I'll be honest, when I first got Asphalt 3D, I thought to myself, "Is the racing genre really going to benefit from 3D?" I shouldn't have worried. Asphalt 3D is a fun little racer that is better not just for the 3D, but for the increased graphical processing capabilities of the 3DS. As much as something like Nintendogs shows off what the 3DS can do, Asphalt achieves much the same goal, but is a heck of a lot more fun.
Asphalt 3D doesn't offer much in the way of story. In fact, it offers none. Instead of a plot, you enter into various racing divisions. Each one offers four standard races and a bonus race for when you finish the first four. Getting through the basic ones are mandatory for getting to the next division. The bonus is not, but you'll want to play it anyway, as you'll get more money and experience. Money allows you to buy upgrades and new cars (as well as motorbikes and motorcycles). Experience unlocks new parts, new vehicles, and new sponsors. You can choose one company to be your sponsor at any given time, and they impart different bonuses, such as stat boosts, or extra money for winning, and so on.
There are a few different categories of races, and not all of them appear in every division. The most basic is the standard race, and usually the only requirement there is to finish first (or, sometimes in the top three, but it's always better to finish first). If that sounds too simple, all races have two bonus criteria, and meeting them grants you additional experience and money. Sometimes it's something as simple as not crashing into any cars during the race, which is something you'd be trying to do anyway, as crashing into cars gives you a time penalty and deducts money from your total. This can be frustrating as you speed down a street, only to collide with a car you didn't even see just before getting to the finish line. Some other bonus criteria are more creative and difficult to achieve, such as getting 75% of the power-ups in every lap.
All the tracks are rife with power-ups, big circular icons that stand up in the middle of the street, just begging you to hit them. Some of them give you money, others repair damage, and a third set boost your nitrous tank. You can use up to three nitrous bursts in a row, or you can hoard it until your meter is full and go into "hyperspeed," where the world around you blurs as you blast down the track, which is especially good for getting a lead on your fellow racers. Another good way to do this is to take shortcuts, which are conveniently marked on the track map that appears on the bottom screen of the game.
The other categories of races range from inspired to aggravating. On the plus side are modes like takedown, where you stalk and destroy a pack of upstart street racers. The worst are modes that make you accumulate a certain amount of cash or drifting points. Usually the amounts they want aren't something you can achieve in a single race, and the only way I've found to complete those races are to stop, turn around, head back up the track, and go down it again before getting to the finish line. It's time consuming and pointless. Even later in the game, when I had some seriously souped up cars, I had to resort to this cheat in order to advance.
Those of you coming from Gran Turismo will surely scoff at the controls in this game. This game is all about absurd speeds and crazy stunts, so worrying about how closely the car controls feel to the real thing was low on the priority list. Only the worst ranked cars really feel difficult to control. All the rest feel roughly the same, or at least within a tolerable level of variance. One nice thing is that I didn't notice much of a rubber banding effect. If I got several seconds ahead of the pack, I tended to stay that way. Similarly, if I got more than 10 seconds behind the group, I probably wouldn't win even if I took every shortcut and used every shot of nitrous.
One thing Asphalt does really well is that it feels thrilling, something a lot of racing games lack entirely. Part of this is due to the 3D, which does a great job of immersing you in the race. The other comes from the high level of graphics on display, thanks to the upgraded hardware of the 3DS. Even with the 3D turned off Asphalt looks fantastic. The city streets look appropriately detailed, and you can even sneak a peek through the rear windshield of your car to see the car's interior, a nifty little trick.
But all the graphics in the world would mean nothing if the game weren't fun. And luckily, Asphalt has fun to spare. And it's addicting. I kept saying to myself, "One more race!" and before I knew it, the 3DS would be out of battery. Sure, Asphalt 3D isn't the most intricate, most true to life racing game out there, but so what? The game is fun, it looks great, and given the relatively sparse offerings for 3DS launch titles, this one is easy to recommend.