What’s the deal with 20 hour-plus RPGs on the DS? I enjoy the genre and all, but Nintendo’s handheld isn’t exactly the best platform to spend hours staring at tiny, pixelated sprites. I like my DS games fairly mindless and without the need to put on headphones when playing the game in public. The small screen also doesn’t help with the immersion factor that’s needed to get into a quest to save the world. Of course, Trackmania DS is simply a racing game rather than an epic adventure, but it takes full advantage of the system by providing quick and dirty action that can entertain even ADD-raddled gamers.
I mean it when I call the action quick. Some of the earlier races are under 30 seconds long. Essentially, you’re pitted against ghosts. You can’t bump into the opposing vehicles, so the racing portions of the game are essentially time trials. While this gets rid of the some of the dirty racing tactics that makes most games a blast to play, the courses are so cleverly designed that it doesn’t matter too much that opponents can’t be run off the track. I guess it’s for the best, since it’s sometimes hard enough to have your own car stay on the road.
There are jumps, cliffs, loops, narrow paths with no guard rails and other devious traps. In fact, the platform mode is solely dedicated to making the courses as devastating as possible. In this mode, there is no clock to worry about. You can drive as slow as possible, and considering the pitfalls and sudden drops, this is often a required. Once the stage is completed, you’re ranked based on how many times you’ve had to respawn after falling off the edge.
The normal “racing” courses aren’t nearly as dangerous. There are three types of courses for the three different vehicles. The formula one races look like something out of the Speed Racer movie, with lots of improbable ramps and equally implausible designs. The muscle car courses are probably my favorite since the vehicles handles so perfectly. The formula one racer is just too unresponsive to get around the turns, so the sharp handling of this beefy vehicle is a treat. Finally, there are the rally cars, which seem to mostly involve riding on narrow roads through the countryside and a huge castle.
As different as the vehicles are, the one thing lacking in Trackmania DS is personality. The graphics show a great sense of speed, but there’s little beneath the surface. The courses themselves are exciting, but they look dull and the horrible music doesn’t help. Vibrancy is missing amidst the dull backgrounds and while the gameplay is enticing, it’s hard to stay too involved in such an unexciting world, even if it’s just in short bursts.
This problem plagues the other modes despite their diversity. Tracks can be created from scratch, which makes effective use of the stylus. Parts can be dragged, dropped and rotated with relative ease. The standard inventory is a bit plain, but crazy parts can be purchased after winning events. Once a track is created, the puzzle mode unlocks, which is more fun to the less creatively inclined person, such as myself. With a set amount of track parts, a path to a specific portion of the track needs to be built. It’s a pretty cool of way of getting a feel for the track editor, but there’s still that nagging feeling of dullness.
With a bevy of multiplayer fun to be had and just one copy of the game required for this, Trackmania DS goes above and beyond the options that most DS racers feature. The only problem is that lack of personality or vibrancy. The gameplay is excellent, but it’s brought down by the lifelessness of the proceedings. Even it quick spurts of playing, which is what the game was made for, it’s evident. Well, at least the jumps are pretty wild and that’s worth something.