An exotic car that fits directly in your pocket.
While big brother consoles have always been a great playground for the driving genre, handhelds have struggled to qualify. This is especially true for Nintendo’s touch-happy DS. Outside of the obvious standouts such as Mario Kart, the system isn’t known for its large library of technical racers. Which is why I was surprised to learn that Ferrari Challenge, outside of a few setbacks, is actually a well delivered simulation for the quirky handheld.
The first thing that stands out is just how good the game actually looks. Being a DS title you are always expecting blocky lines and textures when rendering realistic objects, but Ferrari manages to look astonishingly good. Car models are easy to decipher from each other and the environments themselves manage to feel fresh from track to track. There are a couple of annoyances such as problematic collision detection and sharp edges on some areas, but on a whole the game looks and runs smoother than most games that attempt to mimic their console counterpart.
When you begin the game you are thrown into a training mode of sorts that actually ends up being one of the most enjoyable parts of the experience. Here you will learn each and every nuance about driving these exotic machines and are awarded points depending on how well you do in each. This meta-game actually becomes quite addictive, evocative of high-score chasing from the arcade days. The tutorial mode is a must because once you dive into the core game, all of these aids will vanish leaving you holding the bag if you didn’t pay attention. It is nice to see so much effort put into familiarizing the players with the mechanics of the game, especially since they are so imperative to success here.
The training mode will prepare you for racing the single-player affair and believe me, you will need it. Unlike most other DS titles Ferrari Challenge relies on its laurels and forces you to implement every trick you have learned in training in order to win. Winning races here is very satisfying and this is one of the few titles that actually rewards you for learning how to play it. There is also a card-inspired mini-game where you take cards won by completing training lessons and matching them against the computer. Honestly this mode, while novel, feels entirely wasteful. It is entirely a game of chance and adds nothing to the overall experience.
Outside of the Championship Mode you also have the aforementioned card mini-game as well as your standard quick race that allows you to race any car on any track you have unlocked. There is also a multi-player mode that allows up to four players to tear up the track via WiFi. Unfortunately this is only local and not online, but it does manage to use game sharing. You can share the game with up to three other players; the downside is that you can only race two tracks. Complete lack of any online support is a disappointment to say the least. Online leaderboards, card trading and of course online would have gone a long way to extend the life of this title.
Ferrari Challenge: Trofeo Pirelli is a solid racing game with a few disappointing omissions that keep it from being great. The graphics are inspiring, the racing is enjoyable and the tutorial meta-game is addictive. With online play and a few other tweaks this series has a chance to become one of the better racing games on Nintendo’s handheld. As it stands it is definitely worth checking out for fans of the genre.