Asphalt 9: Legends Review | Free to Race

I was 50 hours into my playthrough of a particularly long RPG when I decided that I needed a change of pace. A different game to cleanse my palate after so many hours of shouting and sneaking. But, not knowing what I wanted, I opened the Nintendo eShop to partake in my second favorite activity on the Nintendo Switch: mindlessly scrolling through the eShop's endless game catalog. I was several minutes into my deep dive, having added several interesting games to my wish list to play at a later date, when I came across a name I hadn't seen in years. Asphalt. If you had an iPod Touch back in the day, you knew how cool it felt to play Asphalt at school. Getting in a quick race under the desk before third period was almost as exhilarating as a real street race. But it has been a long time since I last played an Asphalt game, so how exactly does a long-standing mobile racing franchise make the jump onto the Switch?

Asphalt 9: Legends has you racing across a variety of different maps strung together into events that will net you credits and blueprints. While the game's Career mode doesn't have the campaign found in games like Need for Speed, it still offers challenges per track that will have you drive with more than just winning on your mind. For a free to play game there is a lot of content packed into Asphalt 9. The game has 1,572 flags to be earned in the career mode, an online multiplayer mode, 4 player split-screen, and more. Special events allow you to use your tokens to race high-end exotic cars like the Lamborghini Terzo Millennio. And there are daily events that let you race to unlock packs and blueprints.

If you've never played an Asphalt game before, the best way to describe it is a combination of Forza and MarioKart. This unusual formula, while uninteresting to some, is more polished than ever in Asphalt 9. The game boasts a sizable roster of licensed cars that control uniquely based on their design and, while I am not nearly knowledgeable enough about cars to know if the game has an accurate representation of downforce, I can hazard a guess that a game where you can blast your opponents away with a well-timed nitrous boost isn't focusing on an entirely grounded driving experience. This all-out arcade experience is incredibly fun and more than once I found myself tightly gripping my Joy-Cons and woo-hoo-ing at some logic-defying stunt I had just performed.

GameLoft has a history of pushing mobile devices to their limits in terms of graphical output and with Asphalt 9 they show no signs of fatigue as they barrel roll onto Nintendo's hybrid console. Legends is one of the best looking games I've played on the Switch. Both in handheld and docked this game is visually stunning, from crumbling bridges to frozen lakes, the race tracks offer a good amount of visual variety. Colors in the game pop with bright purple shields bursting over your car with every nitrous wave and vibrant blue arrows signaling turns of the winding tracks. While there is no simulated damage for small bumps and scrapes, take-downs in the Asphalt 9 cue a camera angle that shows an opponent's car falling apart with surprising detail, with doors coming off their hinges and windows shattering. Like most racing titles of this vein, destructible obstacles are scattered across the tracks in the form of light poles and bus stops. Traffic can occasionally be seen on the map but none of it can really stop you and it's mostly added to help boost your nitrous bar. To fully showcase all this, Asphalt has minimal UI during races so you can see as much of the color and destruction as possible at any given moment.

When it comes to sound, Asphalt 9 hits it out of the park. While the cars may not engage the hardcore Gran Turismo players, they still sound real enough to make the races engaging. The game is also accompanied by a perfectly curated soundtrack that will amp you up for at least two and a half hours. It was only after I had heard "Legend" by The Score for the hundredth time that I resorted to muting the game and listening to my own playlist of music much like I did when I was a kid playing Need For Speed: Most Wanted. But for the first few hours I was vigorously bobbing my head to the beats of "Nock Em" by Bossfight and "Freeze Me" by Death From Above 1979. I honestly can't stress enough how surprised I was at the game's tracklist and how often I told myself "one more race" just because the music pumped me up so much.

There is one last thing to consider when talking about Asphalt 9 and that is it's free to play design. It's no secret that a lot of free to play games are riddled with gameplay limitations to force the player into spending real currency for in-game bells and whistles. While these in-game purchases are in Asphalt 9, in my 5 hours of playtime, I have not once felt the need to purchase anything. And yes, while I'm sure it's partly because I have an iron will, it's also a credit to the game's design. Each track has a recommended vehicle rank, and if your car is of the right rank, races feel fair. Sure there are close calls even if your car is a little above the suggested number, but races would simply feel unfair if ranks were an arbitrary way to determine a winner.

One of the most obvious forms of gameplay limitations in Asphalt 9 are the tank limits. Each car in the game has a tank limit ranging anywhere from 6 points to 2 points. Every race you do uses one point in the tank and the tank will refill after a certain time. D Class cars will take around 2 minutes to refill whereas C Class cars can take up to 40 minutes. This does make it difficult to play the game continuously for an extended period of time, and while I do wish there was a $20 paid version of the game that plays like a Need for Speed title, the game's current design allows it to be fun in short bursts. I found myself picking up the game every few hours, doing a few races, and carrying on with my day. And since each car has it's own tank limit, I often shuffled between different cars and events which forced me to not just pour all my credits into upgrading one car but spread it out across multiple vehicles. Because of all this, I never found myself wanting to race and not having a car ready to do so. Consequently, my finger never hovered over the purchase button. However, if you fear your trigger finger and worry you'll run your bank account dry from this game, you'll be happy to know that there are options to turn off promotional content and go into offline mode.

All that was enough for me to give this game a positive review. I was already planning my conclusion when I decided to hop on for one more race (purely for research purposes) when I got a pop-up message from the developers that read: 

"Dear Player. In this trying time, we are offering everyone some awesome gits and special multiplayer series in the coming weeks so you can disconnect and relax for a while. Stay safe. -The Asphalt Team"

This message was followed by a pack opening that immediately unlocked a Dodge Viper ACR (rare), a Ferrari F12tdf (epic), and a McLaren P1 (epic) along with 750 tokens to spend on special unlocks. I want to make it very clear that this hasn't affected or skewed my judgment regarding the game whatsoever. In fact, as of writing this review, I have only done three races with the aforementioned cars. I much prefer my souped-up BMW Z4 LCI E89 and Nissan 370Z Nismo. I was enjoying this game enough as is to recommend it outright. And the only possible reason I could see for not playing it is if you don't like racing games or you don't have enough storage on your Switch. So, I mention this kind gesture to say that if you're considering playing the game, now is a better time than ever to start. With such nice cars on the table, even if you don't like the grind from the bottom up, you'll still enjoy tearing across the tracks in sleek supercars without spending a dime.

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