While the PC has long been known as a safe haven for hardcore racing sims, the TrackMania series has been sticking to its over-the-top arcade roots since its inception back in 2004. The series--known as much for its loopy physics as its looping, rollercoaster courses--has seen a number of sequels on the PC. With the upcoming TrackMania DS, you'll finally get a chance to check out the racing action in handheld form. We recently had a chance to check out the game to see how the portable version of the long-running series compares to its PC roots.
As with the PC TrackMania games, TrackMania DS is all about piloting your tiny cars through increasingly complicated tracks. In many of the single-player game modes, you're going up against other cars on the track. Don't worry about crashing into your opponents though--TrackMania races play more like time trials. While you can't run into your opponent, you can--and most certainly will--run off the tracks. The challenge in the game comes from learning the sometimes labyrinthine course layouts and dealing with the many obstacles that come your way.
Controls in TrackMania DS are as simple as can be--the A button is gas and the B button is brakes. The X and Y buttons will reset your car either at the very beginning of the race or at the last checkpoint, which can be a useful tactic, depending on the type of race you are running.
There's a nice variety of game modes in TrackMania DS, including a few that you might not expect to see in a racing game. In addition to straightforward race modes, such as practice, there are choices like Platform, which challenges players to get from point A to point B on a very technical course in as few tries as possible. Unlike many of the race modes in TrackMania, there's no time clock in Platform mode. Instead, the idea is to simply get to the end of the race--thanks to the tricky track designs, however, that isn't as easy as it sounds. Blind hills topped off with gaping holes in the center of the landing area are tough enough, but when you add barriers in the middle of the road and thin rails that you have to drive over during some sections, you've got tracks with little to know room for error. As the name implies, these events are more of a platforming experience than a typical race.
Another interesting mode is Puzzle, which acts as a tutorial of sorts for the game's very flexible track-building toolset. The idea in Puzzle is to build a track to connect a beginning and end point using the limited number of tiles presented to you in each puzzle level. You pull tiles by simply dragging and dropping them. You can also adjust their size and orientation any way you like. The challenge in Puzzle mode isn't merely connecting the start and end points; the tracks you create have to be drivable by your car. For instance, in one Puzzle track we tried, we had to connect two points where the endpoint was elevated above the start line. In addition to a few ramp tiles, we were given a pair of boost tiles to use, which we found were crucial in allowing the car to actually get up the ramps. Once you figure out the flexibility of the tools in Puzzle mode, you can take those skills and apply them to the larger track-creation tools.
Many of the tracks in TrackMania DS were created by hardcore fans of the PC series, and their imagination shows through clearly. With plenty of loops, jump sections, and tricky switchbacks, the courses in TrackMania will keep you busy. Some of the beginning tracks will only take a few seconds to learn--but as you make your way through the game, you'll unlock increasingly more complex courses across three different locations: stadium (a futuristic locale with open-wheeled racers), desert (featuring bumpy, off-road courses and rugged-looking rides), and rally (also off-road, with some courses running around what appeared to be a medieval castle).
While you'll have lots to do in the single-player game of TrackMania DS, if you've got some race-minded, DS-owning friends, you'll have that much more to do. The game will support up to eight players in both single- and multicard modes. It will also feature traditional modes, such as Championship, where you earn points for finishing high, as well as time-trial modes where you and your competitors will have a certain amount of time to set the lowest time on a particular track, running it as many times as you like. Finally, you'll be able to share created tracks with your friends (though the developers haven't finalized things, we were told to expect between 35 and 50 save slots for tracks in the game).
It isn't the prettiest game in the world, but then, TrackMania has always been about creating and driving the most insane courses possible. In that sense, TrackMania DS seems to be following that model closely. Look for TrackMania DS this fall and more information on the game in the coming months.