Publisher: Ubisoft (EUR, AUS, NZ), Gameloft (US)
Platform: Nintendo 3DS (Reviewed)
Release Date: March 22, 2011
Pricing: $19.99 (Available HERE)
Asphalt is one of the two racing genre launch titles for the Nintendo 3DS. With the introduction of 3D gameplay to the worldwide gaming masses, Asphalt attempts to capitalise on this new technology by providing a fast paced, intense street racing experience. To those who want to test out 3D gameplay for themselves on the new handheld, Asphalt comes as a highly recommended title. The premise of the game itself is for players to engage in high speed, high carnage racing action in iconic locations all over the world to become the best street racer around. 6 racers will enter this test of speed, but only one can come out on top. If you think you can handle it.
Story / Career
As is the case with many games in the racing genre, the game features no story, instead offering an exhibition style career mode. Starting up in career mode, players will notice that the garage of available racing cars is almost empty, with only 3 cars to choose from. It soon becomes apparent that the only way in which the player will be able to access the crème de la crème of the street racing circuit cars is to win prize money, and level up your reputation to unlock the rights to purchase new machines. The prize money and experience can then be used to purchase not only additional cars, but also customised parts to improve the performance of your ride. Racing and cash bonuses can also be earned by undertaking additional challenges when on the track. Doing so adds an additional level of difficulty to the race, but the rewards are all the more sweeter. It’s all well and fine if you want to win a race, but wouldn’t it be so much sweeter to rub in the face of your rivals that you kicked their asses without the use of nitrous, or brakes? And naturally, as with many racers, challenges become harder and harder to meet the more the player progresses through their racing career. It is also possible to maximise your earnings by winning the support of sponsors who are willing to pay up for your upgrades, provided that you are willing to keep winning big under their banner. Although why reputable companies want to sponsor illegal street races still confuses me…
However, for the REAL achievement junkies out there, the game also offers an achievement collection system for meeting certain pre-defined requirements. Normally, this would seem to add plenty of additional hours of gameplay, but it must be said that a flaw exists here. It is that only a select minority of these require additional attention to pass, where most can actually be attained by completing the career mode and adjoining challenges.
The controls utilised within this particular racer are your pretty standard fare. Acceleration, brake, drift and N20 functions are all pretty self-explanatory and easy to figure out. The addition of the 3DS circle pad adds an additional option for steering control as opposed to the + control pad, which I found actually worked more fluidly and made cornering feel more natural. Drifting with use of a control pad like in many console racers ousts using the + pad, as it allows for slightly better and more precise control of drift direction.
When it comes to actually racing the races, the winning the top prizes generally comes down to a combination of racing skill and knowing when to time N20 bursts. In addition to this, the car must be able to withstand the level of on-road punishment that the driver will inevitably put it through (because as we all know, road barriers and opponent cars make excellent substitutes for brakes.) To maintain your speed, and keep your car from falling apart, the game makes use of an item pick up mechanic. During races, different power ups are dispersed throughout the map and are easy to spot due to a shiny plume of coloured light, and a large circular symbol. All in all, there are only 3 types power-up that can be collected, each that comes in a weak and strong variant: the nitrous (N20) power up, which fills the boost meter as you race; the cash power up, which does what it suggests, y’know, earn extra money; and the repair power up which is best described by the manual explanation:
“-removes scratches, dings, dents, and assorted metallic boo-boos from your vehicle, which you got when you drove like a road hog with a crash fetish”.
Despite the fact that the power up selection is highly limited, as a game that places importance on delivering a more realistic graphic experience, I believe that limiting the power ups to these three was a smart move by the developers. It can be said that the simplicity without item and wacky gimmicks works for games going for the realistic or street basics. Those of you eagerly waiting for Mariokart 3D will still have to wait longer before a wacky item-tastic 3D racer is made available.
It must be said however that it felt like races were generally won and lost on the collection and usage of Nitrous. Since all of the In all game types, regardless, all other cars will have access to N20, and they will use it against you. If you are unable, as I was in opening stages of career mode to keep up with the pack’s N20 use, then you will have no chance. And while N20 power ups are dispersed pretty evenly along the map, there will be instances where the player will wish to have that extra burst of speed to make a short cup jump, cut off an opponent to thrust out of a tricky drift. However, if the player is able to undertake some clever, albeit risky driving, their N20 gauge will fill up, and cash bonuses will roll in. The game, if nothing else, encourages the player to drive aggressively and put themselves at risk. Performing aggressive acts like driving within spitting distance of civilian vehicles, or ramming your opponents into oncoming hazards (or traffic) will increase you payout as well as your nitrous gauge. However, do so sparingly. Unlike other carnage racers like Burnout, the cars in Asphalt seem to have a degree more realism when it comes to the physics engine and physical properties of a car. If the player thinks that their light-weight Nissan will be able to play a high speed, all-contact allowed game of chicken with an oncoming heavy SUV, they will be punished. Additionally, and it was not until about halfway through the career that I noticed this, the po-leece will deploy if you cause too much carnage. If you cause too much havoc, and your wanted level rises too quickly, the cops will be all over you as though you were a giant, high-speed donut, which naturally, makes your tasks of winning the race, and completing bonus challenges all the more harder. And while it is possible to take out the cop cars that attempt to shun you off the road, let’s be reminded of the fact that cop cars tend to be built of sturdier stuff than the race car you’re using. What’s also kind of messed up is that the cops will only ever target the player racer. If you accidently bump one of the cops on the road, they won’t care if the others are speeding at 300km/ph, YOU put a dent in their door.
Thankfully it is possible to boost the N20 gauge by drifting. Just be careful of where you slide. If a random car comes flying from off-screen, you want to be able to avoid it. However, there is also a way to plough through obstacles, by use of the Hyperspeed. Hyperspeed can be initiated when the N20 gauge is completely filled and glowing. This is an indication that your car is ready to blast off at its absolute maximum speed, ploughing and smashing every obstacle out of your way for a few seconds. Timing this right can be crucial if you want to take out that frustrating pack leader whose rear you’ve had to stare at for the past 2 laps. Learning timing and the structure of the tracks is key to the player’s success.
If the player wishes to practice their racing before jumping into competition mode, just as I did, they should take note of the ‘free race’ menu selection. This is no way impedes the players progress in unlocking new vehicles as even free play mode earns the player prize money and gains experience points. Additionally, it will give players the opportunity to test out other race modes like Crash Attack and the Cops and Robbers inspired Vigilante and High Speed Chase modes.
However, once the player HAS completed the career mode, it is likely that they will have obtained close to all of the available cars, customised parts, tracks and sponsors. While multiplayer mode is available to players who enact the local wireless link, the longevity and replayability of the game itself is unfortunately low to moderate. As was afore mentioned, the game DOES have a few achievements to work at, but for the most part, players who complete the game are not likely to pick it up again for a while.
Graphics and Sound
Since Asphalt IS a game designed for a revolutionary new graphics system, the standards that the game had to meet were quite high. While Nintendo games on both console and handhelds have rarely made huge attempts at providing the best comparative graphic quality, the 3DS offers a whole new dimension in graphics. Specifically a third one. 🙂 As a launch title, the demands are high to make appropriate use of this technology, as gamers are likely to judge the consoles future merits on how well some of the launch titles perform, and how well they show of the 3D tech.
Personally, I actually found the use of the 3D technology quite effective in enhancing the real sense of speed that this particular racing title is attempting to portray. By increasing the player’s perception of distance by superimposing the illusion of actual physical distance in 3D, it literally feels as if elements on the screen are going to come flying through the car’s windshield. (Which acts as a good deterrent for NOT crashing into things.) The 3D effects are also very cool to see implemented in the Garage and showroom where your cars are held. Whenever Hyperspeed is initiated, the 3D special warp effects make it feels as though the Millennium Falcon just hit light-speed, or that an episode of Dr Who is about to begin.
The 3D processing capability also presents a surprisingly detailed background environment for the racetracks, a feature which is all too commonly breezed over in many racing games. Whenever a temporary camera switch takes place to show an extreme moment of gameplay, the 3D graphics really shine, by even defining the background of the event in 3 dimensional detail.
The music available for the game is your standard racing soundtrack. A combination of techno beats and guitar riffs with heavy bass to give a sense of pace and speed, yet at the same time make everything seem calm and in control. And if there’s one thing you don’t want to feel while racing a miniature 3D computer generated automobile, it’s out of control. If there’s carnage to be had, gamers want to make DAMN sure its THEM that causes it, and not a random series of events. Additionally, the dead silence of music combined with the shattering sound effects will REALLY let the player know they’ve wiped out, and that their race plan has just been screwed over.
Asphalt is another of the growing catalogue of 3DS games that allows the use of the 3DS Streetpass. By racing in time trials, career mode of free race, the player will record their best track times. This data will be sent via Streetpass, and will allow others who own the game to compare their stats with yours. For the real egomaniacs out there, aim for the best times if you want to show off your elite driving skills to complete strangers and rub their noses in it. And this will in no way reflect upon whether or not this is to… *ahem* …compensate for anything.
Now despite the pretty graphics and pretty fluid gameplay, the game is not without a few faults. The limited longevity has already been mentioned, but there are other in game issues which can make gameplay painful at points. One of the biggest frustrations for me was the random spawning of streetcars on the racetrack. There have literally been instances where I have been driving a great race with a convincing lead, I’m about to cross the finish line and then BAM, a random civilian car spawns or appears 25 metres ahead of me, not allowing while travelling at high speeds for me to dodge. The resulting collision resulting in a significantly reduced purse, as well as loosing me several places in the race as I attempt to build up my speed again. And when I three other cars pass by me just as I am about to cross the finish line, it made me slam the 3DS lid shut in frustration. The slightest mistake can really cost the player, even if the mistake is not of their own fault. This frustration can also be added to by virtue of the fact that you will NEVER be able to see oncoming hazards or traffic through the power ups you want to collect. Since the incentive for nabbing these is high, few players will miss a chance to grab some extra N20. BUT when the N20 power up has an oncoming Prius hidden behind the fantastic alluring ball of light, there is nothing that will make the player curse the lure more. Well, besides the dramatic, over the top wipe-out cut scene, which basically slaps a huge middle finger to the player.
Additionally the in menu load times have a tendency top freeze up on occasion. During career mode, you cannot simply cycle through all of your cars, to get to the one you want to use. You must wait for the entire visual and to load as well as the car stats before you can move onto the next one. The loading time can get a little off-putting in the main menu. There were clearly still a few loading glitches that could have been resolved a bit better.
And while this is a minor issue, it’s probably worth noting that huge motorsport or car buffs will not find too much love here. The game features only a selection of 40 cars to play with. While this isn’t necessarily bad, there will more than likely be a few hardcore motorsport enthusiasts who will not look on this omission kindly. Personally, I do not think it is a matter of grave importance, but to each his own.
Asphalt is actually a pretty fun game if you’re the kind of gamer who likes a bit of fast paced racing action. As an introductory title to the 3DS system it is certainly worth considering if you want to test out the 3DS’s graphics capability for yourself, but don’t want to play the more child oriented launch titles. It’s the kind of game that you don’t really want to play all at once, but over a long period of time. It’s the kind of game that you can set down for a while and come back to, and still be familiar with the controls, gameplay and goals. Gamers and Motor Sports fans alike are liable to see past some of the minor issues and see what is by and large a thoroughly entertaining and fluid flowing game. Heck, if you just like things that go incredibly unnecessarily fast, then it’s certainly worth having a go with in 3D.