of challenge until you get the better cars and do the full upgrades, after which the game becomes a little bit too easy. Opponents can also challenge you, which is said to be absent in the console version (although, this I can never verify anymore since I don't own the console version). This option allows the underground mode to be a more believable rendition of the real underground racing world. Every interaction with the competitors off-track in underground, though are only in text, so those hoping to see some astounding cut scenes can throw this idea out of the window. The ending is also a quite rushed up and is really nothing to look forward to, but I won't be spilling this for you. Get disappointed on your own. The game also has quick race which allows you to go through Circuit, Sprint, Drag, and Drift. These options are pretty interesting and you'll be encountering these types on underground too. Multi-player is also present in this game for those who want to go head-to-head with their friends.
The annoyance factor though is also great in this game. The unseen cars and the unforgiving weird car physics seem to ruin any sort of fun that you may get from this heavy package. You are punished severely for bumping opponent cars as well as when enemies bump you. This really gets into nerves of players and really prompts you to just shut off the machine and repeat again or probably toss the game out of the galaxy.
The AI is actually pretty nice in this game. Opponents are competitive and at times actually steal some wins from you. They are also part of the source of annoyance as sometimes, all the opponent cars seem hell-bent at bumping you off the track and making sure you don't finish. Still a formidable work from the team.
There are a lot of things to unlock in this game. After going through the underground, you may want to setup all 14 of your cars to get the best out of your car customizations. There's pretty much a large array of options for you to use and trick out your car. The quick races though, don't pose much of a threat and things get pretty boring without your friends to back the fun up.
Need for Speed Underground has a lot of things going for it, from the full-3D engine, to the digitized audio, and to the enormous number of options to do. Needless to say, this game really pushes the limit of the tiny GBA hardware and really leaves the GBA panting and gasping for air. Unfortunately, some of its strong points turn to liabilities such as the undecipherable graphics. The annoyance from all the flaws hampers Need for Speed Underground's potential from becoming the finest racer in the GBA. Despite the flaws though, this game is a definitely recommended to those who love racing and street racing. This game is definitely the closest console-port you'll ever see in a long time.
Rating: 3.5 - Good
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