Review: Asphalt 3D (Nintendo 3DS)

Asphalt 3D
Genre: Racing
Developer: Gameloft
Publisher: Ubisoft
Release Date: 03/22/11

I like arcade style racing games better than realistic racing games. Games like Mario Kart, Ridge Racer, nail’d, Burnout, Blur and so on appeal to me more than things like Gran Turismo and Forza and what have you. For me, I like the idea of being able to jump in and race over the idea of learning proper race lines and car tuning, and while I’ve given some real effort to trying to get into the racing simulation genre, I’ve come to discover that it’s simply not a genre I can appreciate on the same level as fans can, and I’m mostly comfortable with that. I note this because I’d like it understood that, while I wasn’t especially charitable to Ridge Racer 3D, I did rather enjoy the game, as I tend to enjoy all of the games in the series, but it’s hard to recommend because, surprise, it’s the same game Namco’s been releasing for years. It’s entirely possible to like something but think it’s not a particularly good piece of work, and Ridge Racer 3DS is pretty much that exact concept in action: it’s a very likable game, but not a very good one. Asphalt 3D, on the other hand, is a different animal altogether. It offers up more gameplay and customization options than Ridge Racer 3D, offers online play, and generally goes out of its way to be a more robust and in-depth experience than its direct competition on the console. It also, however, is a largely joyless experience unless one is easily pleased, as like most Gameloft titles, it feels like a pastiche of other games mashed together into one product, and suffers for this reason on a number of levels.

As with most racing games, Asphalt 3D eschews storyline in favor of a simple “get out there and win some races!” theme, so let us discuss the game modes available for play. The game offers a multi-tiered Career Mode to jump into, complete with multiple different cups to take on and events to jump into across all levels. You can also jump into Free Race mode, which allows you to take on regular races, race against ghosts from other players, knock out CPU controlled cars from other players in Vigilante mode, or engage in a High Speed Chase against the cops. The game also offers multiplayer support for up to six players for some local competitive racing action, if you have some friends around who have the game available to them. You can also turn on your Streetpass to exchange ghost data and such with others, should you happen to pass by another person with a copy of the game. Career Mode also allows you the option of acquiring new vehicles and tuning them up somewhat, adding better parts to the cars and customizing their exterior paint jobs and decals as you see fit. As the game modes go, Asphalt 3D has some variety to it for those who want to play alone or with friends, and while most of what’s available is what’s expected from games in the genre, it’s fun enough to keep things interesting for a while, if nothing else.

Visually, Asphalt 3D is adequate, but never ventures beyond that. On the positive side, the game looks very clean in motion, the licensed cars used in the game are rather accurate to their real world versions, the various special effects are quite pretty to the eyes, and the various courses you’ll race through are all varied and interesting. On the negative side, some of the menu imagery is kind of ugly while other parts are bare-bones and unexciting, to be honest, and there are technical issues, such as a noticeable draw-in distance, obvious visual glitching during crash replays, and slowdown when multiple cars are on-screen at once, that hurt the experience noticeably, especially during some of the more hectic races. The audio is also somewhat of a mixed bag, though it performs better technically than the visuals. The cars themselves have different sounding engines to make them more distinct, and while they don’t quite always sound like their real-world brethren, they sound fine enough to be enjoyable. There is a smattering of voice work that pops up, mostly from the female announcer who introduces race types and such, and for the most part, it’s all perfectly fine. The game music sounds like a mix of stereotypical video game tunes and some oddball house music, and I swear I heard a non-vocalized remix of “The Safety Dance” in there a few times, and I’m not sure if that’s a good thing or a bad thing.

Insofar as the 3D effects in Asphalt 3D go, they generally are solid enough to be enjoyable, though Ridge Racer 3D does a better job with the effects all around. Racing around at high speed is as satisfying in 3D here as it is in the aforementioned competitor, and both your vehicle and those of your competitors pop nicely in 3D. The effect is marred somewhat by the slowdown and other visual issues that pop up in the game here and there, unfortunately, as it somewhat takes away from the 3D experience when something pops up into the background at random, for instance. The odd camera cutaways that come up during crashes, jumps, and so on are also somewhat disorienting in 3D, and the fact that you don’t seem to be able to turn them off at all is unfortunate. There are moments here and there where the 3D effects in Asphalt 3D are impressive to see in action, and by and large the game makes good use of the feature, but it’s not without flaw, and the effects end up being okay, but nothing special, as a result of this thing.

Asphalt 3D is yet another game that, if you’ve ever played a racing game in your life, you can play in seconds. The A button acts as your accelerator, the B button as your brake, the X and Y buttons and Right Bumper act as your turbo, and the Left Bumper acts as your camera perspective change button. The D-pad and the analog stick can both be used to steer your vehicle, depending on your preferences, and you’re given a map that displays your objectives (when needed) and position relative to the other races on screen for you to follow. You can use your turbo any time you have a decent sized amount, which can be used in one of two ways. You can either use the turbo when the meter is NOT full in up to three stages by pressing the button repeatedly, which burns a set amount per stage, or you can use the whole meter when it is full, which turns the background a blueish hue and rockets you forward, allowing you to take out any cars that happen to get in your way in the process. You can build up turbo in a number of ways, from drifting through turns (by hitting the brake while turning) to narrowly missing colliding with other cars to taking crazy jumps, among other things. You can also pick up various power-ups as you race, including cash, turbo boosts and repair kits, which work about as you’d expect based on their description above. You’ll have to be careful when picking up power-ups and racing around, however, as you and your rivals aren’t the only cars on the field. Pedestrian vehicles frequently pop up on the road, as do police cars who will be incredibly interested in taking you out for your crazy antics, and you’ll have to be mindful of both if you want to avoid crashing and losing money and time. Your enemies can be wiped out as well, however, so you can attempt to gear things in your favor by directing them into traffic and such to improve your position and take out the completion as needed.

You’ll spend most of your time playing in the Career Mode, as this is where you can unlock all of the stuff you’re likely to use. As you complete races, you’ll earn money and experience points for your performance, based on your general skill, power-ups you collect, and whether or not you complete the race and the various sub objectives each race possesses. Career Mode offers you multiple circuits to complete as well as multiple race types to take on, from your standard races against the computer to Time Attack, where you complete a series of laps in a set time limit, Vigilante, where you take out other racers to win, Duels, where you race another racer to see who’s better, Leader of the Pack races, where the last place racer is bumped out at the end of the lap, Drift Challenges to earn a set amount of points by drifting, and so on. Each circuit gives you four main races to complete, followed by a fifth extra race, and completing each race under the specified conditions gives you the aforementioned spoils. Experience points, aside from improving your rank as a racer, also unlock new stuff as you level up, from additional vehicles and decals to purchase to upgrades you can buy to improve the performance of your chosen ride, among other things. Money allows you to purchase these things you’ve unlocked, allowing you to add bonuses to your vehicles, buy new vehicles entirely, affix decals to the ride you’ve chosen, and so on. This adds some enjoyable depth to the experience beyond simple racing, and makes for some added fun to be had unlocking everything available and building your vehicles up to be the best.

Career mode offers a decent amount of length as well, and you’ll spend probably around ten hours, give or take, clearing out everything in it and leveling your racer up. You can also race against ghosts acquired through the StreetPass system and take on up to five friends locally in races to see who has the best ride and the best skills, should you have that many friends available to do so. The game is also nice enough to fill in spots with CPU opponents should you run out of friends with the game available to get a full race going when you’re ready to get down to it. The licensed vehicle selection is pretty nice, as well, featuring Mini’s, Fords, Ferrari’s, Aston Martins and more, so you’ll likely find a car you want to use to race around, be it alone or with friends, which adds some amusement to the experience. Even without those options, there are additional single player races to take on to add some amusement to the game, and with a large variety of tracks to race on and cars to unlock and upgrade, there’s a solid amount of variety to the game to keep you interested for a while.

That said, for all of the variety the game has to offer, it’s still a flawed experience. Anything beyond simple racing against other cars is often problematic, at a best case. Time Attack gives you one specific time limit to work with, regardless of your vehicle, and some cars simply cannot complete a Time Attack race in the time allotted or can only complete it at the last second by running a completely perfect race, which is somewhat annoying, to be polite. Any mission that asks you to take out opponents often ends up with you using full turbo to crash into the opposing vehicles, as this is simply the most effective way of doing business, and any other methods you can employ are simply not fun to work with. Drifting missions aren’t even a challenge, as you can simply turn around, go backwards a bit, turn around again, and do some more drifting if you haven’t earned enough points until you win the race, which seems like it defeats the purpose. This, honestly, goes on and on throughout the different race types, and for the most part, while the ideas the game has are neat, their execution is not.

The aforementioned pop-up distance is also mechanically problematic, since the power-ups are so large and the draw distance small, so you could (and will) end up picking up a power-up and taking a header right into an incoming car, which would be fine if you KNEW you were taking that risk, but when you can’t SEE the car until you HIT the car, well, that’s a design problem. The power-ups you can apply to your cars are generic and generally are just improvements, not if/then power-ups that could allow you to build a car to your tastes, ala nail’d. You’ll also have to buy each upgrade on each car you want to use, but the game makes an end run around this by giving you so much money that you’ll likely never spend it all instead of finding a way to balance out the winnings in a reasonable manner. Also, while its nice that there are a bunch of different vehicles and courses to work with, with fourteen major circuits to complete alone, the game, frankly, gets repetitive in a big hurry and has nothing to wow you after the first couple of hours. To top it all off, the vehicles you can unlock are imbalanced to one another and not divided in any meaningful fashion, meaning multiplayer will have to either be a shutout or on the honor system, and the game makes obvious use of rubber band AI to a level that becomes annoying in a real hurry.

Assuming you have plenty of local (trustworthy) friends to play against or you can put up with the issues in the game, Asphalt 3D has its positives and can be an enjoyable experience, but not enough of one to make it easy to recommend. There are enough game and race modes to be entertaining and the game looks and sounds solid. The racing mechanics are easy enough to understand, and the Career Mode has some interesting ideas, such as unlocking new cars and upgrading them, to keep you interested. There’s a good amount of length and depth to the single player campaign, and various single player individual modes as well as multiplayer options to play around to keep you coming back. That said, the visuals have slowdown, pop-up and collision issues, which can also cause mechanical issues with the gameplay itself, and while the 3D effects are fine, the visual issues hurt the 3D as a result. Further, any gameplay mode beyond normal races will ultimately end up either being annoying or pointless because of flaws that frustrate or allow you to exploit the game. The visual pop-up ends up leaving you wiping out for no reason, the power-ups are generic and boring, the game makes you pay for everything but gives you so much money that this isn’t even challenging, the experience is repetitive, the vehicles are ultimately imbalanced and not segregated, and the game uses rubber band AI instead of providing an organic challenge. There’s some fun to be had for a while with Asphalt 3D, in all honesty, and if you can get past the flaws you’ll have fun with it if you’re an arcade racing fan, but the game doesn’t make a compelling argument for anyone who isn’t, and the argument is spotty at best even if you are a fan.

The Scores:
Game Modes: MEDIOCRE
Graphics: MEDIOCRE
Sound: ABOVE AVERAGE
Control/Gameplay: ABOVE AVERAGE
Replayability: MEDIOCRE
Balance: POOR
Originality: BAD
Addictiveness: POOR
Appeal: POOR
Miscellaneous: BAD

FINAL SCORE: BELOW AVERAGE GAME.

Short Attention Span Summary:
Asphalt 3D is the sort of game that assembles itself from the parts of other successful games without knowing why those parts work; you can see elements that might have been part of a good game, but the game itself doesn’t work as well as it wants to. There are a decent amount of gameplay modes to work with, the game looks and sounds okay enough while you’re playing, and the gameplay is simple enough to learn. Some of the elements of the game, like the car garage and the more involved race types, seem neat at first, and the game does have some good ideas and variety thanks to the customization options and the single and multiplayer modes. However, the game has technical issues, such as slowdown, pop-up, collision issues, and obscured visual elements, which means, at best, the interesting 3D effect is marred, and at worst, you’ll wipe out for absolutely no obvious reason. The more involved gameplay modes beyond normal races are also not much fun, either because they’re poorly executed, frustrating, or easily exploited. The customization power-ups you can acquire are generic and unexciting, the game expects you to pay for everything you’ll use but gives you tons of money to ultimately defeat itself, the game becomes repetitive fast, the later cars dramatically overpower earlier cars and no effort is made to separate them, and the rubber band AI is frustrating and smacks of poor design. If you’re a genre fan you might find Asphalt 3D to be amusing for a while, but only serious genre fans are going to find any long term amusement in the game, as everyone else will tire of it long before that point.

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