Crispy Gamer

Need for Speed Undercover (DS)

Playing Need for Speed Undercover on the Nintendo DS is kind of like visiting a Third World country where they don't have running water. You alternate between being really put out by the inconvenience and feeling sorry for the people who live there. This terrible excuse for a driving game is really annoying, but I can't help but feel sad for the poor gamers who have no other option. My heart goes out to you guys. You can borrow my backup PSP if you want.

Playing Need for Speed Undercover on other systems mostly made me mad, because I was keenly aware that there were games for those systems that did city racing so much better. Electronic Arts was foisting onto gamers a title that soared right under the bar set by other games. But on the Nintendo DS, this might be as good as it gets. Of course, you should probably just resign yourself to Mario Kart DS, which is nothing to sneeze at. But what's a Nintendo DS owner to do when he wants a little hip urban racing, when he craves a spot of car culture, when he wants to get fast and furious? Besides get an Xbox 360, of course.

The real problem is that the DS simply can't do anything like the real world, at least if it insists on attempting a 3-D engine. Mario Kart works fine because it's a cartoon world. But Need for Speed Undercover is supposed to be a generic modern city. Given the DS' hardware, this is of course presented as mess of massively blocky textures and thick shuffling pixels squashing the distance into an indeterminate jumble. I can't tell anything about what's coming up on the road. When words like "High Speed!" or "You're in first place!" occasionally appear on the screen, I'm like Gene Hackman in "The French Connection" screaming at women with baby carriages: "Get out of the way! I have a hard enough time seeing what's what without you taking up precious pixels!"

Not that it matters. I can pretty much bounce off walls to get where I need to go. There's nothing even remotely like driving here. This is barely a step above, say, OutRun on a Sega Dreamcast. That's actually rather unfair to OutRun, but I feel too bad for DS owners to make the obvious Pole Position reference.

As I drive, the lower screen shows an overhead map of the race. It's getting a better deal. Down there, you get a sense of place. Look, there are cooling towers for a nuclear power plant behind those buildings. You can see a lovely suspension bridge and ships in the harbor. There are verdant parks and blocks of gleaming office buildings. Ooh, a towering telecommunications array. If I try, I can almost manage to drive solely by looking at the map.

The races are arranged linearly, each unlocking new upgrades and visual customization. It's mostly clean and simple. You earn bounty and money as you --

Wait, you don't really care about the details, do you? Suffice it to say, this is one of those games of last resort. If it comes down to this and, say, some licensed kiddie junk like the Flushed Away game, go for the Flushed Away game. But if it's between this and, say, PictoChat, you might as well play Need for Speed Undercover on your DS.

In which case you'll be pleased to find a custom decal option, which I don't think is available in any of the other versions of Need for Speed Undercover. You can console yourself by making little pictures to put on the side of your car. Start with a smiley face. That might make you feel better. It'll certainly be more fun than the driving bits of the game.

This review is based on a retail copy of the game provided by the publisher.