Hungry Dragon can be considered a spiritual sequel to the Hungry Shark series, and takes the action to the air where instead of fish, you consume birds.
Asphalt 9: Legends is about to release in India. Gameloft was kind enough to provide us early access codes, and we passed through the pre-registration from the official site as well. Those who were a part of the pre-registration program, which lasted for about a month, got some unique rewards, but nothing game breaking. There is a fun new interface, the racing modes distilled down to tracks, and some cops are thrown into the mix as well. Overall, it is a fun title, with top notch graphics, and is only bound to get better with regular updates. There is a competitive aspect to the multiplayer, and a guild of sorts, both of which increase the addictiveness of the title. The game is not even launched in India yet, but hopefully Gameloft pushes out plenty of additional content to keep its audience engaged. That is substance of it, but you are probably here for the details, so, let’s get this show on the road.
Asphalt 9: Legends has an interface and gameplay overhaul, which makes it look and play like a pretty different beast as compared to the previous titles in the series. Essentially you drive through a variety of tracks from across the world, with a bunch of really cool cars, and collect rewards in the form of tokens and coins. Tokens can be considered the premium currency, as it is rarer. Coins can be gathered for doing all kinds of things while racing – taking down opponents, performing stunts, drifting, destroying stuff in the scenery, jumping on ramps and so on.
Once you start up the game, you are put right onto a brand new track in Rome with a tutorial for the touchdrive mode. This is a control option that makes the racing game feel like Agent Dash – or like… Temple Run. If there are two paths ahead, there are on screen icons, and you swipe left or right depending on where you want to go. This could be between choosing two routes, going for a pickup, or opting for a ramp to refill the nitro meter. The touchdrive mode is incredibly fun, but makes the game much more easier than it should be. In the control options, you can adjust the swipe sensitivity of the touch to steer mode. The other control options are tap to steer, and tilt to steer. The on screen steering wheel in Asphalt 8 and Asphalt 7 have been ditched in Asphalt 9, and to be frank, we don’t really miss it.
There are multiple ways to nitro boost. A perfect boost involves using up a portion of the bar, and then hitting the nitro button again just when the meter hits the blue portion. After the initial boost is possible to get an additional spurt at any time, whether or not the nitro meter is in the blue portion. In this case, the bar turns orange. When the nitro bar is full, double tapping on the right of the screen puts you into the shockwave mode that gives an incredible burst of speed. This is the “pulse” that is reminiscent of the previous titles. The nitro bar fills up after certain actions – stunts, drifting, airtime or taking down other racers. The simplest way to refill the nitro bar is double tapping on the left side of the screen, which makes the vehicle perform an instant 360 degree turn. Three times, and you are good to shockwave.
There has been some fine tuning to the gameplay that improves the experience considerably. After crashing, the car gets back on the track much quicker, with a significantly sped up crashing animation. The duration for the pickup respawn also has been reduced, which means that you will get that nitro tank even if you are shadowing an opponent. Now, you don’t need to move out of the way to get an alternative tank, and lose some speed in the bargain. The tracks themselves are much shorter. You can finish most of the races in well under one minute. This means more races, more rewards, and more dopamine in less time in those coffee breaks. All these tweaks make the game more fun, at the cost of difficulty, but we like how thoroughly thought through they are.
There are three modes in the game – daily events, multiplayer and career. The basic career mode is divided up into seasons. The seasons usually have a theme, such as class D cars, muscle cars, vehicles from a particular brand, or something like tracks in Asia. There are rewards for reaching certain stages in the career, usually a big pile of coin, or some tokens. These rewards can be claimed only once, and replaying your way through a season does not let you win these again. However, racing the same tracks again does give you the usual coin rewards.
In the previous titles of the franchise, there used to be a three star rating given to each track, based on your performance. The factors considered included your final position, and completing various challenges, such as a particular number of stunts or drifting a certain distance. This star system has been done away with in Asphalt 9. Instead, each track simply requires you to finish the race goals, which is typically just a finishing position. Even when there are additional riders, they are incredibly easy, such as 1 second nitro time or 20 metre drift distance.
You get flags instead of stars, and these vary depending on the number of goals per track. The rewards for performing stunts, or drifting distances stack up across multiple tracks, and can be claimed at once after certain milestones. So, if you perform only 2 of the 3 stunts in a track, or drift half the distance, or only have so much airtime, your efforts will still be considered on finishing the track. They will just add towards the next track that you play.
Another change is that you do not need to complete all the requirements of the track in a single race to gain the max number of flags. One playthrough can be for finishing first, and another for drifting the required amount of distance. This new system is very rewarding as none of the effort that you take in any single track is wasted.
There are limited time events, which change every day. Participating in limited time events require race tickets. There are 10 of these to start with, and one or two are consumed in every race. All four daily events can be participated in, with the limited number of tickets available. If the tickets are used, they also regenerate over time. Now there are different kinds of events as well. Rank events are races with different reward tiers. If you are among the top 5, 10 or 20% of the contestants, you get a certain amount of credits, tokens and cards. There are timed events as well, and solo events that you can replay multiple times over to get different kinds of loot. There is a limit to how many times you can get the rewards from a single event though. It is possible to check out the finishing conditions for the solo events to see which kind of reward you will get. It does not matter what tier of car you have in your garage, there will be an event suitable for you. This really is the best way to accumulate tons of rewards.
The multiplayer mode is actually pretty fun. You just pick a car, and enter the lobby. The matchmaking is automatic, and pretty quick, considering 8 other cars of a similar rank are matched. You can take down opponents in a map as well. Racing in multiplayer mode enters you into a league, and you can advance through the different leagues in seasons. Even if you come in last, you still get the usual coins and cards. The multiplayer mode in racing just does not feel as competitive or brutal as some other player vs player genres, such as battle royale, MOBA or MMMORPG titles. The multiplayer mode is just fun, and is very rewarding.
There is a new club system as well. This expands the social aspect of the game. It is essentially a guild. You accumulate reputation points by playing in any of the game modes. These reputation points are counted towards the club milestones. Crossing milestones earns everyone in the club rewards – card packs, tokens or coin. The milestones accumulated reset after a league period is finished. The remaining time in the current league is indicated in a timer on the club menu. There are also a global club leaderboard, and the people in a club can work together to advance the ranking.
Cars and Maps
When it comes to the vehicles themselves, you cannot directly browse through the list and get the vehicle you want. Instead, particular races have rewards for blueprints of vehicles. You need to collect the requisite number of blueprints to unlock every car. This new crafting system makes it much more difficult to work towards the car you want, but does make you experience all the vehicles in the game. The better vehicles require you to collect more blueprint cards. There is a blueprint shop instead of a vehicle shop, where you can get packs of blueprint cards. The premium pack has 3 cards, the classic pack has 2 cards, and the ads pack has one card. The classic pack gives you a free buy every four hours. You can collect up Asphalt tokens through the race rewards, to buy the premium pack in batches of 10, which guarantees cards for rare vehicles. The ads pack lets you watch an ad to get a card, which we think is fair enough, as there are no ads to otherwise interrupt the gaming experience. Some of the ads pushed in free games are not the sort that you can see in public or when you are with family, and thankfully, the ads that Asphalt 9 throws up are related to other games… safe! The ad pack however, does not always give you a card, it can instead give you Asphalt tokens or just some coins.
There is a Legends store which refreshes about once every five hours. You can purchase stacks of blueprint cards for a particular vehicle through this store. This is the best way to get the vehicle you need. The particular blueprints are randomly chosen, and you can refresh them by paying tokens. Some of the cards are available for tokens, while others are available for coin. You can straight up purchase the tokens and coins to speed up your progress through the game, but it does not feel necessary, and this is not a pay to win title.
As usual, there are four tiers of cars, A, B, C and D. Additionally, each vehicle has a ranking based on the base stats and the upgrades applied. Each track has a recommended ranking level for the vehicle. If the vehicle is much below the recommended rank, then the rank shows up in red. If it will just about make it, the rank colour is orange. If the vehicle is ranked above the recommended level, then the ranking shows in green. This serves as an indication of whether or not your vehicle needs an upgrade. There is a max rank to each vehicle, beyond which the vehicle cannot be upgraded. Apart from the usual upgrades which can be purchased with coin, there are special black market parts which drop after completing races. Each part is available in a select number of tracks. As there is no garage, upgrading the cars and giving them a paintjob takes place through the pre race interface.
Even the hygiene tracks such as Shanghai look and feel totally different, and are not the familiar tracks seen in Asphalt 7 and Asphalt 8. Shanghai is one of the few familiar tracks, but the complexity and the ramps have been increased. It is really fun to just fly through all the sharp twists and parallel paths. There are some entirely new environments. San Francisco is always fun in a racing game considering the steep slopes (anyone remember Midtown Madness 2?). Scotland is represented with windmills, lighthouses and derelict monuments. There is even a map for the Himalayas from closer back home, complete with temples, Nepalese flags and terraced fields in the backgrounds. Overall, there are a ton of environments, many different configurations for the same tracks, everything seems new and fresh, even the familiar locations. The various locations are churned into over 70 track configurations.
Right at this moment, Asphalt 8 has far more content than Asphalt 9. This is because vehicles and locations have been added over the years. According to Barbarian_Monkey, the comparison should be an apples to apples one. So yes, at launch, Asphalt 9 has one more car than Asphalt 8 did – 48. If only they had put in at least one bike. And the KTM Roadster with its pleasing, high pitched engine whine. In any case, if Asphalt 8 is anything to go by, the road road ahead for Asphalt 9 looks promising.
Sound and Graphics
The UI overhaul is slick and futuristic. The iOS version does not allow you to fiddle around with the graphics settings, but the Android version does. The environments are rich and detailed, with plenty of stuff to wreck. There are flags waving in the breeze, wisps of smoke, sprays of water from crashing waves, and clouds of dust behind the cars. There are hot air balloons and helicopters in the sky, and you can actually crash into them if you take the wrong ramp. Even though the crashing animations are accelerated, you see a ton of deformations and small pieces of metal and glass flying all over the place. It is just a rush to see the streaks of light and particles every time you pickup an item, takedown an opponent, use a nitro boost or execute a shockwave. The environments are bright, rich, detailed and rendered in HDR. The graphics are straight up console quality. This is attested by none other than Manish “Trigger-Happy” Rajesh. Even Asphalt 8 looks great on a large screen, but Asphalt 9 definitely takes it up a notch.
The sound can be described as a heady mix of electronica, hip hop and rock. It is just the kind of thing to pump you up for the races. There are tracks by renowned artists such as Moby, Bassnecter and MuteMath. There is absolutely no problem here. You can drift away in the music after or before the races, if you so choose.
Asphalt 9: Legends – Verdict
Well, if you enjoyed Asphalt 7 or Asphalt 8, it is a no brainer to download this, especially at the free price point. The graphics are great, the gameplay is considerably enhanced, and it is definitely the most fun Asphalt game so far. We do hope to see an infected mode down the line though. There are not too many vehicles and tracks at the moment, (as compared to Asphalt 8, sorry Shaktiman) but this is merely a teething problem. Asphalt 9: Legends is developed and published by Gameloft, and will be released in India on July 26, 2018. The game will be available on both iOS and Android at launch.
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