Nitro League guide: Mario Kart x Rocket League in an NFT racing game

We haven't seen a definitive racing game in the P2E space as yet, but NFT racing game Nitro League is shaping up as a contender.

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Two of the most successful games of all time are Mario Kart and Rocket League. Nintendo's mighty racing game set the precedent for 3 decades of arcade multiplayer vehicular joy, while developer Psyonix showed with Rocket League that futuristic settings, teamplay and seasonal content could also make a splash in the racing genre.

The team at Hotwire Studios has certainly been paying attention. Its upcoming non-fungible token (NFT) game Nitro League looks to combine the gameplay of Mario Kart with the look and teamplay of Rocket League, and then take that one step further by layering P2E mechanics and NFTs on top.

It's an exciting mix in theory, but will it all come together into something fun and enjoyable? Will this be one of the best NFT games of 2022?

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What formats is Nitro League on?

Nitro League is being billed as a mobile-first title. You will be able to play it on iOS and Android devices during the initial launch, but that phrasing suggests there are plans to expand in the future. PC would be an obvious next stop, potentially followed by consoles.

When is Nitro League's release date?

The Nitro League roadmap points to a playable version 1.0 of the game sometime in Q2 2022, and then a version 2.0 in Q3 2022. Both the single player experience and the multiplayer modes are expected to be a part of these launches. However, I've yet to see gameplay footage as of May 2022 that looks up to a releasable standard, so these dates could slide.

Is Nitro League free to play?

I will go into more detail about this later, but there is a free-to-play experience in Nitro League that involves single player time trial experiences. While you can't earn in this mode, you can gain Reputation (REP). What isn't clear, however, is what you will drive. Do you need to lease someone else's NFT vehicle, or will there be generic vehicles you can use in this mode? If it's the former, then that's not really "free" to play.

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What are the NFTs in Nitro League?

There are multiple NFTs to collect in Nitro League. The main one is obviously the car itself, and for its launch, 5,000 genesis cars were minted. You also then have cosmetic upgrades and part upgrades, each of which are also an NFT. Adding parts and cosmetic NFTs to your car will improve its overall value. You can also purchase a bigger garage, which will be an NFT.

Setting detailed

Despite being a racing game, a genre not particularly noted for its story and scene setting, there's significant world building in Nitro League. The game is set well into the future in the year 3050. Counter to popular belief, Earth hasn't become an apocalyptic wasteland overrun with zombies. Instead, civilization has flourished alongside nature.

Countries have congealed into 6 nations and with plenty of work, food and entertainment for all, wars have become a thing of the past. Commuting occurs in the skies for the most part, leaving the streets below free for flora and fauna to thrive. If any issues do need to be resolved, they're done so on the track.

Nobody is more famous or revered in the year 3050 than the race drivers. It's via their exploits on the track that all things that matter are channelled. As a player of this game, you become one of these racers, trying to work your way up the leaderboards through performance, customisation and teamplay.

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Chris Stead, Finder's game expert here. I've been covering video games since the mid-1990s, and I've turned all that experience towards provding honest feedback on NFT and P2E gameplay.

Gameplay explained

There are 2 key parts to the Nitro League experience. There is the on-the-track racing, and then there is the garage, where you will look after all your cosmetic customisation and part upgrades.

Starting with the on-track content, there's only been the briefest glimpses of gameplay to date. To be honest, it's far from compelling, but it does give us an insight into what to expect. Visually, the game shouts Rocket League, with similar neon colours and car designs. The tracks though are a bit more like a traditional racer.

Circuits appear to be narrow and linear (no branching paths), with minor altitude changes, but nothing you might call stunt-like. So, no jumps, loop-the-loops, corkscrews and the like have been shown. However, there is mention of a track editor coming at some point, which might spice things up. I do wonder if custom-made tracks will become a "land" like NFT once they emerge.

Cars line up like a Mario Kart experience, racing and drifting through the circuits. While no power-ups have been shown in the early footage, we do know that single-use "consumables" called Boosters will be available in the shop for use in-race.

I've seen no sign of boost pads on the tracks; however, it does appear that cars can get a nitro boost. You'd like to think so in a game called Nitro League! As there is no HUD shown in the gameplay footage, it's hard to tell if nitro is held in a meter, or how it is earned.

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Car customisation

It's the belief of Hotwire Studios that players will spend as much time in the garage as they will on the track. The garage is a personal hub space for players. Here they will store their collection of cars, rewards, parts, fuel and screenshots. You can access information, invite friends in to socialise and deck it out with both cosmetics and functional items like a robot.

The key activity here, however, is upgrading your cars. The number of cars you can have in your garage at any one time is unclear, although the whitepaper talks to the ability to increase the parking spaces, which sounds a bit suspect. You'll obviously need to pay something to do that.

There's a number of cosmetic customisations that don't improve performance, but do give you a multiplier on the REP earned in a race. Perhaps more important are the part upgrades, which will impact your vehicle's attributes. There are 8 different parts that can be tweaked: Engine, Spoiler, Tyres/Hover Disks, Brakes, Booster Kit, Hood, Air Intake and Exhaust.

What isn't clear is how deep the part customisation goes. Will you feel a tangible impact on the track? Can you tweak the parts once applied to get the right balance for you? I suspect it won't go as deep as taking cars for multiple test drives and fiddling with each part to get it just right as it appears to be more arcade-like than simulation.

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How does racing work?

If you want to be a race driver in Nitro League then you need to sign up to a clan. Each nation has a number of clans within it that are run by Nitro Elders. They are described as real players, too, not NPCs. You're free to switch between clans and nations, but they do provide unique buffs to your vehicle. So, there will be a loss and a gain there to weigh up.

There are 3 types of race modes to dive into. The aforementioned free-to-play mode allows you to race for fun. You can hone your skills here and learn the circuits without putting anything on the line. You don't race against anyone – not even AI drivers, which is a bit of a swing and a miss – but just compete in time trials. If you top the leaderboards, you can earn credits, rewards (such as base paint cosmetics and Boosters) and REP.

You then have the Solo mode. This also has a time trial experience, but adds to that with a proper head-to-head multiplayer mode. In Solo mode, you must pay to play, spending fuel to enter a race. It's not yet clear how much it will cost, but if you perform well, you'll get better rewards. This includes NITRO tokens, larger credit purses, car blueprints, fuel, boosters, parts and XP.

It's worth noting that not all races will be open to all cars. This could be a matchmaking play to encourage competitive races. Let's hope so, as that would be a better result than having certain tracks blocked altogether from use by players who don't have a certain car.

There is also a third mode called Team Events. Here you are ranked based on the average performance of everyone in your team, and a team must have at least 15 players to participate. Top-ranked teams after a number of events get the cookies.

What are Boosters?

Boosters can be purchased or earned, and are one-time buffs than can be used in a race to give you an advantage. No examples have been given of what these buffs may entail, but you can expect something like extended nitro boosts, better handling and that kind of thing. There's been no evidence of weapons or power-ups of that nature.

What is REP?

REP is Reputation, and is how your driver levels up in the game. REP is earned by performing well in races, but they don't culminate. Indeed, if you perform poorly, you'll lose REP. Or if you don't play for a while, your REP will slowly erode, which aims to encourage regular play. This tactic, common in mobile games, is annoying in my opinion.

Levelling up your REP will also allow you to move up into better clans, and open up mechanics such as breeding.

What is XP?

If REP is how your driver levels-up, XP is how your car levels-up. It's not clear at this stage if improving your XP does anything to your car's stats. However, it does play a role in allowing you to breed.

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The cars of Nitro League

As mentioned at the top, the big NFT in Nitro League is the cars. There are 6 classes of car, each themed on a different era of time between the years 2000 AD and 3050 AD. Each class has differing attributes under 5 categories: Reputation, Speed, Acceleration, Handling and Durability.

It's these attributes that will be impacted by national/clan affinities and also part upgrades. Within the classes themselves, there's quite a range of vehicle types, too. Street, Sport, Rally, Drag, Rocket, Bike, Bullet, Muscle and Hover variants have been mentioned. However, only a few of these have been spotted in early footage.

The value of the vehicle as an NFT is most defined by its rank: common, uncommon, rare, epic or legendary. The higher ranks offer better performance stats, but value is also impacted by part and cosmetic upgrades, as well as XP. Some cars are already listed on Terra Virtua, where I've also seen a Special rarity listed.

Breeding cars via Fusion Cloning

As has become commonplace in NFT games, there is a breeding system. It's called Fusion Cloning here, and it allows you to take 2 genesis cars and use them to mint a new NFT. What's interesting is that the newly minted NFT car is a more valuable form. It has better attributes. The process doesn't burn the genesis cars either, but instead just resets their XP.

The process of Fusion Cloning won't be easy to reach. You must have maxed out the XP on both cars, earned the required number of car blueprints and reached the desired REP level. Plus, you must have unlocked the car cloning pod in your garage and manned it with a robot. Then you need to spend in-game credits and NITRO tokens. Finally, it takes multiple real-world days for the courtship to be consummated.

But you do get an NFT out of it!

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Tokenomics of Nitro League

Nitro League's economy is a little easier to follow than many of the other NFT games I've come across recently. There is only the 1 token to be had in the game, which is the NITRO token. This can be earned in-game and can either be cashed out, used to buy additional NFTs or as part of Fusion Cloning (read: breeding).

The second coin, simply called credits, is more like a traditional in-game economy. It can be used to buy things in game and in processes like Fusion Cloning. And it is also earned through successful race performances. It holds no real-world value, but personally I like the idea of having a part of a P2E experience that behaves like a normal game.

Not everything should require an investment of real-world value.

How does P2E work in Nitro League for scholars?

If you perform well in races you will earn NITRO tokens that hold a real-world value. Your NFT vehicle will also increase in value as you upgrade it with cosmetics and parts, and level up its XP. If you have 2 cars you've levelled up to the max, it opens the door to breed them to create a new NFT vehicle. This is likely the biggest earning avenue in the game.

But all of these P2E mechanics assume ownership of at least 1 NFT car. And from what I can see, the base models are currently going for around the US$100 mark. Higher-end vehicles fetch over US$2,000.

If you can't get your hands on an NFT car in Nitro League, developer Hotwire Studios has indicated plans to facilitate a driver sponsorship feature. This is effectively a scholar program. Through it, NFT owners can sponsor a driver to drive in races. It's not clear if it will be an up-front fee model, or a revenue sharing model – or both – at this stage.

As far as I can tell, there's no limit to how much you can race an NFT car in any given day.

What blockchain is Nitro League using?

Nitro League has started life on the Ethereum chain using the ERC-20 token, but this isn't a viable long-term solution. All indications are that Nitro League will ultimately run on Polygon.

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Who is Hotwire Studios?

The developer Hotwire Studios is a new face in the NFT gaming scene, but has a large team behind it. They're real humans you can hunt down on LinkedIn, which is a positive. Too many developers in the NFT space aren't as transparent and open about their backgrounds as this mob. That said, looking through their profiles is a little concerning. While plenty of engineering, app and financial experience is to be found, the team is lacking when it comes to successfully deploying name games.

Nitro League review – initial impressions

I'm excited by the prospect of a good racing game coming to the NFT and P2E space, but I'm not sure that Nitro League is it. Although the developer has been vocal about avoiding a pay-to-win experience here, the fact that higher ranked cars and vehicles laden with parts have a performance advantage means that money may get you further than skill.

Hopefully, matchmaking and the clan system will prevent decked-out, high-tier cars competing against newcomers. Because if Nitro League is a genuine game of skill, it will become a far more thrilling experience.

The bigger concern right now, however, is the quality of the gameplay footage. Despite being scheduled to release within 2 months of this writing, available footage shows stark and unexciting tracks, only a few of the promised car models, and such short snippets of racing that you can't tell how the vehicles handle. It looks dated, too.

As a result, Nitro League is in a "watch this space" position for me. I'm hopeful, but far from convinced.

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