Trackmania DS Review for Nintendo DS

Tear Up the Track!

Racing fans certainly have a handful of titles to choose from on the DS, but current offerings tend to fall along polar opposites of the spectrum. For players seeking the quintessential, family-friendly Nintendo racing experience, there’s always the tried-and-true Mario Kart DS. In stark contrast, games like Need for Speed Undercover and the over-sexed Juiced 2: Hot Import Nights cater to the hardcore street racing set. There’s little variety and no solid middle ground between the two extremes; enter Trackmania DS.

Trackmania DS screenshot

Trackmania DS features challenge-based racing set across scores of tracks and three unique environments. In the main racing mode, the emphasis is on blowing through the tracks at high-speed to make it to the finish line as fast as possible. The racing is often quite linear, and you’ll mostly wind up barreling forward to the end of the track. Other times, you’ll make laps in an attempt to best your opponents over a longer period of time. In either case, things move along quickly. Most levels only last about a minute or so. The other cars you’ll race against act as ghosts – you’re not impacted by coming into contact with them, and you can toggle the number of visible opponents on and off – allowing you to focus on the twitchy task of maneuvering through each track to shave precious seconds off the clock. Earning bronze, silver, and gold medals provides you with points to purchase new tracks, play modes, skins, and other elements. You’ll start with only a few tracks available and must earn the rest as you go.

Tracks are divided between three main locations: a classic stadium arena, an arid desert, and the rocky hills surrounding a castle in the European countryside. Instead of the traditional flat tracks, the courses feature jumps, multi-level platforms, loop-de-loops, speed boosts, pit traps, and other uncommon design elements to make your task all the more challenging and exciting. The game looks surprisingly good on the DS’ small screens and everything runs smoothly. The camera makes it necessary to focus on your racer and the expanse of track immediately ahead; but every once and a while, looking up reveals some excellent details in the distance. It’s not quite as pretty as its PC counterpart, but it’s a solid representation scaled down to a much smaller size.

Trackmania DS screenshot

Each locale comes with its own ride, and they all handle quite differently. The F1 racer gains good speed but navigates corners poorly; the off-road 4×4 has better steering; and the compact car’s controls are reactive almost to a fault. The D-pad controls are very responsive, though steering often feels twitchy. As a result, it’s easy to accidentally over-steer and wind up slamming into a solid object or veering off course. Colliding with objects simply puts you at a dead stop with a resounding THUD. It can be jarring when you’re in the midst of intense concentration, and the lack of damage to your vehicle is mildly disappointing. In Trackmania DS, a single wrong move will almost always cost you the race. Fortunately, salvation lies nestled next to the gas and break buttons. Tapping X brings you back to the last checkpoint you crossed, and tapping Y restarts the race instantaneously. The lack of a load time on restart is great, and being able to instantly start over lends itself well to the pass-fail nature of the gameplay.

Trackmania DS’ other play modes provide other diverse ways to enjoy the game once you’ve exhausted the main racing mode, which is no easy feat given the multiple difficulty settings and unlockables to uncover. While the main game is all about finding ways to cut every possible millisecond off the clock in any given race, platform mode doesn’t track your time at all. Instead, you’re charged with successfully navigating tracks without restarting from checkpoints too many times. The layouts of the courses in platform mode are a bit trickier in design than in other play modes.

Trackmania DS screenshot

Including a puzzle mode may seem like a strange fit for a racing game, but it’ll have you looking at the tracks and their design in a completely different way. Puzzle mode gives you a start and finishing point and a set number of specific building blocks to use in creating your track. The objective is to create a course that gets you to the finish line and does so as quickly as possible. Once you’ve finished construction of the puzzle track, you’ll switch over to your racer to give it a test run. This mode requires some patience, and may not be suited for all players, but it provides a fresh take on the traditional racing gameplay.

Trackmania DS screenshot

The built-in editing program used in puzzle mode can also be used to create your own custom tracks to share with friends via local wireless. This is the only area of the game that uses the stylus and touch screen, which is probably for the best. Making tracks isn’t particularly tough; there’s a reasonable learning curve that can seem intimidating at first, but it’s not that difficult to concoct some fun courses to race on. The lack of online multiplayer, leaderboard, and track sharing puts a damper on some of the flexibility and fun of Trackmania. While racing against pals in its most basic form can be done in single-card download play, you’ll need a second copy of the game to access all of the game’s play options, including sharing tracks – something that can only be done locally.

By offering a tight, fast-paced, no-nonsense racing experience that’s not overly upbeat and cutesy but doesn’t take itself quite as seriously as games that have you putting your hot rod’s pink slip on the line, Trackmania DS is a good choice for etting your bite-sized, rubber burning fix. With gameplay designed for maximum enjoyment in short bursts, it’s well-suited to the handheld format. As is expected, some of the depth and extras found in the PC titles are lost on the cutting room floor to make the transition work, but the tradeoff is mostly worth it.

The cars aren’t amazing, but the tracks look great! 3.7 Control
Twitch controls are par for the course, depending on your car. It’s a straightforward setup that works well without any fancy frills. 3.3 Music / Sound FX / Voice Acting
The music is tolerable but not particularly enjoyable. 4.0

Play Value
While not as robust as the PC versions, this game packs a ton of gameplay with high replay potential onto a single cart.

3.9 Overall Rating – Good
Not an average. See Rating legend above for a final score breakdown.

Game Features:

  • Three single-player modes (Race, Platform, and Puzzle).
  • More than a hundred spectacular tracks with increasing difficulty level.
  • Powerful track design system with over 300 unique blocks.
  • Race against up to four friends using single or multiple cartridges.
  • Share your favorite custom track with all your friends.
  • Use Coppers (in-game credits) won from races to unlock new tracks, design blocks, and car paint schemes!

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