Asphalt 3D marks the second time that an entry in this racing series has accompanied the launch of a Nintendo handheld, with Asphalt: Urban GT hitting shelves alongside the DS in 2004. The Asphalt series hasn't changed much since then; it still aims to deliver accessible high-speed arcade racing thrills, and in Asphalt 3D, it often succeeds. Unfortunately, it also sometimes crashes and burns, placing too much emphasis on its shoddy impact physics and ugly collisions. But when it's not tripping itself up, Asphalt 3D is good fun, and the variety of its 17 tracks and the 42 licensed cars you can acquire make it pretty substantial, too.
Asphalt 3D is a standard arcade racer through and through. The main mode is Career, in which you progress through 14 leagues that each contain four standard events and a fifth unlockable one. You race around tracks set in a number of real-world locations, gathering power-ups that fill up your boost meter. And, if you so choose, you can also try to crash into your rivals at tremendous speed in an attempt to take them out of the race for a time. The cars react responsively and are fun to drive, with drifting around corners taking a bit of time to master but becoming second nature soon enough. Boosting with a full meter triggers hyperspeed, which gives you a tremendous increase in speed that comes at the expense of handling. Hyperspeed is also accompanied by a cool visual effect that makes the world go dark and highlights the sides of the road in red and blue neon lines, like something out of Tron.
There's fun to be had in speeding and drifting around the tracks as you jockey for position with other racers and try to avoid oncoming traffic. The physics emphasize speed rather than realism; you might hit a barrier in the road while going extremely fast, only to find yourself shunted sideways and back on track after the impact with very little loss in momentum. Such moments are silly, but they keep the race moving. The occasional pop-in of large structures aside, the 17 tracks look good and offer plenty of variety, from the hairpin turns and sunny waterfront of Saint-Tropez to the speedy straightaways and starry, UFO-occupied night sky of Las Vegas. Outrageous shortcuts, such as one that sends you flying through the Palace of Fine Arts in San Francisco, add some adrenaline to the races. (Finding these shortcuts isn't hard; they're clearly marked on the map that's constantly displayed on the lower screen.) The depth added by the 3D visuals contributes to the breakneck sense of speed as you tear down the streets, and heads-up display elements like your boost gauge, speed, and position hover impressively in the foreground. Your engine whines and your brakes screech convincingly, with the generic yet pulsating electronica selections on the soundtrack suiting the sleek presentation well.
Although it provides stretches of excitement, Asphalt 3D often trips itself up in its attempts to deliver still greater intensity. Not unlike the Burnout games, Asphalt 3D places special emphasis on crashes, and sadly, the crashes here are so terrible that the game would have benefitted from placing as little emphasis on them as possible. When you hit another vehicle at speed, you're shown the crash in slow motion. This often reveals the vehicles passing almost completely through each other or jumping around in space as if the game can't quite decide where they belong. Sometimes, the camera fails to get the impact front and center, so you hear the noises of impact but only see a small part of it on the edge of the screen. This focus on crashing also detracts from gameplay. At times, you may find yourself the subject of police attention, and in their reckless attempts to put a stop to you, the cops may frequently tap your vehicle from the rear and then wreck. These wrecks not only interrupt the race by trying to show you the crash, but they also make police pursuit more of a nagging nuisance than a source of tension. The presence of these other cars crowding around you also often triggers severe frame rate drops.
Competition types that put a focus on something other than being the fastest around the track are weak. In high-speed chase events, you're constantly pursued by a bunch of cops and have to get across the finish line without getting busted a certain number of times. Their ineffectual efforts to stop you mean that this is not hard, or fun, to do. Vigilante events require you to wreck a certain number of street racers, again putting undue focus on the game's weakest aspect. Still other competition types are essentially broken. As their name suggests, drift events require you to do a certain amount of drifting before you cross the finish line. These are set up like races, with AI competitors circling the track with you. But it makes no difference if you cross the finish line first or last; all that matters is that you acquire the necessary number of drift points. If you approach the end of your final lap and haven't yet earned those points, you can simply pull a U-turn, drive the wrong way for a while, and then turn around again to do more drifting as you head for the finish line. Cash challenges also suffer from the same issue. You need to rack up a certain amount of money to win, but you can pull U-turns and earn more cash if you find yourself short as you approach the finish line. You can take as much time as you need, so there's no challenge whatsoever, which makes completing these events an occasional tedious necessity as you advance through your career.
As you win competitions in the Career mode, you earn experience and level up, gaining access to more cars. There are 42 licensed vehicles on offer, including Audis, BMWs, and Ferraris, as well as a few less-conventional vehicles, like the three-wheeled Can-Am Spyder. Frequently being able to add better, faster cars to your collection is a satisfying reward for your progress. Leveling up also provides more tuning options, but don't expect to encounter any complexity in the garage. Everything you can purchase benefits the selected car in areas like acceleration, top speed, and nitro capacity, with no negative effects, and once purchased, these enhancements cannot be removed. Additionally, although each tuning option is available for each car, they are only purchased for the car you have selected at the time. So each time you get a new car, you need to take a minute to go through the process of purchasing all the available upgrades for that car if you want to optimize its performance. You earn so much money from races that there's never any reason not to purchase these upgrades, and their simplicity and the repetition of purchasing them for each car makes the whole process of dealing with them feel like busywork.
Multiplayer is local only and supports races for up to six players. The option works well, but competitors can only select cars that they have unlocked, so players need to be sure to pick cars with similar capabilities or the race will be wildly unbalanced. The game also has support for the 3DS's StreetPass, letting you compare your best times with those of people you come in contact with, as well as awarding you experience. Outside of the Career mode, you can also jump into one-off races against AI drivers, compete in vigilante and high-speed chase events, and race against ghost cars you've acquired from other players.
Ultimately, Asphalt 3D is an unremarkable but serviceable racer that too often doesn't put its best foot forward. It's a shame it didn't capitalize on its stronger aspects to deliver a more consistently thrilling experience, but even with its flaws, there's some speedy fun to be had on these streets.