The Nintendo DS has arrived, and with it comes a slew of games for the portable dual-screened console. Asphalt Urban GT is a racing title from a developer who’s spent time developing games for other mobile devices (including a slew of cell phone and a few N-Gage titles), so it seems that they’d know best how to contain the power of the DS.

Did they succeed? While the game does have some nice graphics for a handheld, it fails in a few other areas.

At a glance, Asphalt Urban GT looks like a N64 game. This is both a good and bad thing, as the N64 was notorious for blocky textures, low polygon counts, and poor frame rate. While this game doesn’t have all the problems of its distant N64 cousin, that’s the first impression I got while playing this game; that I was playing a portable N64.

Asphalt Urban GT offers 20+ different vehicles and almost a dozen tracks across the world to race them on. Each vehicle looks pretty close to their real life counterpart, albeit a bit more blocky, and real vehicle aficionados will be able to easily recognize their favorite car.

The tracks you race upon are decently detailed, offering lots of scenic views to drive by as you race. Tall buildings tower in the distance, water is seen below as you drive across bridges, and palm trees and other flora and fauna are scattered on either side of the road.

Thankfully, the game offers a real feeling of speed due in part to a locked in 30fps frame rate. Once you get up to speed, the scenery rushes right by and cars going in the other direction practically scream as you pass them. This is especially seen when you inject a bit of nitro into your fuel lines, as your screen will shake, rattle, and roll from the sudden acceleration.

What are the major problems with the graphics? For starters, the world itself is rather blocky and is covered with low detailed textures. Some of the more destructible objects look like they’re flat images instead of solid objects as well. In addition, the bottom screen is only used for menu options and an overhead map, and isn’t used to enhance the gameplay at all.

There’s some noticeable pop-in as well if you’re looking far into the distance. Most of the time your concentration is focused upon what’s nearby, so you don’t tend to notice it, but a couple of the stages are particularly bad as the upcoming roadway just pops into view.

Asphalt Urban GT offers a decent array of sound effects and music for you to listen to as you race around the world. Your engine makes a nice, guttural roar as you floor it, and your wheels squeal as you skid around corners. Cars headed in the opposite direction of you honk their horns in panic as you approach, and the other vehicles on the road each have their own sound effect associated with the engine they have under the hood.

Unfortunately, that’s where all the positives end. In one oddity, every engine for every car you purchase sounds exactly the same. It doesn’t matter if you’re driving a Hummer, a Lamborghini, or a Volkswagen Beetle, the engines all sound alike. It doesn’t make sense considering the amount of engine noises you hear otherwise and the amount of detail the developers otherwise put into the vehicles.

The music is also entirely generic and consists of nothing but a half dozen selectable tracks accessible through the game’s pause menu. Odds are you’ll find a track that sounds best to your ears (or you’ll turn it off entirely), but you’ll never listen to it as your concentration is focused upon far more important matters than a trivial soundtrack.

The controls are simple and easy to get used to in Asphalt Urban GT. Under the default controls, B is gas, Y is brake, A fires off your nitro, and X honks your horn. The pad is your steering, R changes your view, and L allows you to look behind you.

If you find that the default controls aren’t to your liking, I have good news – every button, including the steering controls, can be remapped to anything you want. There’s only one problem – the game oddly enough doesn’t save your modified controls, even though it’ll save anything else you change in the options screen.

Driving will take a bit to get used to, but once you’ve adjusted, you’ll be able to scream around corners with ease.

The touch screen is utterly not used in this game, which comes as a surprise considering it’s one of the DS’s primary features. You’ll be able to touch the occasional menu item if you choose to do so, but it’s far faster to just pick out your selection with the control pad. Why they did this is beyond me, but it’s a strange decision at best.

Upon booting the game (and skipping past the health and warning notices that the console continuously displays), you’re presented with three different game modes: Arcade, Evolution, and Multi-card play.

Arcade is just that – a bunch of arcade modes when you only have the time for a quick race or two. That mode is split up into a series of options: Instant Play, Road challenge, Free Race, Time Attack, and Cop Chase.

Instant Play is for when you don’t want to choose any options at all and just play. The game will give you a random vehicle (and match you up against the same set of vehicles), pick a random track for you to play on, and give you a random game mode (either a straight race, an elimination race, or a Cop Chase).

Road Challenge allows you to select from a class of cars (4×4, Classic, Urban Racers, etc), and the game will pit you against a set of cars from that group. If you win the specified races, you’ll unlock the next set of vehicles. Eventually, you’ll gain access to the true speeders of the game for that mode for some real fun.

Next up is Free Race. Choose a class of cars you’ve unlocked in Road Challenge, pick a course, and you’re off. Nothing really to say here.

Time Attack is just what you expect – pick a car and try to beat your best time on any of the game’s tracks.

Cop Chase is different from the others though. You’ll select only a course, and your goal changes dramatically. You’ll be in a high-powered cruiser (far better than the cars on the course), and your objective is to tailgate seven cars ahead of you for three seconds. You’ll have two minutes to do this, and you’ll gain bonus time each time you ‘arrest’ a vehicle. It’s a fun distraction, but not much else.

The true meat of the game is the Evolution mode. Starting with only a lowly Hummer, you’ll work your way up through the field of vehicles and face every race the game can throw at you. It’s best described as Gran Turismo, as you’ll be able to buy, sell, and upgrade every vehicle you get your hands on. It’s nowhere as detailed though, as the game’s engine isn’t aimed towards realism, but it’ll keep you occupied for a few hours as you complete this quest of sorts.

On the topic of the game’s engine, it’s best described as a semi-arcade racer. Your vehicle’s HP and 0-60 time does make a noticeable difference as far as your acceleration goes, and what tires you have installed affects how much your vehicle slides around corners. On the other hand, you do have a nitrous injector that’ll throw your vehicle forward like KITT could do in Knight Rider.

Where the realism bluntly fails is during vehicle collisions. Not only do you take no damage at all when you smash into a wall or sideswipe another vehicle, but you’ll simply spin out (and retain most of your speed) when you get involved in a head-on collision. However, if you hit another vehicle from behind, it’s like hitting an adamantine wall. You’ll slow down to whatever the other car is going (usually 100-150 mph less than your current), and the other car will not move at all from the impact. Until you swerve around that vehicle, you’re not going anywhere.

I never got involved in Multi-Card play, as due to the lack of multiconsole options with only one game card, I didn’t find anybody else who had the game. According to the developers it supports up to four players, and offers the entire line of Arcade options for players to choose from. Pick a mode, car, and track, and you’re off.

Your $29.99 goes a long way with this title. You’ll get a full featured Arcade mode, multiple ‘instant action’ modes, and a Evolution mode that’ll take some time to finish. Multiplayer is a nice feature, but since everybody will need their own copy, it’ll be hard to find friends to compete against.

To be honest, I wasn’t too impressed with this game when I first picked it up. As time went on though, it somehow grew on me. I wanted to play more and more of what seemed to be such a simple little game. The long lasting Evolution mode and simple ‘pick up and play’ gameplay catered to this.

Overall, Asphalt Urban GT is a well done first generation Nintendo DS game. While it doesn’t use the system’s power to the fullest (no touchscreen usefulness or multiplayer modes without multiple titles), it’s a decent enough game that’s worth your time and money if you’re into the racing genre on the go. Here’s to hoping we see a sequel that takes full advantage of the console in the near future.