TrackMania DS (DS) review
"The sulky shot soon turned into a toast. I have no idea how the Scots at Firebrand have managed it, but Trackmania DS is a triumph. I canít help feel this may have been to spite me."
Iím a cynic and youíve made me this way, videogame journalism!
Iíve enjoyed the twisting and turning world of Trackmania from the relative safety of my PC for quite a while now, and I dare anyone not to take some enjoyment out of what is essentially the computerised version of running a Scaletrix track thatís been constructed by drunken monkeys armed with dribbling glue guns. Trackmania is about insane loops, demented twists and racecourses lovingly built with sadistic intentions -- itís great because thereís nothing else like it. Thereís a flurry of options, some killer game modes and a thriving mod scene that makes it inexcusably easy to construct your own tracks symbolising your utter hatred of your fellow gamer. If they make it past the second spiralling horizontal corkscrew, youíve failed.
And then came a DS port. I turn immediately to the half bottle of whisky I keep at my computer desk for such occasions, the crippling pessimism crying out for that welcoming numb feeling. If there ever was a game not suited for the DS, it would be Trackmania with its constantly sharp features, outstanding sensation of speeds and complete reliability on a slew of game modes and fan interaction. Seemingly, it couldnít pick a worse platform to stake a claim to.
The sulky shot soon turned into a toast. I have no idea how the Scots at Firebrand have managed it, but Trackmania DS is a triumph. I canít help feel this may have been to spite me.
Fears were immediate averted when simplistic controls were employed leaving the stylus safely locked away -- it has no place anywhere near a racer! You have nothing more than one button makes you go forward, the other tries to slow you, and the d-pad turns. It also includes what is perhaps the seriesí best feature: fall off a track or find yourself in an inopportune position, and with the single press of a button, you can rewind a step or even teleport yourself right back to the start. Handy in races should you find yourself at an impossible angle heading into a towering 360ļ loop-the-loop, but downright vital should you wish to take on the titleís platform or puzzle modes.
Racing is straightforward enough (or would be if your biggest rival was just the cars in your slipstream and not the forest of jump ramps or the checkerboard of holes inconveniently dumped right in the middle of your line) so itís the other two features that dial in the whacky. Platform presents you with a nigh-incompletely achievable track to race in then whips out the stopwatch with a smug grin. Here, you need to time precise stops, judge your carís momentum perfectly and forever spam the respawn button as you time it just wrong anyway and scream off the side into oblivion. Your biggest enemy here is the countdown, but the cupped curving corners, the solitary, narrow platforms, the infuriating missing bits of track and far-off finishing line clearly hate you more. Puzzle mode gives you a starting point, a finish line and a set number of building blocks to have a go at what can only be described as a more interactive Lemmings with four wheel drive and a virtual carbon footprint. Itís up to you where to place those ramps or straights or weird wiggly things before getting behind the wheel and giving your Frankensteinís monster a road test. Quick as you can -- thereís gold medals to be won! Silver is just shinier way of saying loser and doesnít net you the ability to buy as many goodies like custom track parts or new skins.
It even manages to look the part on the handheldís tiny screen. Draw distances are not perfect (sometimes youíll find it hard to figure out the exact angle youíll need approaching an obstacle until youíve mashed your grill right into it) but theyíre completely free of pop-up. The nearly vertical ramps are set against a calming backdrop of fluffy clouds on a clear blue sky, or a simmering sunset peeking over sombre, dusty mountain ranges. The other cars, be them F1-like sprinters or studier sports cars all hustle around you with little signs of slowdown or clipping. The detail pressed into their game by Firebrand, their dedication to make their game work on a handheld, is commendable.
An obligatory track creator has to be provided in any Trackmania title and DS is no different. No one would expect the struggling handheld to be able to stand toe-to-toe with itís bigger PC brother, but despite my hours of tinkering, itís just not possible to be as completely sadistic as I could be at the desktop, and itís all a lot of fiddly tapping and dragging which often ends up something completely different to where I wanted it in the first place. Itís hard to gauge some things like the sharper corners or the height once you build above a certain level, and, even when you do start kicking out tracks youíre proud of, you can store no more than sixty. You can only save to the DS cart, too, meaning that sharing these tracks or obtaining those made by others can only be done locally. This doesnít only handicap your homemade racecourses, but the multiplayer options, too.
Online gaming was such a big part of the Trackmania I already know and love that playing without it is a bit like being given a helicopter for your birthday but then told youíre only allowed to sit in the cockpit and make running engine noises to yourself.
So youíre left, mostly, to your own devices, and thatís a shame, but thereís already so much in Trackmania DS thatís exceeded my limited expectations that it seems unfair to dwell too long on its only real hiccup. Iím what you might call cynical, Iím a real glass half empty kind of guy, and I knew I was going to hate this port the second I heard it was in development.
Iíd refute my claim, but Iím far too busy trying to get the last few gold medals in Platform mode. Itís 4am and sleep can be damned if Iím going to let this game beat me. Trackmania DS will surprise you too, if you let it.
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