Good sound design; multiple, customizable control schemes
Rather easily-defeated AI; lack of real customization options; bland, boxy graphics
Andrew’s Toyota Camry howls across Daytona International Speedway! It’s making quick progress, going at least twice the speed of everybody else– the other forty-two cars don’t stand a chance. There goes one lap! Then another. And another. It’s the final lap and Andrew’s Camry is still in the lead! But what’s this? Suddenly, Andrew’s grinding into walls! He’s flying into the green! Oh no! Did he forget how to drive? His spotter doesn’t seem to notice, still chatting away happily. Andrew’s only hope is that he’s far away enough from the other drivers that this won’t make any difference. Frantically, Andrew tries to make it back onto the track, but it takes too long. He’s bound to be 43rd place by now. He goes into tunnel vision as he throws his all into taking the checkered flag. And–
And he’s done it! It’s a miracle! The Camry is in first! Andrew has won the Daytona 500!
Meanwhile, everybody else is in a hopeless mess.
While the real-life NASCAR’s Sprint Cup Series doesn’t just let people win– there are forty-three places for a reason– NASCAR The Game: 2011, released for Wii almost two months after its 360 and PS3 iterations, could’ve fooled me. Eutechnyx’s first NASCAR effort on Wii– and the second NASCAR-brand game for the console– succeeds on some levels, but difficulty is not one of them. The first hour, perhaps two, of playing NASCAR The Game: 2011 provides an agreeable challenge level, as you figure out how to play (choose a direction, accelerate, brake as necessary, change gears if you fancy automatic) and wrap your mind around the track. Afterwards, what I’ve described above becomes a common scene, though certainly not without its exceptions– racers tend to be aggressive, especially when they realize you’ve been in the top places for the past however many races. You can even drive straight into the walls and short of crashing you’ll manage to place decently if not first. And as your racer fistpumps and does some celebratory skidding, you’ll wonder how you ever won.
Not at pole? You’ll catch up soon.
Maybe it’s in the controls. NASCAR The Game: 2011 allows for multiple control schemes, all with a certain degree of difficulty that could almost be a selling point at the rate you win, including the Wii Remote/Wheel, Wii Remote and Nunchuk combination, and the GameCube or Classic Controller. The game uses the Remote much like Mario Kart Wii did; the Wii Remote/Nunchuk and GameCube/Classic Controllers, meanwhile, use the analog stick to steer and buttons to brake and accelerate. Nevertheless, while most of the controls can be customized, the game mandates all-or-nothing acceleration, limiting your driving options to gas-and-brake-and-repeat. I tried all three control schemes for this review, and surprisingly, I enjoyed using the Wii Remote’s motion controls the most– while on Mario Kart Wii I despised using it. Hooked up to a NASCAR game, the Wii Remote (and Wheel by proxy) cranked up the tension and even exhilaration, both of which are somewhat lacking when you win every other race. I especially enjoyed turning with the Wii Remote; while initial attempts to turn met with a lack of success, learning to turn properly was like a flashback to driving school– when I got it right, I felt it. If I didn’t, I crashed. Either way, I enjoyed it. Meanwhile, adjusting my car during pit stops or before practices didn’t seem to change things much, so eventually I just stopped doing it. The computer-controlled players didn’t seem to care much, either, as I continued to pass them by.
But this all serves as a distraction from what is ostensibly supposed to be the meat of the game. For the main course, Eutechnyx serves up a number of single-player options for NASCAR The Game: 2011, rather than the multiplayer ones you’d expect from a racing game; the game only supports local splitscreen multiplayer, in stark contrast to the sixteen-player online multiplayer the 360 and PS3 versions receive. Career mode is a deceptively fancy name for “race all the tracks,” with absolutely no development of any RPG-style statistics or car modifications that you’d expect from other NASCAR games (or sports games in general). What’s worse, while you can customize your player name and nationality, you can’t change his actual appearance. Meanwhile, pre-made paint schemes are all you have for your car, barring any personal customization that, admittedly, wouldn’t be seen anyway except by your local buddies. It’s almost the anti-NASCAR in its straightforwardness– make a player, drive a car. At the very least, you can choose your sponsors, so long as you earn (read: unlock) them first. And if you don’t feel like customizing anything at all, drivers like Dale Earnhardt, Jr. or Danica Patrick appear for your vicarious diving.
That said, Eutechnyx does provide other modes that put normal wins on the backburner. Invitational events, for example, include a number of challenges with differing goals. Legends Challenges have you practice drafting tagged racers for a set amount of time, while the Gauntlet forces you to finish high and fast in consecutive rounds, with the latter starting order mirroring the former’s. Eliminator events is a NASCAR version of Weakest Link, wherein the driver in last place is removed from the race after a time limit, and Solo Thunder is your basic time trial. All of these provide experience points that, along with those you get from Career mode, unlock various rewards– not to mention a higher player ranking. More importantly, they give a much-needed break from otherwise conservative difficulty in Career mode.
Dale Earnhardt, Jr.’s no slouch here, either– unless he’s AI-controlled.
Unfortunately, it’s hard even for these extra modes to distract from NASCAR The Game: 2011‘s rather last-gen graphics. Cars are even more boxy than their real-life counterparts, and jagged lines protruding from their bodies are all too common. The crowds are simply dots on a tan-colored box, hearkening back to GCN or even N64 days, and the track is colored in about six shades of grey. That said, the game does run at a nice pace, and if you’re paying attention to how lovely your car looks rather than how fast it’s going, you’re playing the game wrong. I enjoyed the six-shade track because it helped me deliberate the path I wanted to take; meanwhile, though I tried not to blink considering the fast pace of the game (especially when using the Wii Remote/Wheel), it wasn’t difficult to keep track of my brightly-colored car, particularly because it looked so out-of-place. This may sound like the graphics are worse than they are– to be candid, they’re not very good at all, but they’ll do.
On the bright side, the sound design excels, though it is somewhat uninspired. Mark Garrow and Doug Rice provide commentary before every track, though considering Career Mode doesn’t do anything particularly exciting, this commentary remains the same throughout every attempt. The constant hum of the forty-three cars fluctuate just as much as you’d expect them to in reality, though of course this is damaged by the lack of analog acceleration. Licensed music plays in your garage, ranging from ZZ Top to the Black Rebel Motorcycle Club, and your spotter’s running commentary on your driving alternates from being amusing and sardonic, though not extremely helpful. I did run into one sound bug, wherein I paused for around ten minutes, only to come back and realize the sound was completely off save for the beeps of my cursor on the menu screen; it only came back when I hard reset the game. Everything else, though, seemed to have no problems at all.
It’s unfortunate that Eutechnyx has reduced NASCAR to the level of NASCAR The Game: 2011 for Wii, with its difficulty ranging from “easy” to “acceptably easy,” and doubly unfortunate that it offers no online play or actual customization. But in terms of sheer playability, NASCAR The Game: 2011 isn’t quite so bad. While it may not live up to, say, EA Sports, with its NASCAR Thunder 2003– a game released in 2002 for PSX, PS2, GCN and Xbox that included an actual career mode and customization options– Eutechnyx doesn’t do so poorly on Wii. It could, however, have done much better.
Nintendojo was provided a copy of this game for review by a third party, though that does not affect our recommendation. For every review, Nintendojo uses a standard criteria.