A quality mobile racer at annoyingly mobile prices.

Buckle up, buttercup—this is going to be a bumpy ride.

No, really, if you leave the rumble setting on there are plenty of bumps, jumps, and engine revving moments to give your Switch a buzz. Asphalt 9: Legends (we’ll just call it Asphalt 9 from now on) is the latest installation in Gameloft’s series of arcade racers, and it now has the added benefit of being available for free for the Nintendo Switch. Before you get too happy about the free part, understand that there are enough in-app-purchase items to make racing game enthusiasts a bit wary.

I fully get the model where you can play for free and spend some real world money to buy in-game coin to purchase upgrades and extras; developers and programmers need to pay the bills, too. The problem I have is that there are plenty of good games out there where you have access to everything—you just have to play long enough and well enough to level up in the game. When a freemium game offers a “Best Value” for $99.99, it makes me wonder, “What kind of value is this game, really?” Let’s see if we can find out.

One other issue to note is network connectivity. If the game can’t synch up with the network, you get a lovely error message: Network Status – Not Synching. Until this issue resolves itself, no racing for you. I had this happen a few times, but the issue did fix itself in a minute or two. This is a bit disappointing, but not unheard of when so many games need to be connected to play. There is actually one very good reason for Asphalt 9 to need to synch up with the net: lovely multi-player mode.

In Asphalt 9 you can race three of your friends…and laugh at them when you sideswipe them right off the track (not that I would do that kind of thing…wink, wink).

Let’s get to the look and feel of Asphalt 9. The rendering of the vehicles and the backgrounds is pretty good. The animation for the boost/nitrous burn lends a nice feeling of speed. You even get some good plasma glow effects on your car. It isn’t realistic, but with a game like this a little fantasy helps.

The Asphalt games have been ported for console, mobile, and now the Nintendo Switch, and each platform has had different control needs. With this Switch version you can use any of a number of control styles. If you like the old iOS version, you can select the mobile controls where the game will accelerate and corner for you. Your job here is simply to tell the game when to use the nitrous boost and when to take the left path or right path (swipe or tap the screen). This is a pretty stripped-down way to play the game, but it may be a good option for some gamers.

You can also use a more manual Joy-Con control where you get to use the joystick to steer (this can be a bit touchy) and other buttons to accelerate, brake, use nitrous, etc. The option I like is Joy-Con: Tilt to Steer. This lets you use the entire  controller (or Switch, in handheld mode) like a steering wheel while leaving all the buttons at your disposal. You can set the steering sensitivity in the settings area for any mode, but the tilt to steer gives you the most leeway with range of motion and response.

There are several levels in the Career races, each with a few courses, so you can stay busy racing for quite a while. Another benefit of the course set up is you have more than one path as a valid option. Each path has its own set of bends, obstacles, ramps, and the like. Racing a course more than once will not only help you learn the course and improve your time, but you can race different paths along the same stage and experience a different race with each new path. For instance, if you bear right you get some hills and bends, but if you bear left you get a barrel roll jump; so, you can mix it up and have a lot of fun. The segments of this race game are often like a mix of rally stages, grand prix courses, and bumper cars.

By the way, when you crash, you will get some spectacular damage and crash footage before the game resets your car and lets you continue the race.

If this isn’t enough, you can double tap the ZL and do a 360. This will not only be a cool stunt, but it has the added benefit of knocking any adjacent racers sideways. As you use all of these tools of the trade to win races, you earn “blueprints.” As you earn enough blueprints you get to unlock new cars to use in your races. Each car will have a slightly different profile of power, handling, acceleration, etc. You get to start with a Mitsubishi Lancer, and as you progress you get to add some fun vehicles from, BMW, Ferrari, Lamborghini, Bugatti, and the like. Different tracks and different mixes of opponents call for a different car from your stable.

There is one other annoyance with this game, and that is the cool-down timer. You can run only so many races before you are “out of gas” and need to either spend real money on more fuel or wait until enough time passes to consider your car “refueled.” This is another aspect of the freemium situation which is not what I want in a Switch game. On the other hand, it can be a good way to limit your game play time.