Maybe I should have known what to expect from Asphalt 9: Legends, with its long history in mobile gaming; mobile devices are where the series got its start if we consider the Nokia N-Gage release of Asphalt Urban GT in 2004 alongside the Nintendo DS release. But then it’s been years since I played a mobile game, so I didn’t realise Gameloft would be in such a race for my wallet. And that’s a shame, because when Asphalt 9 is being a racing game, it’s actually pretty good; but those moments are frequently broken up by flashing ads and pop-ups luring players to swipe their credit cards. Sure, Asphalt 9 is presented as a free-to-play, and I’d probably feel at least a little more forgiving if that was the end of the story; developers have to make money somewhere, right? The plot thickens however when considering that a “Starting Racer Pack” DLC is offered at the price of $19.99, which offers a bunch of goodies to get you started, basically some half decent cars to get you going, along with quantities of in-game currency (of which there are two). What it does not do, is curb any enthusiasm from the game to ask for more money, and that’s what turns this into somewhat of a head on collision.
The racing aspect of Asphalt 9: Legends as alluded to above, is rather enjoyable. To me it feels like a Burnout game with its fast-paced arcade style physics complete with a nitro boost feature and bashing other racers off the road to earn refills; you even get that cool slowdown effect when you manage to eliminate a rival. Drifting around long sweeping bends, hitting ramps and performing barrel rolls is as gleeful as you might expect and I was having a great time showing blatant disregard for any road and traffic law. And then my car ran out of fuel after six races. When that happens you’ll either need to wait for a timer to run out before your gas refills, jump into another car that you might not have spent time and in-game credits on, or of course you can just spend real money and get a refill. This would be fine on a purely free-to-play game on my mobile, I’d be ok with it. I wouldn’t buy it, but I would be ok with it. But this is a game on the Nintendo Switch, a proper console,I just spent $20 on DLC (Full disclosure, DLC code was provided by Gameloft, but you get the point) and I can’t even drive whatever car I want when I want to drive it? This is just one example where you’ll be lured to spend more money. I’m pretty impressed with some of the tactics at play here; there’s some sneaky tricks thrown in right along with shameless cash grabs. Some of it kind of made me feel like taking a shower after a while; there’s literally “best value” deals on in-game currency priced at $100.
When the actual racing resumes, it looks great! We’re not talking Forza Horizon 4 levels of pretty or anything like that, of course, but cars are modelled well and look detailed, objects are clear and there’s a variety of things to crash through. Landscapes are varied and interesting, ranging from drifting around the streets of Tokyo or ripping up the Scottish countryside and everything in between. There’s some great use of effects like seaspray crashing over the track as you whip by a cargo ship, sparks fly everywhere when you scrape against a barrier and you get a great sense of speed when hitting the boost; dust and particles fly all over and performance on the Switch seems pretty solid. I didn’t have the means to test the framerate, it isn’t 60fps but I certainly did not experience any major hiccups and the action remained smooth enough throughout. And hey, do you want to buy some credits and upgrade that car? Asphalt 9 controls well on Nintendo Switch too, offering traditional controls you’d expect on a console racer along with both gyro or tilt steering and touch screen controls. All work perfectly well but I prefer the usual controller type setup; the lack of analog triggers doesn’t feel like a big problem here, this isn’t the most demanding racer in terms of skill. As long as your car is ranked high enough, rank being a number given to indicate how tough the rival racers will be. So how about buying those credits?
Ok, here’s the bottom line – Asphalt 9: Legends is fun. It is not big or clever, it’s not hugely challenging and it certainly isn’t a realistic racing sim; but fun? Yes, sure can be. The problem is that the fun parts are too short lived in between things trying to coax money from the player. While there are a lot of tracks to drive around, races are over quickly and then it’s back to wading through screens offering more opportunities to spend real money. While it is possible to get through the game without spending money, if you have the patience and willing to put the time into it, that’ll be a grind further breaking up the enjoyment of the arcade racing shenanigans. Oh, you ran out of gas again, spend money or go do something else for 15 minutes. If that $20 DLC eliminated a chunk of the microtransaction stuff, I’d forgive it still slipping in the odd bit of bait here and there.
Really I think a better look would have been to keep the mobile version packed full of “give money” lures if you want, but maybe charge something like $30 for the console version of Asphalt 9: Legends; change up the way credits and upgrades are rewarded and turn off all of the microtransactions. Under those conditions, this would be a competent arcade racer, not the final word in driving games by any means but certainly enjoyable. As things are, Asphalt 9 gets off to a good start but then runs out of gas. Wanna buy some credits, Asphalt?
Asphalt 9: Legends
A fun game at its core but can’t decide if it’s an arcade racer broken up with commercials, or a commercial broken up by an arcade racer.