Do you dare?
Back in the day, I had very few positive racing experiences on the Gameboy. The cars were difficult to control and a single mistake would lead to a loss against the impossible-to-beat AIs. So I disliked racing games for the longest time, only to have my mind changed years later, when I played Need for Speed on newer consoles.
Oh boy, would this game have changed that false perception. Not only that, it would have also shattered my notions about the graphical limits of the GBA.
Released in 2005, Need for Speed - Most Wanted
consists of a variety of races and racing minigames. You can play through the career mode, which has 15 levels, or choose a quick race and get right into playing.
To see what all this game has to offer, let’s dive in!
Great Graphics for a GBA Game, Some Gameplay Issues - 7 / 10
While far from perfect, the graphics are impressive. The 3D objects are mostly blocky with 3D image textures, but they also contain a surprising amount of detail. The cars look very nice, and the track isn’t that hard to follow. The courses have a semi-open layout, meaning that you’re not always trapped in by high walls on both sides. Instead, the levels are interspersed with hills and greenery. Pretty nice, huh?
As for the faults, approaching civilian cars seem to come out of nowhere, and much too quickly for one to react. WIth proper strategies, the race doesn’t normally come down to a single crash, so it isn’t that terrible. However, you might have to play a course several times to avoid the obstacles, since by then you’ll know what to expect.
The same can be said for the turns, which also appear very quickly. I found myself looking at the minimap abundantly, because the turns are just that sharp and the graphics don’t help me see them coming. I normally crashed due to this early on, but by the second or third time through, I stopped falling for it. Kind of annoying, wouldn’t you say?
At the same time, we must remember that this is the GBA and the designers managed to do well for this particular console. It is unknown whether the device could have handled additional improvements, but it is likely that it was near its limits.
7 / 10.
Decent Beat and Sound Effects, But Terribly Loud Engine Noise - 6 / 10
The music isn’t exceptional, but it isn’t particularly horrible either. That said, virtually all of the tracks are a few seconds of music, looping over and over. How then, you might ask, could it not be horrible?
Surprisingly enough, the beat sounds pretty decent, and I can excuse the repetition, since it takes a while to get annoying. The only place that you’ll likely be attentively listening to the music is on the menu. In the races themselves, the sound of the engine overpowers everything else. The faint hint of music remains in the background, sounding pretty good compared to the blaring engine.
I couldn’t stand the sound of the engine, and so I had to turn the volume down.
Sound effects, on the other hand, somehow are audible over the sound of the engine, but that’s probably because you hear them when you’ve crashed and the engine slows down. That said, the sound of police sirens manage to pierce the sound of the engines, even at their loudest, and do strike a tinge of fear and add a degree of exhilaration to the race. Does that make the race more fun? For the most part, yes.
6 / 10.
Very Addictive - 7.5 / 10
Racing games are usually a hit or miss when it comes to addictiveness. They’re either playable with decent AI and you get sucked in immediately, or they’re just unplayable and too hard to beat. There are very few racing games in the middle, it seems.
Fortunately, Most Wanted
is part of the former group. It’s a game that you can easily pick up and play a few minutes off without getting bored. I, personally, can’t stop playing until I beat the level I’m on. If I don’t have much time, I’ll quickly choose Quick Race instead of Career. The game stays fun for hours upon hours of gameplay, more so when gameplay is spread out, versus worked through in a binge session.
It gets incrementally harder as you keep progressing, but an easier start helps get you addicted, since you’re more likely to overlook some of the games weaknesses when you’re having a good start.
7.5 / 10.
Get to the Top - 3 / 10
In the career mode, you are trying to climb up the underground ladder of racers. There are 15 of them, one for every level. You have some history with the guy on top, Razor, but the games emphasis is on extra somewhat meaningless gameplay, versus developing the plot. You work through a few minigames before you face the main boss racer of that level. One you beat him in a one on one, the next level is unlocked.
There’s little plot, but an intricate one isn’t expected in a racing game. So this category won’t be worth much when it comes to the overall score.
3 / 10.
Decent Depth - 5 / 10
If you look at career mode, there is quite a bit to do. There’s up to six activities and a boss, and there are quite a few of those. There’s also a few options for quick race. That might suggest a decently in-depth game.
Within the minigames, on the other hand, there’s very little to do. Your primary objective is to finish the course. This means that each minigame is meant to be finished within minutes.
5 / 10.
It’s Challenging - 7 / 10
This isn’t an easy game. It’s easy enough that you can get hooked, but don’t expect to win on your first try. You’ll need to play a few times to familiarize yourself with the course and beating the AI does take a bit of strategy.
If you just try to go all out and finish the course as fast as you can, you’ll probably need to main near maximum speeds without a crash in order to win. On the other hand, you’ll notice that your opponents go slowly at the start and speed up later on. If at the start you slam them into walls and slow them down through collisions, it’s easy to pull very far ahead of them and win by thirty seconds to a minute (instead of losing by that much). For the majority of the minigames, that’s the only technique you’ll need.
The irony behind this simple, yet effective strategy is that your times will be on the order of thirty seconds to a minute slower, yet you’ll still be grabbing the win.
Things to look out for: Cops and opponents who are catching up. For the first, you just have to be quick and dodge the police cars and their traps. For the second, you just have to hit “down” to look behind and try to swerve as to make them crash into you, since their recovery times are quite a bit slower.
It’s difficulty is overcome by strategy and practice, but it’s still present.
7 / 10.
If your interest is in the GBA, You just might want to check it out - Overall: 6.8 / 10
Graphics : 7 * 25% = 1.75
Sound / Music : 6 * 25% = 1.5
Addictiveness : 7.5 * 25% = 1.88
Story : 3 * 5% = 0.15
Depth : 5 * 10% = 0.5
Difficulty : 10 * 10% = 1.0 (Optimal difficulty was 7/10)
Sum = Overall Score = 6.8 / 10.0
In conclusion, this is an addictive yet challenging racing game that you might really enjoy if you’re looking for GBA titles to play. If you’re not dissuaded by the graphical limitations of the GBA, it’s likely that you’ll enjoy yourself.
There are other racing titles on other retro consoles that may be better, but if you’re specifically looking for a GBA title, then I definitely recommend this one.