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TrackMania - NDS - Preview

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Posted by: jkdmedia

Lightning-fast racing games are rarely made for the Nintendo DS. In fact, the last one was released on … Hmm, come to think of it, the DS might be without any such racer. It’s a shame too, because when you consider that this handheld is essentially a portable, touch-based version of the Nintendo 64, there’s no reason why racing developers shouldn’t be all over it.

That alone could help TrackMania shine on its March 17 release, but that’s not the only reason it’ll turn heads. Developed by Firebrand Games, TrackMania is a time-trial racing game with outrageous track designs (think F-Zero with much more detail and a greater challenge). Forget the boxy cars, plain architecture and slow speeds of other DS racers – this is the real deal.

TrackMania boasts 100+ tracks, multiplayer (single- or multi-card), Rumble Pak support and a full track editor. Thus far, the content appears to be much more than PR lingo. Rather than creating arbitrary difficulty settings, the game assigns each setting – Practice, Easy, Medium, Hard and Extreme – to a different set of tracks. Unless there’s a shortcut that is not yet apparent, players will begin with the Practice set of courses (of which there are 12 – you’ll have a chance to buy an additional three courses for each set later on) and cannot proceed to the Easy lineup until the initial requirements have been met. You’ll move ahead as soon as 10 bronze and five silver medals have been acquired.

As a time-trial racing game, you don’t have actual opponents during the single-player campaign. Ghost opponents can be turned on but they appear to be limited by the fastest pre-recorded times. Plus, you can drive right through them, so there’s no real competitive risk. Your focus is always on the clock.

This creates a substantially different racing experience, which can be credited the roller coaster track designs. Expect to fly off ramps, speed over roads that take you upside down, maneuver across a near half-pipe, and pull yourself out of sharp corners and dead ends that seemed to have come out of nowhere. It’s exciting but hugely unforgiving; with each difficulty setting, the medal requirements increase while the track patterns become more severe.

TrackMania divides its courses evenly across three primary environments: stadium, desert and rally. The differences among them are not necessarily what you’d expect. The rally courses, for example, gave the developers the perfect excuse to introduce some of Europe’s gorgeous architecture. It has almost certainly been fictionalized, but the tight roads and castle-like structures are very inspired.

The desert courses could be described as what would happen if a highway was broken up into several chunks that magically hover over the desert. Bridges, dirt hills and road signs make for interesting eye candy while construction site elements create the hazards necessary to diminish your chances of success.

F-Zero fans will feel right at home racing the stadium courses, which have a familiar look and feel. It’s a little NASCAR, a little Wipeout and a tad bit traditional – but mostly just intense and challenging.

Platform mode, an alternative to the race campaign, takes mania in a whole other direction by exchanging the clock with a calculation of your every mistake. In this mode, it’s not necessarily how fast you drive but how efficiently you do so, as the courses are designed with more jumps and the biggest potholes the world has ever seen. If you can make it through the course in one or two attempts, the gold medal should be yours. But that’s easier said than done, especially when speed is a factor. Suppose you have to gain enough speed to jump two ramps, and the only way to pull that off is to hit a speed boost. There’s only one speed boost and it comes before the first ramp. If you land the first ramp and slow down to, say, make a turn, you won’t have enough speed to make the next jump. Thus, both ramps must be hit without slowing down.

Racing to the Nintendo DS this March, TrackMania could be one of the most unique and exhilarating racing games developed for the platform. For our final verdict on the game modes, course design, track editor and other features, stay with GameZone as we’ll have our full review in the coming weeks.

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