Days of light showers with a slight chance of thunder.
Finding the best way to describe what racing is like in Trackmania DS can be difficult. It’s not so much a port of the PC version of the game as a redesign that better utilizes the DS hardware. Imagine having the ability to race your hotwheels through all the fantasy tracks that you thought up as a kid… but better. Lying somewhere between Race Drivin’ and Stunt Race FX (both SNES), it seeks to fill in the gap left in the spectrum, offering up its unique map editing system and some very original play modes.
[image1]At its heart, this is an arcade racer with elementary school controls. I’m talking as basic as you can possibly get. Gas, brake, honk, reset – that’s about it. But the major problem with the controls is the placement of two reset buttons right above the buttons for go and stop. There were a few times that races were accidentally reset only moments from the finish line and that can be very frustrating as you could imagine. Beyond that, though, the races were short and fun, which is exactly the kind of thing you’d want for a portable, but they also offered up some odd challenges.
The physics makes the car handle like a hover-board. You feel more like you’re floating on top of the terrain than actually gripping it. Though there is a slight variation to the traction depending on what style of car you’re using, it’s very subtle so you may miss it.
The platform challenges are fun, but players with OCD will be driven nuts trying to get through them without falling through a hole in the tracks. It almost feels like you’re trying to rescue a princess or get through a gold ring more than you’re masterfully driving down an obstacle course.
[image2]Graphically, everything is simplistic – like a child’s finger-painting. Backgrounds look like the kind of boards you buy to build model trains on – a basic green and gray or brown with a Lego castle here and there. Corners are jagged and ill-defined, but at least you get to go through loop-de-loops in first-person view wicked fast. There’s also not much variety in vehicle selection with only three different types of cars, each with several unlockable skins.
The track editor is a great addition and makes for an infinite number of courses… in theory. However, the reality has a lot of ups and downs. Your view is stuck at one angle, and there’s a major depth perception issue when it comes to being able to tell if things are higher or lower. Navigating through the menu can be somewhat perplexing, containing only rudimentary pictures of each piece with no sense of scale. Getting the handle on exactly how to create tracks properly can take some time, but if you can figure it out, you might be able to make some cool challenges. Just be aware that it might end in failure.
The puzzle mode that plays off the editor suffers from the same gripes. Not being able to tell if something is relatively higher or lower is hard enough, but when you add the additional task of using only a set number of specific pieces, the flaws of the editing system don’t just shine through, they blind you with sharp, piercing rays. While it is another very unique twist on the racing genre, it’s just not that fun, especially when you could be wasting your time making your own courses instead.
[image3]The lack of effort (or budget?) in the sound department is painfully obvious: A couple clanks for crashes and few horn beeps. The music gets annoying after a while as well. Some of it sounds like an 8-Bit Garth Brooks honky-tonk guitar riff set on an eternal loop. After a while, I just couldn’t take it and turned it off.
While there’s some arcade-style fun to be had with the races, and the create-a-track mode offers up a chance for you to design any kind of race, there is a major lack of depth. It’s the kinds of little problems that, while nothing alone, make a world of difference when they all get stacked on top of each other like so many Tetris blocks leading up to the top of the screen and an inevitable Game Over. You can have a good time with Trackmania DS, but just don’t be looking for anything close to the Gran Turismo experience.