In the genre of hardcore arcade racing games, you can’t more niche than TrackMania. The games are well known for their highly competitive gameplay, not to mention their controversial and potentially invasive DRM. With a handful of titles on the PC TrackMania has amassed a considerable fanbase, full of skilled racers who go head to head in the online leaderboards. But all of this history pertains to the PC games; does TrackMania translate well to the DS?
That depends on how serious of a TrackMania fan you are, and what you consider to be the core of the experience. The games have first and foremost been about beating the clock, getting insane time records and completing the Platform and Puzzle courses. If this is what you’re looking for then TrackMania DS has it, but I have a feeling that for most players, it will simultaneously be too much and too little.
Confused yet? I apologize, and I admit that TMDS had me befuddled for a while too. For weeks I wasn’t sure what audience this game was aiming for. TMDS has the series’ hallmark gameplay, but it might not be deep enough for hardcore fans and also hard for casual gamers to get into.
If you are a TrackMania fan looking for the most basic experience, then TMDS will more than satisfy you. The standard race mode is available in three flavors: stadium, desert and rally. Stadium is played in an F1 Dragster that reaches impressive speeds but doesn’t turn well, so managing your speed and braking at the right time are essential. Desert has you driving beat-up hotrods that corner like crazy, so the focus is split-second hairpin turns. In rally you drive a small twitchy car that resembles a Mini-Cooper, and the gothic European tracks force you to maintain your speed while balancing it with careful maneuverability.
Each race can be played for a bronze, silver or gold medal, and if you think you’re good enough you can race all three competitors and earn all of a race’s medals at once. For each environment there are difficulty settings, ranging from Practice to Extreme, and each difficulty must be unlocked in sequence by winning medals. It’s all very logical, but the practice mode is challenging enough, so getting to the meat of the game takes a lot of time and patience.
In addition to the main race are the staple Puzzle and Platform modes. Puzzle sets you up in a track editor and requires you to construct a track that gives you the best time with the limited tiles available. Platform consists of tricky tracks with holes, jumps and pits that challenge your ability to stay on the course. Both of these modes have ascending difficulties as well. The final mode, Quick Race, selects a random track for you.
The game includes a track editor, another standard TrackMania feature. The interface takes a while to get used to but the stylus does surprisingly well at mimicking a mouse, and even lets you trace a track by simply drawing on the field. The editor lets you make tracks from each type of terrain and includes all of the esoteric tiles you find in the main game.
The problem with all of these modes is that they aren’t very accessible overall. Each one requires that you unlock a large amount of content, and even though Puzzle and Platform are easy to unlock they still aren’t available from the start. Most of the editor’s tiles need to be purchased, and so do the later tracks for each terrain. New skins for each car type can also be bought, but all of these not-so-extra extras cost a hefty amount of coppers, TrackMania’s traditional currency. If you want to buy even the most cursory of unlockables, prepare to play a lot of the basic races over and over again.
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