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Need for Speed Hot Pursuit Wii reminded me how great Blur was. Its four player split-screen kart racing with real cars and fantastical power-ups mirrors much of Bizarre Creations game. Ironically though, on the Wii it all makes much more sense and is the perfect complement for casual players to Criterion's 360/PS3 version.
Need for Speed has historically been exciting because it offered the chance to take part in illegal street races. The first versions of the game for Nintendo's console, Carbon (Wii), perpetuated this darker side of the franchise complete with scantily clad young ladies and police chases.
But while this worked well on the PlayStation 3 and 360, it struggled to find a strong audience on the Wii. Not deterred, the series has swung back and forth in its search for a casual racing game with real cars. This has brought us the more legitimate racing of Pro Street (Wii), returned us briefly to the street style of Undercover (360) before heading back to the arcades with Nitro (Wii) where the series finally separated hardcore and casual into two streams - Shift (360) being the hardcore complement to Nitro.
The ever winding Need for Speed road still doesn't settle into a straight though. This year we see the franchise divided again. Shift continues as the simulation stream on 360 and PS3, while the hardcore racers get Criterion's (the makers of Burnout) take on the series: Hot Pursuit, and casual racers have a split screen version of Hot Pursuit from Exient.
Need for Speed Hot Pursuit on the Wii is a very different animal to Criterion's much touted re-launch on 360 and PlayStation 3. It is its own game on the Wii, with only the cops and robbers motif perpetuating. Visuals, gameplay and progression are all different to the big console version of the game.
In fact this is much less like Burnout and much more like Blur (360).
But this is no bad thing as the Wii game rightly sets its sights on a very different type of gamer - maybe someone who would play online slot machines like the innovative Da Vinci Diamonds Slot in Las Vegas. While the Criterion game innovates with a new Autolog online mode that enables you to compete with friends - a bit like a turbo-charged high score table - the Wii game is all about local multiplayer. The 360/PS3 games neglect any split screen mode, but the Wii game can support up to four players racing simultaneously.
In fact this is much less like Burnout and much more like Blur (360). The combination of real cars and local split-screen play with special attacks and slightly floaty steering doesn't quite match Bizarre Creations' game in terms of finesse or depth, but on the Wii it makes much more sense and is more likely to find an audience.
The meat of Hot Pursuit is a standard lap race where you compete against other cars while the cops are trying to chase you down. Eliminator mode slowly removes the trailing car from the race until only the winner remains. Rush Hour mode tasks you with passing a certain number of slower cars against the clock. Time Trial mode is self-explanatory, and Interceptor lets you play police or racer in a Chase HQ style challenge as you try and knock out other cars by tapping them three times. Along with these there is the usual Career mode where you progress through increasingly difficult challenges to earn access to more powerful cars.
This is, of course, all pretty standard stuff for a racing game. But add in the four player split screen racing then things get a lot more interesting. Unlike Mario Kart's kiddie visuals and cartoon play style, Hot Pursuit on the Wii will appeal to older kids with real cars and high impact crashes.
What it means for my family is that there is a different Need for Speed game for each of us.
While it has been hard to keep track of all the changes through recent years with Need for Speed, it feels like this year they are finally getting their house in order. What it means for my family is that there is a different game for each of us. The kids are lapping up Hot Pursuit Wii, while I've been spending time later in the evenings with Hot Pursuit 360's Autolog mode that has me competing against old friends - particularly those who I've struggled to schedule game time with due to the pressures of family life.
My wife has been dabbling with Need for Speed World - the browser version of the game that offers bite sized races that can be played on any computer with a flash installed. Then there's my older brother who has been marvelling at the driver physics in Shift and is eagerly awaiting Shift 2 (360).
Provided they don't re-launch the franchise again next year and continue with this good work, things are looking up again for what was once the crown jewel of racing games. And for families EA really have the whole waterfront covered with something for everyone.
With so many different perspectives it can be hard to know where to start - a little like walking into a crowded pub. Sorry about that.
But so far we've not found a way to streamline our review output - there's basically too much of it. So, rather than dilute things for newcomers we have decided to live with the hubbub while helping new readers find the columnists they will enjoy.
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