Asphalt Urban GT provided early adopters of Nintendo's DS system with their racing fix, and luckily, while not setting the racing genre alight, does far more right than wrong.
The game, developed by mobile gaming wizards Gameloft, started out life as a showcase title for Nokia's flailing N-Gage phone/console hybrid, offering gamers visuals that the device had promised, but rarely delivered. Gameloft then, sound like the ideal developer to get some good results from the DS, even this early in its life, and while there is currently no real competition, they have done a good job.
Visually the game looks sharp, with pleasantly detailed environments and a fair amount of traffic on the roads - not Burnout levels of traffic, but plenty to cause trouble while playing on a small screen. The framerate is smooth and the better cars have a good sense of speed. If it wasn't for some fairly obvious pop-up and some pretty ugly collision detection with other vehicles, this would certainly be a game to show-off the console's abilities.
Simple is the best way to describe the racing action. Sure, your cars all come with the now seemingly obligatory speed boosts, but there are no fancy crashes and no authentic handling model; this feels very much like a traditional arcade racer. There is a good selection of licensed cars on offer, ranging from the slow but meaty Hummer, to the more desirable Lamborghinis and Jaguars. Differences between them are less discernable than in more recent racing games, but there is still a buzz associated with unlocking new vehicles.
While the game is simple, the major game mode does deliver a pretty good challenge for a handheld game. The Evolution mode features 35 challenges and lets you customise your vehicles along the way. It can't compete with more accomplished console offerings, but there is enough there to keep you coming back for a fair while.
Quick races are available via the Arcade mode, as are cop chases, putting you in the role of copper. Here you task is to pursue the criminals and take them down. Multiplayer races are supported for up to four players, via the use of the consoles WiFi abilities, providing each player has a copy of the game. This is a little disappointing and will certainly limit the chances of you finding any opponents.
The use of the DS's dual screens and Touch Screen technology is pretty minimal. The bottom screen is used to display a map, which lets you know your opponents location and gives you a clear view of what corners are coming up, but won't prove to doubters that the two screens were needed. Touching isn't used at all, with the game only playable using the D-Pad. This is no bad thing, as the game controls fine that way, but again, this game would have worked just as well on the one screen.
Asphalt Urban GT certainly wont be at the top of everyone's "must own" list, but with a fairly limited number of games available for the Nintendo DS, racing fans will find a fair amount to enjoy with this simple arcade racer. We will cover the game in more detail when the Nintendo DS finally gets a European release.