Aficionados of scrappy, arcade-style racing games will feel right at home with Need for Speed Carbon for the Nintendo DS. While the DS game doesn’t include all of the features that its counterparts on the PlayStation 2 and Xbox have, it does ape enough of their features and atmosphere such that it delivers the same sort of spirited street-racing experience. Beyond that, it’s also a fun, sometimes-hectic game that gives players a good selection of cars, parts, and courses to fiddle with.
Generally speaking, Carbon is set up like you’d expect it to be. You compete against opponents in various circuit, elimination, sprint, and endurance-type races; new courses and cars unlock along the way; and your victories net you points that you can use to buy new cars and upgrade your old ones. Each of the game’s 12 courses emphasizes a different setting and structure, and you’ll find shortcuts all over the place. The driving is fast-paced, and the cars feel sufficiently heavy. The artificial intelligence, meanwhile, does a good job of nudging fenders without coming across as unfair. Smashing into oncoming traffic can lead to a spectacular crash, but the AI usually isn’t so harsh that one or two collisions will knock you out of contention. At least CPU opponents are subject to the same mishaps, unlike in last year’s game when they would simply pass right through commuter traffic. As for the controls, everything you’d want at your fingertips is there. Steering is mapped to the directional pad; the shoulder buttons handle braking and acceleration; and the main buttons activate the handbrake, wingman, and nitro functions.
Three exciting new gamebreaker features help distinguish Carbon from previous Need for Speed games. Two of these are rewind and slow-motion abilities, which let you recover from crashes and slow down the action just by pressing a button. The other, more significant new addition is the wingman. In a nutshell, you have a buddy in the race that will come to your aid with a helpful block or draft whenever you summon them. Blockers will try to nudge and T-bone the other CPU cars. Drafters, on the other hand, will get in front of you and cut down on your car’s wind resistance, helping you achieve a higher top speed. They also refill your nitrous, rewind, and slow-mo tanks while you draft behind them. Wingmen are a welcome addition to the Need for Speed formula, as they can instigate some awesome crashes and change the pecking order in an instant. About the only downside to them is that you can’t have both a blocker and a drafter in a single race. You must pick one or the other before the race starts. As such, you have to decide which strategy is more important, slowing down the other competitors or being able to refill your nitro, rewind, and slo-mo tanks.