Trying to set a new world record for a single game release across different platforms, we have eight different versions of the latest Need for Speed, and that's not counting the Collector's Edition on a few of them.
The task of taking a game released for the Xbox 360 launch and shoving it into a Game Boy Advance cart is likely one of those "development hell" scenarios. For spending some time in the pits of game design though, the developers have pulled off a surprising piece of technology, along with a decent game to go with it.
All of the personality from the home versions is gone, and it's a little jarring initially. The concept is still the same. You'll take a street racer up the ranks of a list of 15 higher rated racers until you get a shot to take on the number one guy, Razor. To challenge each new opponent, you'll need to complete various racing tasks like elimination races, time trials, and police evasion.
Without even so much as a digitized photo, you're not so much racing against a person as you are their car. The storyline, as meager as it was, is also transparent. What the player is left with is a series of races, and nothing else.
This is not a major problem given the impressive graphics engine. Full 3-D textured polygons are stunning to look at on the GBA screen. It's a shame we may never see what the console was truly capable of, but Most Wanted surely must be close. The frame rate takes a small hit when you use the behind-the-car viewpoint. Use the bumper cam, and it's a smooth, sometimes slow ride through these original courses.
Without an entire city to run through, tracks are far more confined. Shortcuts are nearly impossible to miss, and show up clearly on the map in the lower left corner of the screen. They feel more like part of the course than shortcuts.
As is the norm for the franchise, you can upgrade or purchase new cars as the game progresses. You'll earn specific amounts of cash depending on where you finish, and the simplistic store has various engines and brakes available. As expected, it's toned and dumbed down enough so that it resembles the other ports just enough (barely) to earn the name.
The biggest loss is the intensity of the gameplay. Police chases (which somehow earned a "T" on the home systems and a "E" on the GBA) are toned down drastically. While multiple cars can still tail you, specific challenges only require the player to dodge spike strips. Losing means nothing, not even a fine.
While not a replacement for the current or next-gen console versions, this simple substitute carries some nifty technology that makes it worth a look. The concepts are here no matter how watered down, and when at full speed, it offers up decent thrills for the hardware. Most Wanted has only a few minor issues because of the translation, and fans of 3-D gaming may still have a few reasons to hang on to their GBAs.
Need for Speed Most Wanted is rated E (Everyone) by the ESRB. This game can also be found on: Nintendo DS, PC, PS2, PSP, Xbox, Xbox 360 and Mobile Phone.