What do you get if you toss a bit of racing game in with a touch of the old Excite Bike feel and smother it in a bit a rollercoaster sim? You get Trackmania DS, of course. Admittedly my Nintendo DS has been collecting dust a bit recently. That’s not because there’s anything wrong with it, not at all. I think it’s more of an issue that 2009 is already off to a banging start for gamers world-wide, and that’s a good thing. So, occasionally, certain titles or platforms get ignored for a week or two. When Trackmania DS showed up at the home office I thought it was time to dust off the DS and fire it up.
Now, I am an extreme fan of racing games. Namely because they are some of the few games I can win online a good deal of time. In some of the other genres out there I can’t quite boast that same claim. It stands without saying (though I will say it anyway) that a racing game will always grab my attention when one comes along. Trackmania DS is actually only the second racing title in my library for the Nintendo DS, giving me a break from my little Italian buddy and his karts.
To be fair, though, calling Trackmania DS a “racing” game is a bit of a misnomer. Sure, at the core it’s racing, but it is called “Track” mania for a good reason. I have to admit, the racing aspect of the game is fairly generic. There’s nothing that stands out as fantastic or innovative in those regards. In fact, the lack of precision braking and zero collision factor with other drivers (whom you tend to pass through rather than trade paint with) are actually a bit of a step backwards in the genre. Now I am not certain how well this plays out in multiplayer. That’s one of the pitfalls in being a game reviewer: your multiplayer pickings are slim when the game hasn’t even been released. Yes, the game should be on shelves today, but I still haven’t had the chance to truly dive into the multiplayer aspect of the game.
So, what caught my attention if the racing aspect of the game itself was bland? Let me hark back to my youth where I played a little, old game called Excite Bike on the NES. I remember spending hours customizing my own tracks, albeit 2D tracks at the time. Trackmania DS has rekindled this joy in me. The game truly shines in the ability to build your own ludicrous race tracks in several different environments, well three to be specific. And when I say ludicrous tracks I mean tracks that would make the Wachowski brothers head’s spin.
As mentioned, there are three settings in which races and/or tracks can be used:
• Stadium – A traditional Formula 1 style track using Formula 1 style cars.
• Rally – Somewhere between stock-car racing and off-road… but not quite.
• Desert – Baja style racing with off-road, squirrelly little cars.
Each track style has unique track parts which will directly affect how the race is run out. It goes without saying that, of course, this will also affect your track customizations.
On top of having the three track styles, Trackmania DS also offers three play modes:
• Race – This one’s pretty self explanatory, I think.
• Platform – These are a bit more complex tracks that would be more akin to stunt courses. Finish the track from point A to point B while having to use the reset feature as few times as possible.
• Puzzle – Point A to Point B isn’t complete in this mode. You need to use the track editor to finish the track with a limited number of pieces then complete the track in a race.
Solo racing, which is where most players should start out, offers 4 degrees of difficulty: Practice, Easy, Medium and Hard. However, in the beginning you’ll only have Practice mode available. Each difficulty level requires “unlocking” through the winning of a set amount of gold, silver or bronze medals. You’ll also be using “coppers” currency, which you acquire by completing races on your available tracks by placing at least 3rd place, to purchase new tracks from the 100+ official tracks that ship with the game. When playing against the AI, you can select which opponents to face; Gold, Silver or Bronze. Obviously, the better the opponent you beat the better the reward.
Now, your “coppers” can also be spent buying new skins for your cars and even new blocks for track creation on top of buying new tracks. Shop mode allows you to browse through everything that’s available to you. My only issue was that it seemed like there was a lot of “grinding” just to earn enough currency to start unlocking everything I needed. You may find yourself playing through certain races time and again just to earn enough “coppers” to unlock the blocks and tracks (skins were not high on my priority list).
While I didn’t get to experience the multiplayer aspect to its fullest extent, I can give you the rundown (as I did get a little “Hotseat” action). Multiplayer offers four basic modes:
• Hotseat – Here up to 8 players share a single DS, each aiming for the fastest track time.
• Multi-card Play – Using the DS wireless feature, 2-4 players with their own copies of Trackmania DS can face off in either Time Attack, Rounds, or Championship races.
• Single-card Play – Using the DS Download Play feature, 2-4 players can compete again in multiple race modes
• Data Share – This offers players and owners of Trackmania DS the ability to swap and share custom tracks and data.
It stands to reason that with the virtually unlimited number of tracks that can be created through the track editor, Trackmania DS offers a hell of a lot of replay. I really should press home the fact, though, that the core of Trackmania DS is not its racing mechanics as much as it is the customization feature, at least in my humble opinion. I say this because, again, the racing mechanics are mediocre. It is the customization system where the game shines.
You race. You know, there’s not much really else to say here. Like any sports game there really isn’t a story per se, at least not one to review.
The controls for the racing mechanics could definitely use some fine-tuning. The lack of precision braking (aka- hand-brake) really does make it a bit annoying when it comes to high-speed turns.
The track editor, however, is something that can hold your attention for hours on end. I’d like to hammer this point home because, to me, that is a selling point. Letting the player constantly create new tracks and feel as if they are part of the game’s creation goes a long way when it comes to replayability.
The cars all sound decent. Pretty much on par for what I expected for a DS titles. The music on the other hand was muted as fast as my fingers could fly. Music isn’t a selling point in a sports game, so I think you’ll be fine without it… trust me.
Given the size and scope of some of the courses, the graphics actually shocked me. I was expecting a lot less from Trackmania DS when I first fired the title up. Sure, there’s nothing to really write home about in the way of new or innovative graphics, but the game makes good and full use of the DS’s capability.
For those who are into it, the track building and customization system will keep players going for quite some time. This gives Trackmania DS a decent bang for its buck.
The racing mechanics aren’t very fluid. You’ll either not turn sharp enough or just about flip a 180. It definitely takes some time getting used to. Plus, can I please run into the other car instead of passing through them? I hate racing fair.
Mute the music, especially in the “Rally” mode! Frankly, it was the gaming equivalent to hearing “Achy Breaky Heart”.
Hardcore racing fans might have some issues with the control system. Arcade racing fans will probably enjoy the game a bit more. Gamers who love to toil away hours on their own, personal creations are going to love the game. Depending on what type of fan you are, you can probably judge whether or not Trackmania DS is for you.
Final Vote: 6.5/10