Need For Speed Most Wanted U

August 11, 2013

Need for Speed Most Wanted U is a game that makes the Wii U a games console. This might sound weird, but up until I played it, I felt that the Wii U was more a novelty that had worn off. Nintendo Land is fun for about ten minutes, and New Super Mario Bros. U is… well… a New Super Mario Bros title. They are… Nintendo-esque, that thing that makes them stand apart from other games.

NFSMWU, despite its ridiculous acronym, is not Nintendo-esque. It feels like a game you could buy on an XBox 360 or a PS3, primarily because it is. But whereas you would have had to put up with a cut-down, waggle-enhanced port for the Wii, this time you get a tuned-up turbo-boosted monster port for the Wii U. It feels like a proper, grown-up video game.

And you know what? That’s just fine. The Wii U has at least as much hardware grunt as its two rival consoles, and while it will likely soon be left behind as Sony and Microsoft move to replace their current systems, I feel like the Wii U isn’t going to be left in the technological dust like the Wii was. Anyone who plays current PC games knows that the jump in visual fidelity from PS3 or XBox 360 to a current gaming PC isn’t all that huge. Sure, the lighting gets better and the antialiasing gets smoother and the textures look a bit nicer, but overall, when you’re sitting back on the couch, those things aren’t going to be as noticeable to you.

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It helps a lot that the Wii U’s touchscreen gamepad controller is a much more useful gameplay tool than the Wiimote ever was. In NFSMWU, it provides quick access to a number of options, including the ability to instantly disable oncoming traffic, switch cars, hinder police chases and change from day to night. You can bring up a mini-map on the display that provides a more detailed view than the one on the main screen. You can even use the controller in a tilt-to-steer mode, which some how is a lot more playable than it was in the iOS version of the game, primarily because you have control over steering and acceleration as well. If you can master it, then it offers a lot more subtlety than the analogue sticks.

Speaking of analogue, NFSMWU brings out one of the glaring flaws of the Wii U controller: The lack of any analogue triggers. Acceleration is either all on or all off, and I found that I was often feathering the trigger buttons in order to control just how fast I was going. It doesn’t help that the game’s arcade physics mean that you generally have two modes of speed: really fast and crashed into a wall. Even a small hatchback can get out of hand easily, and every car seems to have the same supercar physics as, say, the Lamborghini Aventador.

Most of the game’s cars are unlocked from the beginning, and you can switch between them at any time using the Wii U remote, or the in-game menu system, which is really cool. If you feel like this is cheating, then you can also find the cars dotted around the city and change to them when driving. Some cars are still locked, and you have to complete the takedown missions to get them. I ended up ignoring these after the first couple because I was having more fun with the regular events and just tooling around Fairhaven to find all the hidden billboards and things.

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Fairhaven itself commits the cardinal sin of being empty and lifeless. There’s no pedestrians, no indications of life beyond the doors of a car, in fact. You can even turn that off, if you want, leaving a vast, apocalyptically empty city for you and your fellow racers to drive around in. Compared to the lively festival atmosphere ofForza Horizon, it’s a jarring shift. In Horizon, you feel involved and connected to the world the game presents. There’s a really fun atmosphere, and, as limited as it is, an actual story.

NFSMWU doesn’t really try to offer this. The game explains that there are ten drivers you need to take down, and that’s pretty much it. The side events are all just events without any real explanation (though a lot of them do have really cool intro movies), and aside from the cops, there’s no meaningful interaction with anyone. Given that this game is from the same studio behind Burnout Paradise, another game that presents an empty, lifeless world dedicated to driving around in, I shouldn’t be too surprised, I suppose.

But enough of the negatives and ill-advised comparisons. NFSMWU does deliver a fun arcade driving experience on a console that is in desperate need of any kind of experience right now. It’s also the definitive version of the game by far, offering visual improvements over the XBox 360 and PS3 versions, and control systems that no other platform can match. It may not be the game to choose over Forza Horizon, but if that’s not an option for you, then there’s still plenty of fun to be had here.

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Most importantly, the Wii U desperately needs this kind of generically good third-party title if it’s going to succeed, and its clear that developers will be happy to rise to the challenges the system presents. It’s not going to sell systems, but it will keep them turned on and active, making sure people remember that the Wii U exists, which seems to be a big problem for Nintendo right now. In that way, it’s actually a pretty important title, because it help set the tone for what we should expect of developers over the next year or so of the system’s life.

For me, personally, NFSMWU is the game that made me fully aware of the potential of the Wii U. More than that, it’s actually a pretty good, if not outstanding, game and if you’re looking for something to bolster your alarmingly thin Wii U software library right now, then you could do a lot worse than pick this up.



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