Asphalt Urban GT Nintendo DS Review

As rushed as some of the DS launch titles were, there were enough surprises in the bunch to made buying the system on day number one seem worthwhile. Two racing games made their way into the launch lineup, "Ridge Racer" and "Asphalt Urban GT." While "Ridge Racer" was basically a port, "Asphalt" is an entirely original game and it works far better than the competition.

Offering up fully licensed vehicles, "Asphalt" makes itself accessible to both the die-hard car people and those who still haven't figured out which peddle is the gas. The heart of the game is the Evolution mode, basically some sort of a career mode featuring street races. You'll earn cash to upgrade and buy new cars, also earning new ones by finishing high enough in each series. The upgrades are standard fare, just basic new parts that are simple enough to figure out without a deep knowledge of the vehicles. Arcade offers a standard time attack, free race, and fairly generic cop chase that requires players to lock on to certain cars for a few seconds to "capture" them.

Without an analog stick, Gameloft's developers have constructed a fantastic control scheme that works flawlessly with a D-pad. It feels quite natural (though not particularly realistic) to take a corner and once you've mastered the somewhat necessary drift, you'll own each course. There's no attempt to use the touch screen as a gimmick like "Ridge Racer." It was made specifically for the DS and that's the best thing that could have happened to it. It may take a few moments to get a grip on it all, but patience pays off.

Some of the games pieces do make it feel like a rip-off, from the cop chase to the nitro's. Crashing into objects or barely avoiding traffic adds to a small meter in the lower left corner of the screen ("Burnout" fans are likely rolling their eyes right now). Filling it allows for a short burst of speed and up to five can be stored. These need to be used smartly as your added speed seriously decreases your ability to take the turns like you normally would. The bottom screen comes into play here, providing a solid map to show you the straight sections.

After a small amount of play however, that map seems rather pointless. The amount of included tracks is quite small and you constantly find yourself racing in the same stages. The only thing alleviating this are the mirrored versions, but even these are used sparingly. There's a strong chance the lack of development time cut down this number.

There are also some strange glitches and there are a few things missing. Hitting an oncoming car simply sends you into a tailspin, but occasionally, you'll get stuck "inside" of another car, preventing you from going anywhere. Since you can't go in reverse, you'll drop a few paces back before getting out. Really strange are the replays, which feature no other vehicles except for your own. It still reacts like something was hit, but there will be nothing there on screen.

Other than that oddball quirk, the game looks fantastic, probably the most impressive of the fully 3-D releases so far. Each stage packs tons of detail along with great looking faux lighting and the cars look really solid. Pop-up is noticeable, but it never obscures your view of the track. Replays show off some nasty pixelization, though you're usually going too fast in-game to notice it. There's little drop out or flicker and the frame rate is stuck at 60 fps. It's a very impressive engine for such a young system.

There's not much to the audio package unfortunately. It doesn't sound bad even though music usually takes a hit to save more power for the graphics in other games. It's just a very derivative mix of techno, rock, and other assorted genres that seems to fit into every racing game. The stereo speakers on the console are used well as cars pass on both sides.

Don't let the unrecognized name fool you. Until something better comes along, this is the premiere racer for the console. "Ridge Racer's" frustrating controls and lackluster (comparatively) graphics are dominated by this original work. This is a solid purchase with a long-standing career mode and some multi-card play adds to the life afterwards.

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