PC gamers are no doubt familiar with the Trackmania series, but until now the game has not had a presence in the handheld scene (at least not in the US). After bouncing from one publisher to the next, Trackmania DS is finally coming stateside thanks to our friends at Atlus. While the game has been available overseas for quite some time this late-to-the-party edition doesn’t offer anything new, but what it does offer is some of the most enjoyable off-the-wall racing the DS has yet to see. Unlike the developer’s previous efforts, Trackmania focuses on more of an arcade racing style complete with loops, corkscrews and an extremely robust track editor that also make it one of the more complete packages available on the system.
Trackmania DS is broken down into three core components, and each one is unique and addictive. The first of course being the traditional race, where you can opt to throw down against a variety of AI ghost data in up to three different vehicle types. This mode comes standard with all driving games, and doesn’t change much here. The second mode employs the track creation tool in a very unique way. In order to finish the race you must complete the track using the in-game editor. Finally we have the platform mode where drivers are forced to navigate some truly deviously designed courses, without falling off the edge. Each of these modes feels different enough to keep the game fresh. With the flood of realism in the genre it is certainly a breath of fresh air to see a game that doesn’t take itself too seriously.
One of the biggest draws to the series when it landed on PC was obviously the track editor. With the DS incarnation you can design your own creations thanks to a pretty slick system, but as you can imagine it has been toned down significantly for the transition to handheld. You can store a substantial amount of tracks onto the cartridge, and you can even share them with your friends, but the downside is the lack of online means you all have to be in the same room to do so. This is easily Trackmania DS’ biggest downfall, and what will likely deter fans of the series from picking up this trimmed down version. No online play is almost a sin at this point in game design, and with the community aspect as important as Trackmania’s, here it is almost criminal.
You can play multi-player with your friends, but again it is only available through local Wi-Fi. Thankfully if you have never played the series there is still enough here to keep you interested. Trackmania employs the old-school design of constantly trying to better your score, which is made easier thanks to the streamlined design of the portable version. Achieving gold medals on all the events will take some dedication, but jumping in and out of events is so smooth (and fun), you won’t find yourself nearly as frustrated when you fail to achieve a goal on the first go around. This is part of the charm the series brings with it, and easily one of the reasons gamers will come back for more, even without online play.
One of my biggest complaints about racing games on the DS is that developers feel the need to implement some sort of touch screen functionality, for the sake of having it. Trackmania DS avoids this by giving you standard controls, which work exactly how you would expect a driving game of this type to function. Everything on the track is handled with just the d-pad and A and B buttons, making navigation around the twists and turns fairly straightforward. Combine this with the fact that everything is extremely responsive and you have a recipe for greatness. The sense of speed when barrel down a straight away is some of the most impressive I have seen on the DS to date.
Visually the game is one of the more impressive displays on the DS. Instead of sacrificing the look of the original game with a 2D re-work, the developers have retained the original look and feel of the game with very positive results. Depth of field was always crucial to the series because of the outlandish track designs, and even on the minimally-powered handheld the draw distance is impressive. Everything also runs at a blistering 60 frames per second, which makes everything look and run smooth as well as increasing the intense sense of speed the game delivers. There are occasions when the game will dip down to 30 frames per second, but it is few and far between.
Not all is right in the world of handheld Trackmania though. Outside of the lack of online play, there are also a number of glitches and problems that will likely come into play during your time with the game. For instance there were often times when I found myself losing valuable seconds during a race thanks to some poor clipping and hit detection. There were also times that not being able to judge my distance on a hill would result in my plummeting to my demise in the platform mode. These minor problems will frustrate from time to time, but never enough to drag you away from the mindless, incessant need to earn all of the gold medals available.
Trackmania DS is a fantastic first effort to port the game to handhelds, and a highly enjoyable racing game to boot. The lack of any online functionality is certainly the biggest drawback, but the slick track editor and unique take on the genre more than make up for it. If you are a fan of racing games, or have always wanted to give this quirky series a whirl, now is the time. You will be amazed at just how well the series has translated onto a portable gaming system, and even more surprised by how much fun it truly can be.