I'll admit it; when Nitrobike for the Nintendo Wii was announced, I was excited. The only other decent racing title for the Wii, Excite Truck, had left a lot to be desired. Sure, Excite Truck's sense of speed was good and the control was fairly responsive, but I'd been hoping for a racing title that had more in common with PS3's Motorstorm than an SSX game; the Wii's first racing game was more about boosts, tricks and airborne antics than it was about striving for first place. Around a year after Excite Truck hits shelves with the Wii's launch, Ubisoft and Left Field Productions (the studio that put together Excite Bike 64) announced Nitrobike, a dirt bike racer that was, for all intents and purposes, supposed to be a spiritual successor to the NES classic Excitebike. Now that it's out, the Wii has its second decent racing title, but neither Excite Truck, nor Nitrobike, really deliver the way I expected. Don't get me wrong; Nitrobike has some very good qualities, but the overall package is little more than another lap around the same track we've been on for over 20 years.
Nitrobike's main strength and main weakness are one and the same - the formula works, but it's been done to death. This is a standard racing game through and through. Time trials, a campaign mode (no story here, just progressively harder races), different bikes and racers to try out and unlocků to be honest, the only thing more boring than actually playing another ho-hum racer is writing (or reading) about it. So, rather than dragging you, the reader, through another review of another racer and it's problems, let's just skip right ahead to what makes Nitrobike (possibly) worth your time - this is an arcade racer and if you're looking to drive fast and jump high without worrying about Gran Turismo ultra-realism, this is your game.
When I say, "arcade racer," I mean just that - turn on the Wii and you'll be racing in seconds. Simply pick a track, bike and racer and go. There is a lot to be said about increasingly complex and realistic games, but sometimes you just want to send a dirt bike flying over a ramp without worrying about wind speed, racer weight, torque, the position of the sun and moon and the strength of the Euro versus the Yen. Nitrobike can and does deliver fun in short, exciting bursts, but its strict adherence to the arcade "fun for a few minutes at a time" formula severely limits the time you'll end up actually playing. When I say 20 minutes of Nitrobike a week is plenty, I mean just that - the game just doesn't have enough to keep your average player coming back for more.
Even though Nitrobike contains some genuinely fun bits, the overall package is too weak to recommend. The graphics aren't terrible, but they aren't even half as nice as some of the better-looking Wii titles. The bikes and racers look pretty good, but the environments, water and dirt in particular, are pure PS1. The dirt/dust effect is particularly noticeable, as the game's frame rate tends to drop where there is too much going on at once. Apparently, three racers and a cloud of dust are "too much," so when the game slows, the less-than-dazzling graphics are much more noticeable than when you are speeding along at a good clip. The sound is generic as well, with some lame background music popping up during races and over menu screens. This is even more troubling than it would have been a year ago, because now we are starting to see the Wii's remote speaker used in more and more interesting ways. An in-helmet radio, or even just some simple revving sounds could have added a lot, but the opportunity is completely missed.