Little Big Racetrack.
A childhood dream: I firmly grasp my shiny toy car between my fingers. It zooms across my pillow, accelerates off my blanket, and swerves onto my desk. It dives into the hallway, running past the bathroom and the towel closet, and leaps onto the armrest of the living room couch. The car runs along the top of the couch cushions, my mother remains focused on folding the laundry, my Siberian husky lazily eying my wild nonsense. My father steps into the kitchen, but by the time he realizes that I have turned the house into my personal racetrack, my car has reached its final destination - the ice cream in the freezer.
[image1]Trackmania DS takes all of your speedy creativity and transforms it into a racer with an impressively in-depth build-your-own-course editor that won’t get you scolded for your makeshift fascinations. A port from the PC version, this pocket-sized speed-fest is all about crafting a course with twisting turns, ramps, speed boosts, traps and hazards, loop-de-loops, and a healthy amount of 3D spatial recognition and planning. And then sharing it with friends, either on the same DS console or over local Wi-Fi.
It’s uncommon for a title, let alone a racer, to focus so thoroughly on its editor that all of its modes are either previews or, in a way, reviews of it. Trackmania DS forces you to take an extremely linear progression that has you earn medals, a la Burnout, in order to unlock the next set of challenges: Race, which are essentially quick time trials; Platform, an Ninja Warrior-esque obstacle course that dares you to complete it in one try; and Puzzle, which tests your ability to connect the start and finish lines using a prefixed set of roads and ramps in the most optimal way possible. On the journey to reach the Expert difficulty level in each mode, you’ll veer from platform to platform in gradually more complicated paths that include road blocks, sideways-standing platforms, and death-defying leaps. Meanwhile, you’ll garner coppers, in-game currency used to unlock new courses, vehicle skins, and set pieces within the free editor.
[image2]All of the modes use the same easy-as-pie driving physics and controls. You accelerate, you brake, you turn, and you can honk your horn - and that’s about it. This probably won’t inspire hardcore racing fans who despair without the ability to drift or manage vehicle specs, but these controls can be picked up by any player, regardless of experience or taste in genre. Depending on whether you’re racing with a car suitable for the Stadium, Desert, or Rally, the sensitivity of the turns and the speed of acceleration will differ. Still, handling your vehicle is as simple as controlling an R/C racecar, if not more so.
Once you dabble in the game’s editor, either on its own or in Puzzle mode, you will soon realize that every track in the Race and Platform modes can potentially be constructed in it, highlighting the flexibility and content of the tools. Of course, you could always use a editor in other games to shape, say, race tracks out of Halo pieces, but here, you finally have an editor designed for racing. The editor uses a drag-and-drop interface that is handy for the stylus and anyone familiar with a three-dimensional modeling program like Maya will have no trouble understanding how the tools work. That said, there isn’t much instruction for those that have little experience with such modeling programs, though most of the controls and widgets are self-explanatory. More tooltip-like text and some method to rotate the field for better depth perception, however, would have made the editor more fluid and manageable.
Uncomplicated and clean, Trackmania DS takes an unconventional approach to the racing genre, emphasizing creation in the same vein as Little Big Planet, its level-building features substituting a full-fledged adventure mode. Suffice it to say, you can be assured that its editor can handle most anything your dreams can conjure up. Look for it to hit store shelves on March 17th.