The Asphalt franchise has made a name for itself in the mobile and handheld space, but that's not necessarily a good thing. Gameloft's flagship racing series helps round out a four-game 3DS launch line-up for Ubisoft, but that's not necessarily a good thing, either.
- Diverse mode offerings
- Helpful shortcuts
- Liberal placement of nitrous
- Feels like an enhanced cell phone game port
- Licensed vehicles lack performance authenticity
- Poor frame rate
For as much as it seems like Namco Bandai can make Ridge Racer games in their sleep and get away with minimal innovation, having Asphalt 3D around for comparison shows much polish can make a difference. If you have spent some time these past eight years playing Asphalt games on alternative platforms like the N-Gage or iOS, then you won't be surprised to that Asphalt 3D retains that underperforming, unpolished feel of the series' previous iterations.
Plus, if you are sold on the 3D effects of Nintendo's latest handheld, having polish to complement that kind of illusionary immersion makes the experience all the more convincing, something that Asphalt 3D lacks.
Many of those unfamiliar to the series will get a Burnout-lite vibe the after their first on-coming vehicle collision. Asphalt 3D makes an adequate effort in rewarding risky behavior that also includes near misses and opponent-eliminating takedowns. Asphalt 3D also goes the economical approach of integrating the various game modes into the Career. So a given league can have a traditional race, time trail as well as an elimination mode. Other formats include chases, pursuits, cash collecting, 1-on-1 races, and drift-centric missions.
Being part of a handheld launch library that includes the obligatory Ridge Racer does offer the double-edged opportunity for comparison. If I got anything out of playing both games, it is that featuring licensed cars for a handheld title matters little if you can't give the player the impression that this truly how Maseratis, Aston Martins or BMWs are intended to perform, especially since Asphalt 3D equips all of the vehicles with nitro.
See The World?
I can't remember the last time I found the globe-trotting lifestyle of a racecar driver to be selling point, but it's the experience that the Asphalt franchise has always tried to present. This latest installment takes you to the cliched jet-setter destinations of Aspen, Madrid, Miami, Berlin, Saint Tropez, 17 cities in all. Aside from a few recognizable monuments and the neon glow of Vegas and Tokyo, there wasn't anything that made me smile in amusement over any sense of geographic accuracy. At least they got San Francisco right by having a couple mad downhill jumps, a leap through the Palace of Fine Arts, and a route past the Transamerica pyramid. It's just too bad all this environmental detail contributes to the game's mediocre framerate.
When I noticed the first shortcut in the game, I almost got excited that this might be a throwback to the shortcut-intensive Nintendo 64 cult hit, Beetle Adventure Racing. Even some of these tactical detours provide jumps dramatic enough to warrant their own camera angle deviations. Sadly, there are only a couple shortcuts per track but these courses are large enough that you wonder why Gameloft didn't add more alternate routes. At least the shortcuts are easy to access and provide the intended leg-up on the competition.
It’s Easy, But Not That Easy
This does bring to mind the very few opportunities to exercise strategy in Asphalt 3D. As long as you keep your garage stocked, vehicles up to date, know you shortcuts, and know where the nitro pick-ups are located, you can win most any race. Drifting provides very little benefit nor is there any need for strategic breaking (although any experienced gamer can tell you that slowing down in most arcade racers are best performed by just letting go of the gas). In terms of mastering the opponent A.I., you can get away with a lot of aggression as long as don't crash during the final lap; no matter how far back the competition is, they have an annoying habit on capitalizing on your mistakes, even more so than other laps.
Another disappointment is the lack of Internet multiplayer although Asphalt 3D does support 6-player local play, both versus and co-op. And like many 3DS launch titles, StreetPass is supported, allowing you to compare top times and popularity. Gameloft did manage to put a bit more effort by also rewarding StreetPass users with XP toward their overall profile.
Experience Can Backfire
It only takes about 10 minutes of play time on Asphalt 3D to be reminded of the franchise's penchant for cell phone game ports. That is not to say the series' foray onto the Nintendo 3DS feels cheap, but it does feel like developer Gameloft had little time (let alone know-how) to optimize their racing franchise for the new handheld. You certainly can't fault them for trying to pack the cartridge with distinct modes, car customization, and detailed courses, but you do wonder why other 3DS launch titles with similar levels of detail manage to pull off better frame rates and performance.