Asphalt 3D is not exactly what you would call a simulation racing game. In fact, if, rather than stating that all racing games were either simulation or arcade you placed them on a continuum with simulation on one end and arcade on the other, Asphalt 3D would still end up relatively far into the arcade side of things.
The game features iffy physics, and a decent sense of travelling at high speed while offering a plethora of upgrades. You need not worry about adjusting downforce or grip, the point of the game is simply to hold the gas down, use turbos when you can (make out our stash of turbos and get "hyperspeed"), and pass all your opponents.
Throwing it into reverse for a moment, the heart of this latest Asphalt takes place in career mode. There, you start off with one car on easy courses with simple opponents and slowly work your way up to something more serious (but not a whole lot more serious). As you win races you earn XP and cash. In their simplest terms, the XP unlocks upgrades and the cash lets you buy those upgrades (and more cars). Courses are also littered with cash as well as wrenches (to bang out any dents you may have gotten on the course) and turbos (to boost your speed). You also earn cash during a race by nearly colliding with other cars – actually collide with them and you lose money.
In career mode you level up relatively quickly and earn lots of cash which means that you can continually be buying new cars and getting lots of upgrades for them too. There are, as it may seem, a ton of ways to earn money and you'll soon find yourself with a hefty stockpile for all your purchasing needs. That almost—almost—makes the game work, because the truth is that after a couple of races, the majority of the game has a very been there done that feel.
There are different race types and different courses and semi-hidden shortcuts, but after a while there simply isn't enough differentiation between them all. And, in the end, your strategy in every single race is the same and Jerry Reed expressed it perfectly decades ago, "Just put that hammer down and give it hell," or if you prefer other parts of that song "Keep your foot hard on the pedal. Son, never mind them brakes."
We have no problems whatsoever with going at high speeds for extended periods, but the physics of it all don't really seem to work. Zip along at your top speed and you can hit the side of the course with little to no issue, you either keep travelling along the edge and lose speed because of whatever you're hitting or you move back to the center and continue on your merry way. Actual head-on crashes do manage to stop the car, but not for one minute will you believe that your car could possibly sustain so little damage and have so few theatrics result from a head-on collision.
Asphalt 3D does feature some officially licensed cars as well as 17 based-in-reality locations, the ability to earn sponsorships (which provide bonuses to your car), and local multiplayer. Those elements certainly add to the title, but rather than making it deep, only make it seem like a full game instead of a rough draft.
The majority of the top-screen graphics are pretty enough and the 3D well used to place things at different depths. The cars are nice to look at certainly and the backgrounds not bad. The bottom screen however isn't quite as nice. That screen is mainly used to provide you with a basic, non-exciting to look at, outline of the course and everyone's positions on it. That course outline also shows you where all the shortcuts are, which is a little weird considering that you get bonus cash for entering one which makes it seem as though they should be hidden. However, even if the bottom screen didn't show you where the shortcuts were, you'll regularly see cash or a wrench or a turbo at the start of shortcut and in a location that wouldn't exist were a shortcut not present so you'll know exactly where to go without ever taking your eyes off the top screen.
In the end, Asphalt 3D just doesn't seem to go far enough. Why have semi-secret shortcuts? Make them secrets. Why have semi-realized crashes? Make them big and powerful. Why have a decent sense of speed? Make it blazingly fast. Asphalt 3D is an arcade racer that could never be remotely considered a simulation game but which doesn't seem to truly embrace its own arcade-ness. If it wants us to take the plunge, it ought to do so as well.
Asphalt 3D is rated E10+ (Everyone 10 and older) by the ESRB for Mild Violence.
Article first published as Nintendo 3DS Review: Asphalt 3D on Blogcritics.