Monday, October 28, 2019

Asphalt 9: Legends (NSW) Review

SuperPhillip Central is back from the weekend to review our second free-to-play game in a row. This game also released on the Nintendo Switch, but while Super Kirby Clash had Nintendo 3DS origins, this next game initially appeared on mobile devices. It's Asphalt 9: Legends, and here's SuperPhillip Central's review.

Free-to-play and free to kick asphalt.

The Asphalt arcade racing series is one that's no stranger to mobile devices, and while it's tried to make the jump in the past to more traditional gaming devices such as the Nintendo 3DS and the PlayStation Vita, it couldn't quite land on all four wheels. Instead, for the most part, it careened off course and wiped out. Now, the Asphalt series sees its ninth mainline installment--which released on mobile devices last year--on the Nintendo Switch with the same free-to-play formula and monetization practices. With analog controls as well as the same optional touch-based and gyro-based controls, Asphalt 9: Legends manages to burn some serious rubber on the Switch.

The distance indicator is a godsend in knowing if you need to start pulling
that infamous "come from behind" win.
Let's get the free-to-play stuff out of the way first, shall we? Asphalt 9 has multiple premium currencies used to progress through and play the game. To start, every vehicle you take to the track with has a set amount of times you can use it before its gas gauge runs out, requiring you to either wait until the gauge replenishes or spend another form of premium currency to fill the tank up immediately.

You begin your Asphalt 9 journey of illegal street racing with one car in your garage, and by playing through the career mode, completing daily events, and earning cards from packs, you gather blueprints for new cars. Initially, the process is relatively quick for the most basic of vehicles, but if you want cars with better statistics and higher performance, you're going to have to grind or pay up.

Completing missions is the easiest and most common way to earn tokens.
Each car has its own performance rating number, and this is basically its level. You raise this number by upgrading your car's max speed, acceleration, handling, and nitro by spending credits, yet another premium currency in the game. Cars can only be upgraded a certain amount of times before they need you to collect blueprints to increase its star level, thus allowing more upgrades to be purchased, which in turn, boosts that given car's performance.

Each career mode race has its own recommended performance rating number that indicates the absolute minimum your car needs to be at in order to have a chance at winning the race, or at the very least to actually compete. The higher your number is compared to the recommend performance rating for that career race, the easier the race will be--pending you don't drive like Mr. Magoo, crashing into every thing you [don't] see. The career mode is divided up between multiple racing seasons and each season has its own lineup of linear events to take on. The more you progress in a given season's events and races, the higher the recommended performance rating number ends up being for each subsequent even.

Any racer worth their need for speed knows all about drifting around turns.
Thus, as you can imagine, there are a lot of times where you just have to wait to complete a season because you don't have a car at a high enough level of performance to be competitive against the AI. Thankfully, there are usually other seasons with events available for your cars, though it's important to note that not every car can enter every event. Some seasons lock certain classes of cars, certain makes and models of cars, and so forth.

The career mode's various seasons and events reward car blueprints, credits, and tokens for completing events. When I say "completing events", I mean successfully earning all career flags on a given racing event. Career flags add stipulations to races in addition to just crossing the finish line in first place. These include having you perform a set amount of stunts, drifting a certain distance, using nitrous for a given amount of time, etc.

Hightail it out of there--it's the fuzz!
I found myself often reaching a dead end in the career mode because I didn't have cars with high enough performance ratings to continue. That's when the other modes of Asphalt 9: Legends lured me in with their daily events to earn regular car blueprints, credits, and tokens. The latter two allowed me to purchase more blueprints from the in-game shop to quicken my pace of progression.

While I could have easily dropped money on Asphalt 9, a modicum of patience with the unlocking process and progression systems in the game allowed me to not spend a single real life cent on the game. That said, I feel that Asphalt 9: Legends on the Nintendo Switch is easily worth investing some money into just because it's an incredibly well done game and overall runs well on Nintendo's hardware. The visuals are absolutely stunning and while they aren't going to confuse onlookers into thinking they're watching something out of real life, they do a fantastic job all the same. Everything from the details in the environments to the damage dealt to cars when they're totaled or seeing mud or snow cling and cake onto their undersides is impressive.

Ooh! And a luxury car, too. You hate to see it happen.
Also impressive is the track design. There are 42 tracks set in seven unique real world locations, such as San Francisco, Shanghai, Malaysia, Cairo, and Rome. Tracks feature a myriad of well defined paths in both appearance in the environment and on the helpful HUD map. There is a plethora of places to perform astonishing tricks in order to build up your nitro meter to slam into other opponents and gain seconds-shaving boosts of speed. All of the tracks in Asphalt 9 at each of the game's expansive seven locations have you visiting familiar ground, but the ways the tracks direct you to different parts of each location makes them fresh and exciting rather than tedious and boring.

From the pyramids on the outskirts of the city to actual highway racing downtown,
Cairo is but one of the stops in your Asphalt 9: Legends career.
The controls are also impressive as well. With the mobile version of Asphalt 9, I found myself often frustrated as I couldn't quite achieve the level of control and precision I desired with my driving and racing (and subsequent wrecking from said lack of control and precision). With the Switch version, not only do you have analog controls and an analog stick for comfort and precise movement, but you also have more control over braking, drifting, and easing off the pedal for particularly tricky corners and turns. Those who desire a more streamlined or beginner-friendly approach can find both tilt controls, and touch-based controls, where you move your finger along the screen, guiding your vehicle along predetermined paths. You have less control over your vehicle, but it's a more relaxed and less stressful race overall.

You won't complete Asphalt 9: Legends' career mode too quickly. After all, Rome wasn't built in a day.
Finally, it's my pleasure to say that online play for up to eight players at once runs well. You get notices of poor connections, including your own, but overall, races don't become frustrating messes because of this. Playing online, participating in races, and finishing races results in earning trophies towards unlocking card booster packs, which randomly dole out car blueprints, import parts to upgrade your vehicles's performances, money, and more.

One thing to consider about online is that yes, there is some pay-to-win stuff going on here, as well as those who spend lots of time with the game having greater cars to work with. This is particularly apparent as you increase your rank and enter higher racing leagues where the amount of cars you're limited to use lessens. However, being at higher racing leagues gives you great rewards when each placement period ends, which is generally a week's time. Still, having uneven races where one player or group of players can leave all the others eating their collective exhaust does happen more often than I would like to see.

Asphalt 9: Legends wasn't a game I ever devoted long stretches of time to, as it's not really a game built for that due to its various roadblocks and barriers to progression. Sure, paying money to get new cars and credits is a fast way to crash through such barriers, but I preferred a slower pace and several bite-sized sessions over the course of these past few weeks rather than enduring multiple hour-long plays. Asphalt 9: Legends brought enough entertaining last-second victories, killer knockdowns of other racers, and insane stunts such as dizzying barrel rolls and 360 degree spins that it kept my attention for much longer than some full-priced sixty dollar games. If you can deal with its free-to-play model of monetization and various premium currencies meant to slow down your progress, then Asphalt 9: Legends is an arcade-style racer that is an especially smooth ride on the Switch.

[SPC Says: B+]

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