Developer: Firebrand Games
Release Date: March 17, 2009
I'll admit that I was a bit apprehensive about the idea of porting the PC racer Trackmania to the DS of all systems. I mean, it's not exactly the system that you think of when it comes to popular racing titles — or racers at all, for that manner. Sure, it has Mario Kart, but really, that's about it. Imagine my surprise then, to learn just after an hour of two of playtime, that Trackmania might actually be the best racer on the system, and one that gamers shouldn't miss.
We'll start off with the visuals, which are surprisingly effective on the small screen. Trackmania DS doesn't eschew the 3-D visuals of the PC title for something in the 2-D realm. Instead, it does a pretty accurate job of porting things over, with a pretty incredible job of capturing the draw distance needed to accurately portray the over-the-top tracks for which the game is already known. The cars, while limited in overall count, are well-represented too, and although things look a bit pixelated at times, the game animates well and the frame rate remains high throughout, both important factors in keeping your racing experience nice and smooth.
There are desert, open wheel and rally vehicles to choose from, each with a corresponding track type. Along with that, there are three modes brought over from the PC version of game, including Puzzle, Platform, and the basic Time Trial races. There's still the appeal of gaining gold, silver and bronze medals, along with a track editor that allows you to store up to 60 different tracks on the cartridge. The only real big draw that's missing in this DS port is the online portion of the title, which admittedly does hurt, since it's difficult to share your various track designs with anyone except through your regular local Wi-Fi connection. Along with sharing your creations, you can also opt for some two-player action through local Wi-Fi connections, but there's absolutely no online mode here, and that hurts it a bit.
There's still a lot to enjoy with this version of Trackmania, especially considering the limitations of the DS. You're not shoehorned into using the stylus controls; your basic controls are handled with the A and B buttons and the d-pad, with a few menu options making use of the other face buttons. In the track editor, there's a shop menu that allows you to use in-game currency to pick up different pieces, skins and other options to further customize your experience. Of course, the track editor lacks certain details available in the PC version, and it is occasionally difficult to make out depth distance, but it's pretty fun to play around with and see what kind of crazy ideas you can come up with.
The Time Trial mode still contains all of the various wacky designs you've come to expect from Trackmania, including the loops, half-pipes and other oddball placements. The Puzzle mode remains largely the same, requiring the player to place different sections of the track in certain spots in an attempt to hit that sweet spot and achieve the gold medal time standing. Platform mode doesn't make the transition quite as well, mostly due to the small screen and how difficult it is to see exactly where you need to land without some trial and error involved, but it's still nice to see it included, and it's worth checking out for a bit.
Trackmania is a game that's all about besting your previous score and attempting to get a gold medal on every available track, and the developers absolutely know this. It's simple enough to back out to a previous checkpoint or even an entire stage, allowing the player to start over to get the best time or quickly go back to fix a previous flub. The load times are nearly nonexistent (as they should be on a cartridge), so it's not frustrating or annoying to go back and try again, which really keeps up the addictive nature of the core gameplay.
It also helps that the controls are really responsive, and it's a great pick-up-and play title for just about everyone, capturing an arcade racing style on the DS that I haven't seen on the system up to this point. There's a great sense of speed when you hit the open straights of a track; combine that with the off-the-wall designs of certain areas, and you have a pretty unique experience on the system. This is definitely a racer that anyone of any age can pick up and understand almost instantly, and it's a great fit for the Nintendo handheld. While you'll definitely be traveling at nearly 60 frames per second for the majority of the game, it's also fairly easy to keep your car on the track and away from obstacles and walls. That's not to say that game is mind-numbingly easy; the challenge comes more in the form of hitting that goal time, mind you, but it's definitely accessible to just about everyone.
I'd definitely suggest Trackmania DS to anyone who was or is a fan of the PC title, and while the developers haven't managed to bring over every single detail to this handheld port, they've managed to really capture the essence of Trackmania to provide a great portable method of getting your fix. If you've never played Trackmania before, then Trackmania DS is absolutely worth checking out. Any Trackmania vet knows that this title is worth picking up, but I'd highly encourage any racing fan to also give it a go.
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