Review: Asphalt 3D

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Gameloft has become fondly (or not so fondly, depending on who you’re asking) known as the ‘King of Knock-offs’ for its many mobile game offerings that blatantly yet solidly resemble prominent console and PC franchises. More specifically, the French studio’s long-running Asphalt series has been burning rubber on mobile systems for years now, delivering Burnout and Need for Speed style street racing thrills over six previous outings on platforms ranging from the DS and PSP to N-Gage, Android and iOS devices. Now the seventh has arrived in Asphalt 3D, a flawed but fun and competently crafted arcade racer for Nintendo’s new 3DS handheld.

Accessible arcade racing is the name of the game in Asphalt 3D, and for the most part the game is fundamentally sound. In the game, you hop behind the wheel of 40 licensed rides, from manufacturers like Audi, BMW, Ford, Nissan, Aston Martin and Lamborghini, and leave a trail of skid marks around just shy of 20 different tracks set in global locales such as Aspen, Rio de Janeiro, Rome, Hawaii, Tokyo and Paris.

As you race through these exotic destinations, you drift around corners, ram into and wreck rival cars, avoid civilian traffic and police pursuers, seek our shortcuts to get a jump on the competition, and collect power-ups to boost your nitro gauge and score some extra cash to purchase new rides and various upgrade components to enhance engine performance, braking, tires, suspension, and so on and so forth.

Thanks to the 3DS’ new circle pad analog nub, steering is smooth and responsive — a major upgrade from previous games on the DS which always felt stiff using a D-pad – and pulling off tire-screeching drifts has a forgiving, satisfying feel to it.

When the frame rate holds steady, which sadly isn’t a consistent happening, the gameplay runs fast and the vehicles and tracks look all shiny and purty, like a brand new car fresh off the lot. The 3D effect doesn’t add anything but dizzying eyestrain, but the graphics are bright and clear without it, so I recommend turning the slider all the way down.

Opposing racers provide fair competition without any of the cheap ‘rubber band’ AI tactics found in many arcade racers, but they aren’t particularly aggressive or adept at taking advantage of shortcuts. Regular street traffic, however, requires you to keep on the edge of your driver’s seat at all times to avoid accidents, and should you drive too recklessly and cause civilian accidents, cop cars will sound their sirens and relentlessly hunt you down, adding another layer of tension to each and every race you enter.

For a game heavy on high-speed collisions, though, it is a shame that the crash animations and vehicle physics are so sloppy. When cars slam together, you don’t see any sparks flying or metal denting and crinkling or visible damage of any kind. Instead, the two colliding cars clip through each other, and the resulting crash has zero impact or excitement. As for the physics, the cars do feel appropriately floaty for an arcade experience, but when you go off jumps or turn into walls your car tends to bounce and ricochet around in jarring fashion.

Once you’re comfortable behind the wheel, you’ll find that Asphalt 3D has a solid selection of play modes under its hood. In Free Race mode, you can hop into single lap-based races as well as other events that challenge you to avoid being pulled over by the police, to wreck a set number of rivals before the race ends, and to compete against ghost racer data that you’ve compiled yourself or that has been acquired from other players via the 3DS StreetPass function.

The career mode takes these different race types (plus a few others, like time trials, drifting challenges and one-on-one duels) and spreads them out over 14 league tiers spanning a total of 70 individual races that should take you in the ballpark of six hours or more to finish. To complete an event and unlock the next league, you must at least finish in the top three of each race, and you can also earn bonus stars for optional objectives, such as not crashing during an entire race, using a shortcut on each lap, winning with a 2-second lead, hitting top speed without the use of nitro, and stuff like that. As you win events, you are rewarded with cash and experience based on your performance, and as your driving level advances you unlock new cars, upgrade parts, stickers and sponsors.

Multiplayer, on the other hand, is kind of a let down, for the simple fact that it is local wireless only and not online enabled. I don’t know anyone else with a 3DS, so I had no way of testing actual performance, but I imagine if the engine has problems with slowdown during single-player races, multiplayer races with a full six players probably don’t run so hot. But that’s just an assumption on my part – without online functionality the multiplayer is a feature I am unable to utilize.

Asphalt 3D may not be a world beater, but for a launch racing game it serves its purpose as an early showcase for the benefits of the 3DS Circle Pad controls and 3D graphics capabilities (not including the 3D effect), and if nothing else, it succeeds as an accessible, pick-up-and-play time waster you won’t mind cruising around with until the 3DS game lineup kicks into high gear.

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Pros:
+ Fun, pick-up-and-play arcade racing
+ Solid mode offering, including a pretty in-depth career mode
+ Driver progression and unlocks provide constant rewards
+ Lots of detailed vehicles and exotic, real-world track environments

Cons:
– Awful crash physics and animations
– Multiplayer is not online enabled
– Occasionally choppy frame rate
– 3D effect detracts from the experience

Affiliate Links:
Buy from Amazon or eStarland

Game Info:
Platform: Nintendo 3DS
Publisher: Ubisoft
Developer: Gameloft
Release Date: 3/22/2011
Genre: Racing
ESRB Rating: E10+
Players: 1-6 (Multiplayer is local wireless only)
Source: Review copy provided by publisher

About the Author

Matt Litten is the full-time editor and owner of VGBlogger.com. He is responsible for maintaining the day to day operation of the site, editing all staff content before it is published, and contributing regular news, reviews, previews and other articles. Matt landed his first gig in the video game review business writing for the now-defunct website BonusStage.com. After the sad and untimely close of BonusStage, the former staff went on to found VGBlogger.com. After a short stint as US Site Manager for AceGamez, Matt assumed full ownership over VGBlogger, and to this day he is dedicated to making it one of the top video game blogs in all the blogosphere. Matt is a fair-minded reviewer and lover of games of all platforms and types, big or small, hyped or niche, big-budget or indie. But that doesn't mean he will let poor games slide without a good thrashing when necessary!