Need for Speed Underground 2 DS Review

Racing games always need a hook, something special or different to actually make them worth playing. Need for Speed Underground found it's niche by keeping the racing accessible, but allowing deep customization before heading out onto the streets. It's a strange mix that doesn't seem to mesh very well and with the ridiculous DS-exclusive mini-games, it only gets worse.

The only major change to the actual gameplay is the lack of analog control, a crippling problem that can be learned with time. There are no other options beyond the d-pad, which results in constant over-steering, made worse by spotty collision detection. At times, you could swear you passed that oncoming car only to stop, flip, and turn completely around a second later. Random roadside objects only seem to exist to annoy, not to add any unique challenge.

Otherwise, the courses are designed nicely, taken from the home console versions and watered down graphically for the DS. Shortcuts are important, and you'll only become a contender after multiple laps on each track. The AI is laughable at times, and you simply have to stare in amazement as opponents have trouble maneuvering around a parked car. Other times, they'll never hit anything other than a racing line, and that's all they do to win first.

Upgrading your car will seem familiar to anyone who has dealt with this series already. Exactly in line with every other version, there is still no explanation for what each upgrade is or what it does. If you don't know your cars, you'll be at a loss. Even worse, parts can't even be purchased, regardless of whether or not you would have enough cash to do so. You need to unlock the right to purchase them, which makes no sense at all. It cuts down the on the games most enjoyable aspect. It's also a crutch to hide the fact that the AI simply can't race fairly enough to beat you.

Race variety is nice, including drag, knockout, and exclusively on the DS, Bonus. Actually, these aren't races; these are ridiculously stupid side games. It's another shot by a developer to use the touch screen simply because they feel obligated to do so. Who knew you could tune an engine by sliding the stylus up and down to maneuver a dot between plain red "gas" and blue "oxygen?" Mechanics would have an easier time tuning a real engine than trying to pull of the ridiculous challenges that have absolutely nothing to do with maintaining a vehicle. Worse yet, these are actually a part of the career mode and must be completed.

Graphically, the game is arguably more impressive from a technical and console ability standpoint than the PSP version. It may not look better, but it maintains a far better 60 fps frame rate and shows off a little more than one of the DS's other (and better) racers, Asphalt Urban GT. There is some noticeable pop-up; it doesn't actually have an adverse effect on the gameplay though.

The music is as generic racing music as you can find and still call it original. It's grating and repetitive, yet still probably better than most of the EA Trax junk being produced in other EA titles. Engine sounds are the only other audio being pushed out.

There's nothing particularly wrong with Need for Speed Underground 2, and it's an adequate title if you like racing and know your way around cars. It makes some rather odd design choices (the same ones made on the home consoles) and the controls along with the AI issues can be frustrating. It will likely be enjoyable until you try the first touch screen based mini-game. After that, you'll realize you're not having much fun.

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