Gameloft’s Asphalt racing series is infamous for being available on a number of different platforms and mobile devices. Therefore, it is hardly surprising that they would make sure an Asphalt game was available on Nintendo’s brand new 3DS at launch. Asphalt 3D is the same basic game, only this time playable in the third dimension. The game has a host of technical problems and an overall generic feel, but its fun arcade racing gameplay just about saves it from being a terrible game rather than a mediocre one.
The gameplay is your typical arcade racing fare. A maximum of 6 competitive racers can occupy a course at one time. You drive a number of exotic luxury cars with an emphasis on speed over realism. At the core of the driving is the drifting mechanic. Drifting increases the amount of nitrous oxide in your reserves and increases your cash reward. You spend a great deal of your time drifting around corners to maintain your speed and increase your points.
Career mode consists of 14 different Leagues, each consisting of 5 events, for a total of 70 challenges. The events come in a number of varieties. There is the standard race where the goal is to cross the finish line as fast as possible with gold, silver, and bronze prizes awarded to the top three racers. There is the drift challenge where you must attain a certain amount of points through drifting before you finish the final lap. Time has no bearing on the drift mode and neither does your competition. The AI drives normally with no drift requirement and doesn’t even try to get in your way.
There are standard time trials where you have to finish before the clock runs out.In Leader of the Pack events the car in last place is eliminated after each lap until there is one driver remaining. There is a Cash Attack mode where you must do all you can to attain a certain amount of money before the race is over. In Vigilante Justice events your goal is to takedown a certain number of enemy vehicles, usually by forcing them into walls. Finally, there is High Speed Chase, where you must survive pursuit from an aggressive police force with as few arrests as possible. Leagues are usually comprised of four events, two of them being standard races and the other two being different events. After completing the four required events in each league you gain access to the next one as well as a bonus “Duel” race between you and one other driver.
Asphalt 3D is not particularly challenging. Once you get the handle of the basic mechanics the rest of the game is a breeze and you are really just playing it to get through it. I only ever placed second twice during my entire time with the game. A part of the problem seems to be that you almost always have access to cars that perform substantially better than those of your opponents, and if that is ever not the case, a few performance upgrades gives you the upper hand once again. The only difficult challenges in the game are the Drift and Cash Attack modes. Even these events are more tedious than challenging, because in both modes you invariably end up drifting and driving at an unreasonably slow pace in order to squeeze the most points out of every inch of track remaining.
At least the game controls well enough. The slide pad is used for steering and feels satisfying, intuitive and responsive. The default controls have the A button as accelerate and the B button as brake/drift. Pressing either of the shoulder buttons initiates a nitrous boost that lasts as long as you hold it or until you step on the brakes. The touch screen has a map of the race in progress and by pressing the + and - buttons below the screen you can zoom in and out. The only other use of the touch screen is during the menus, which are just as easy to navigate using the slide pad. The lack of touch screen functionality is not really a problem, as it does not lend itself well to racing games in the first place.
One positive is the vehicle variety. Both motorcycles and cars are available, although the cars are way more abundant. The only difference between the two besides weight is that motorbikes don’t drift, they just stoppie. The vehicles are licensed from luxury dealers such as BMW, Ferrari, and Lamborghini. You are able to purchase vehicles using the money you earn during the events. Most likely you will not be prohibited from buying a vehicle because of lack of money, but because you don’t quite meet the level requirement to unlock it. You can also use your cash to modify your vehicles performance through engine, handling, and nitrous upgrades. The upgrades do have a noticeable and satisfying effect on the car’s performance. Other customization options include paint jobs and unlockable decals.
This game is enjoyable on a very primal level. The gameplay manages to tap into the simple joy of driving fast and leaving an unreal amount of destruction in your wake. Police officers eventually take notice of your reckless driving and will aggressively try to pull you over during events. Their presence increases the challenge somewhat, but not enough to consider the game a respectable challenge. The cops get faster cars and more backup the longer you manage to evade them and, should they pull you over, not only do they halt your progress midrace, but they also slap on a fine that deducts from your cash reward.
There is a large number of courses to race on, each generically inspired by a real world locale. Paris, Miami, Las Vegas, New York and Rome are just a fraction of the re-imagined streets you tear through. The tracks distinguish themselves from one another well enough with their own unique jumps and shortcuts, but in the grand scheme of racing games they are rather forgettable.
One small aspect of the gameplay that I liked was picking a sponsor that offers unique performance enhancements such as combinations of increased acceleration, reduced damage, and many others. Unlocking new sponsors is also based on your level. Some of these come in really handy such as one that offers 23% more money while competing, which really helps out during the Cash Attack modes.
Multiplayer is restricted to six players locally, and each person must have their own copy of the game. Playing this game with a friend does not make it any more enjoyable and may have the adverse effect of deteriorating your relationship. While in multiplayer it is not uncommon to see opponents on your screen appear to be jumping around wildly on the course. There is no online multiplayer available. The multiplayer restricts play to only regular races, completely ignoring the other modes found in singleplayer experience. Asphalt 3D uses the Nintendo 3DS’s Street Pass Mode to exchange ghost data between players that you can then race against.
Asphalt 3D has a wide array of technical problems as well as an uninspired visual style. The vehicle models look good and the menu interface is simple to navigate. Other than those two aspects, the rest of the presentation crashes into a brick wall. The graphics are well below what the 3DS is capable of rendering. It looks as if a bunch of assets from older Asphalt titles were stitched together Frankenstein-style to achieve the horrendous visuals. Textures are flat and low res. The water effects look especially pathetic. Even the start up movie looks blurry and overly compressed. Playing the game in 3D does nothing to mask these issues. The only difference is the sense of depth is better in 3D and when your car uses maximum nitrous boost the screen changes hue and blue and red streams pops out of the screen that sort of look cool.
The sound has a number of problems too. Cars sound as though they shift through an infinite number of gears, and there is sometimes a delay in sound after a crash. The audio sounds tinny through the 3DS' speakers. However, the soundtrack is comprised of techno tracks which, despite how forgettable they are, fit the game well. Additionally, an announcer spouts some inane information about the track you are racing on and words of encouragement before each event. Thankfully you are able to skip this.
Asphalt 3D retails for $39.99, which is the standard MSRP for 3DS games. Despite this, the price is way too high for this experience. You can get a similar Asphalt title for much less on your mobile phone, the original DS, and at this point perhaps even everyday appliances around the house. The career mode takes between eight and ten hours to complete. There are 60 levels of ranking in total and each one brings you more content such as cars and upgrades to buy. After finishing the career mode, you are likely to have a few more of these to achieve but you may not want to. There are also 16 achievements to unlock that encourage continued play, but chances are you will complete most of the challenges before you complete the career mode.
Asphalt 3D’s many faults would be slightly more forgivable if it were the only racing game available on the 3DS. Luckily for consumers, that is not the case. Namco Bandai has released the much better Ridge Racer 3D for those who need an arcade racing fix. Even if Asphalt 3D were the only racing game on the 3DS it would still be a hard game to recommend, as it is just too generic and poorly put together to be worth gamers’ time or money.