TrackMania DS (DS) review
"The DS version doesn’t do a very good job at selling itself. More on that later, though, because while at first I suspected that Trackmania was going to be collecting dust on my shelf alongside Trace Memory and Lost in Blue, I have found myself playing it every night without fail."
I think Jason had some reservations about sending me Trackmania DS. My email with him went something like this:
Jason: So I’ve got Trackmania... I need someone who’s serious about racing games.
Me: “Ooooh, I’ll review Trackmania! I’ve played tons of racing games, like Mario Kart and Excite Truck!”
Okay, so my racing experience is limited. Probably the most serious racer I’ve played is Rad Racer back on the NES. Nonetheless, Jason took the chance and sent me Trackmania, and now I’m going to do my damnedest to give it the review it deserves.
That said, my first impressions of Trackmania were poor. The DS version doesn’t do a very good job at selling itself. More on that later, though, because while at first I suspected that Trackmania was going to be collecting dust on my shelf alongside Trace Memory and Lost in Blue, I have found myself playing it every night without fail.
You use one button in Trackmania and that is the “A” button, the ubiquitous GO button. There is a brake button, as well, but that’s for pansies and losers. The point of the game is to go fast, and any gamer in his right mind will be happy to oblige. The other cars are merely ghosts, so you don’t have to worry about collision, and if you mess up, you can instantly restart the race, so you just keep going until you’ve scored the best time.
That’s just the basics, though. There are three different locations for races, each using a different vehicle and different style of racing. The Stadium tracks are by far my favorite, with their emphasis on crazy stunts and high-speed straight-aways. You’ll be encountering crazy loops and side-walls, which you’ll speed over in a classic racer, catching some major air in the process. In comparison, the truck you ride through the Desert stages is slow, but has the best handling, which is needed when you’re navigating the tight corners of the elevated desert tracks (which someone conveniently forgot to put guard-rails on). Head on over to the Rally courses and find yourself in an approximation of Scotland, replete with hill-bound castles. The car you race across the turrets and drawbridges has terrible steering, but is a drift-monster which allows the best player to never let go of the acceleration.
The variety of approach in the racing mode is impressive, but that wasn’t enough for Firebrand Games. There’s a couple other modes of play as well. In platforming mode, you’ll be thrown onto devious courses involving pitfalls and nearly impossible jumps. Here you’re not scored on time but simply on being able to finish the stage with as few retries as possible (checkpoints are strewn liberally around the stage to keep you from chucking your DS across the room). Don’t think you can go slow, though. If you’re going to make those 100 foot jumps, you’re gonna need speed, baby! Then there’s puzzle mode, which presents you with an unfinished track and, giving you a limited number of track pieces, tells you to finish the track in such a way that you not only pass through all the checkpoints, but can achieve the target time while doing so. This mode combines your racing skills with using the editor.
That’s right, there’s a level editor which, as I understand it, is one of the selling points of the Trackmania series. Unfortunately, it’s not one of the selling points of the DS version. Though the “drag and drop” system uses the touch screen very well, it’s extremely difficult to tell which height your pieces are at, or when they are connected to another track piece. Some kind of “clicking” noise would’ve been helpful in noting when pieces were attached. A tutorial would also have been appreciated. Instead, you’re just tossed in to editor with little or no explanation of how the pieces work or any examples of how to best utilize them. With just a few additions or changes in approach, it could have worked fine, and this brings me back to the whole “selling itself” issue I mentioned at the start of the review.
Every aspect of gameplay, while fun, has some small issue which hurts it. For instance, I love the challenge of trying to make the jumps in Platform mode. What I don’t like so much are the graphical glitches that make it impossible to see where the jumps begin, or block my vision at a critical moment. Another example: Race mode is nicely paced, with you whipping around corners as fast as possible to try to stay ahead of the ghosts. But every so often, the track criss-crosses so badly that you can’t tell where you’re supposed to go and you watch dejectedly as the ghosts rush ahead, full of the confidence of an A.I.
A map might have been nice, guys.
Most of these issues stem from the fact that this is a DS port of a PC game. Coming to a smaller system brings with it a smaller screen and plane of vision. The port also suffers from a lack of online capabilities, greatly limiting the multiplayer applications. From what I understand from talking to long-time fans, one of the best things about Trackmania for the PC is the ability to download other people’s tracks and compare your times on a leaderboard. In this version, you can only connect to other DS’ that are in the room, or trade off playing with a friend on a single DS, showcasing Nintendo’s usual blasé attitude concerning online services.
Forget all that, though. Trackmania DS is an awesome game whether you're a newbie racer or a veteran behind the wheel. It captures the best of both casual and deep gaming and it does so on a handheld system. Most levels take about 20 seconds, so you can pick it up during a bus ride and get right into some good engaging races, trick jumps, or puzzles. Or, if riding buses isn’t your thing, you can play in bed till 2:00 in the morning, like I do.
Freelance review by Jonathan Stark (March 05, 2009)
Zipp has spent most of his life standing in an open field west of a white house, with a boarded front door. There is a small mailbox there. Sometimes he writes reviews and puts them in the mailbox.
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