Why am I even writing this?

I should be racing. I should be collecting parts. I should be collecting blueprints and trophies and virtual dollars.

Why do people in the lunch room keep talking to me? Can’t everyone see that I’m about to level up?

This was supposed to be a full review, but I just got another gas credit, so hold on…

Damn, I suck.

Oh well, at least now I can tell you about some of the features of the Need for Speed mobile game, which I play during occasional downtime (otherwise know as any spare second that I can evade my boss directly observing me playing…).

[3 months go by in which Jonathan has been completing his ‘research’…]

Oh wait, I just got a tournament ticket!!! Hold on…. Why does it take so damn long to load!?!? I’m on frikkin’ work wifi. It’s, like, fast, right Andy?

Andy: “Sure, Jonathan. It’s super fast.”

Sweet.

Ooh, I just got the last blueprint I need to upgrade my R35 GT-R! Wait, what the hell? What is this colour my daughter chose for my GT-R? Geez, I gotta teach that girl about colour-matching wheels and paint. Who puts pink wheels together with a purple car and blue tinted windows? Yeesh! Looks like Barney the singing Dinosaur. I really need to stop letting her get into the mod shop unsupervised. Next she’ll mess up my perfect 911 (993) combo.

Anyhow, the basic premise of Need For Speed No Limits, developed by Firemonkeys and published by EA Mobile, is to collect, modify and upgrade cars, and to do so, one must win races that earn cash, materials, parts, blueprints and gold, which is like super-cash (also known as premium currency), and can be redeemed for extra race-play. Races are divided into Underground, Car Series, Tuner Trials, Tournaments and Special Events. You use ‘Gas’ credits to race in the first three, and ‘tickets’ to race in the latter two.

Upgrades can be made in The Garage, while visual modifications are available in the Modshop. Performance upgrades require specific materials and cash, while mods use ‘Visual Points’. In the most recent update, EA added a ‘Chop Shop’, in which you can ‘salvage’ or trade in unused or excess parts for tokens, that can then be used to purchase other materials, parts, and even blueprints, which are the hardest item to win as each vehicle’s blueprint is limited to a single specific race in the Underground series. I should add that some blueprints are available in the Tournament Store for the trophies you win in those events, but after maxing out those cars, they are simply dead and not replaced by new vehicle blueprints. Or maybe they will be when I complete all of those cars… A guy can dream, right?

If this all sounds familiar to you from the console or PC versions of the game, well good for you, but I’ve never played any previous version, though it is fun to see the evolution of Need For Speed in full and portable versions of the game in this Youtube compilation.

As a complete addict and inveterate cheapskate, my biggest complaint is that there is not nearly enough free gameplay, as the gas tank is capped at 10, most races require 2 gas credits, and they refresh at a rate of 1 credit every 10 minutes. Tournament tickets refresh at a rate of one per hour, and Event tickets at 40 or 45 minutes for the ones I’ve completed. Purchasing gold in the Store earns you VIP points that increases gas tank and ticket limits (so more of them accumulate in those rare windows of sleep and when you might actually have something else to do for several consecutive hours). Free to download, pay to play (more).

Another appreciated change in the recent update was the cost of racing and access in the Tuner Trial races, which are for specific conversion kits that allow you to upgrade parts. The cost was reduced from three gas credits to one, and instead of only one race being available any day of the week, and Sunday simply money races, Tuesday and Thursday get money races on top of the usual races and Sunday is an open race day with access to all the races! Jackpot! Also included in the update were some bug fixes and more frequent refreshes in the Tournament Store, meaning you can fixate on specific models and spend more of your trophies unlocking and upgrading the car of your obsession.

As to the races themselves, they are fairly basic, rarely lasting more than a minute, and some less than half that, with no more than four cars in any race, and many that are simply against the clock. The tracks are all variations of several routes through an imaginary city (Blackridge), sometimes in the day, sometimes at night, and sometimes at night in the rain, with annoying rain drops flickering against the screen. Car models are detailed and the visual effects are superb. I would comment on the sound, but as I usually try to surreptitiously play at the office while making it look like I'm working (really I'm not fooling anyone - they all know I have a problem), the times I do have sound on, the vehicles essentially all sound like they are packing the same small-displacement, big-turbo, loud exhaust that fit the stereotype of street racers, and the noises of the cop car sirens, burning rubber as you drift and crashing sounds as you inevtiably plow your way through slower traffic and offending trash cans and mail boxes and lamp posts. Interface response is excellent on a good wifi connection, but over a spotty cellular network, load times can drag on, and older devices show some lag (my old iPad for example), so it’s best your device is up to, um, speed…

There are also plot lines, but they are as lame as an episode of Three’s Company (if anyone reading this is even old enough to get that reference…), with horribly kitschy street racing characters. I can’t say that I expect any sort of brilliant characters, but the plot developments and dialogue really seem like more of an intrusion than anything else, although they are necessary to fill in basic game functions as you learn the game, like how to maximize earnings and use the drift and boost functions.

In the hazy early days when I was still getting my bearings in the game (and being forced to watch storyline/tutorial sequences), I had only a handful of cars and tracks and events available to me. For several months there was a continuous stream of new cars and events to unlock, but more recently I've hit a wall with the content available, and I find myself running certain races over and over again in order to grind tokens just to get a particularly expensive (but oh-so-shiny) vehicle. At this point, I need to build up a car to a high enough ranking to progress in the Underground series and unlock the races in which I can win blueprints for the highest level cars. Upgrading those high end cars, and eventually exotics, becomes very expensive (in game currency) and time consuming.

If you just want to unlock cars but don't care for the racing itself, you can turn on Easy Drive, which turns your car into an autonomous racecar that will win even the Hard races – races are ranked from Easy to XTREME depending on the 'PR' of the car you race and the time or other cars you have to beat. However, you still have to start the race and initiate boost during the race, while drifting (which increases cash and builds up boost) is unavailable, and Easy Drive is entirely unavailable for Tournament races and Special Events.

If there is one other major criticism, it is that it is a single-player game only, unlike many of the other latest games that offer online multiplayer modes so you can go head-to-head in real time (with other people in the office, for example).

While the game is addictive, what drives the obsession is the broad and balanced selection of cult classics and performance icons from the most desirable car brands in autodom, and cleverly incorporated stylistic touches from top tuning shops like Rocket Bunny and RWB. It’s a great way to kill some time and completely ruin your productivity and alienate family and friends. I highly recommend it.

Need For Speed No Limits is available for iOS and Android.