PopMatters is moving to WordPress. We will publish a few essays daily while we develop the new site. We hope the beta will be up sometime late next week.
Reviews

Trackmania DS

Some racers have stories, some racers aim for pure speed, but no racing game out there focuses on the art of building the perfect track like Trackmania.


Publisher: Atlus
Genres: Racing, Multimedia
Price: $29.99
Multimedia: Trackmania DS
Platforms: Nintendo DS
Number of players: 1-3
ESRB rating: Everyone
Developer: Firebrand
US release date: 2009-03
Website
Amazon
Developer website

Quick, name a racing game for the Nintendo DS.

...

Okay, good, you said Mario Kart. Congratulations. Now name another one. I'll wait.

...

Wasn't so easy, was it?

A quick look at GameFAQs reveals that there are actually a whole pile of racing games for the DS. Unfortunately, most of them are niche titles and genre exercises, games released almost entirely for the sake of putting something with a recognizable brand on the DS. Remember the Burnout game for the DS? Right, neither did I and with good reason apparently. Need for Speed made its mark, Diddy Kong Racing showed up to flex a little bit of that Nintendo licensing power and even the Pokémon fans got their fix of racing at one point, even if there were no cars involved. The truth is that there really isn't a shortage of racing games on the DS. There is simply a shortage of memorable ones.

Trackmania DS is the latest racing game to show up on the people's portable, and it does enough things right to at least be in the conversation as the DS's second-most memorable racing game.

This is largely because Trackmania DS dares to do something different; well, different that is if you haven't touched the PC version of the game. Let's say for the sake of argument that you haven't. What a new player to Trackmania DS will notice right off the bat is that the very feel of a single Trackmania race is actually quite different than any other racing game out there. For one thing, most racing games make sure that a single race takes at least a minute; if a lap takes less than a minute, multiple laps will show up, and the player usually gets something close to a two-minute race. Trackmania, on the other hand, sticks to one lap, which in some cases can last less than 20 seconds. That's right, you can pick up the game, boot up the DS, hit start, race, and shut it back down again in under a minute.

Right off the bat this makes Trackmania DS an ideal bus ride game (or doctor's waiting room game, or standing at your locker between classes game) -- the playtime is as quick as any game out there, and who knows? Maybe that minute that you snuck in while your significant other was looking for the keys was worth a quick gold medal.

Adding to the appeal of the racing is the fact that the game looks great. It is another example of the DS doing three dimensions surprisingly well. The frame rate is seriously quick, and the car models are well-designed. Also important is the control, which is just about as tight as you could ever hope for. There is simply no lag between a button-push and a game response, putting the vehicles entirely under the player's control.

Still, after a few playthroughs, it's easy to be put off by what feels a little bit like sterility in the game design. There are three course types -- a traditional racetrack, a desert scene, and a rally car setup -- but while the cars differ from type to type, all of the cars racing at any given time look exactly the same as each other except for the different colors used to tell them apart. There's no personality in the cars, and there is no inherent personality in the environments either -- once you get used to them.

After a few more playthroughs, though, it clicks, because you're getting better and you're starting to see what the game has to offer: Trackmania DS is not about cars, or fancy environments, or even personal investment in your little avatar of a racer. Rather, it's about the tracks.

Given the name of the game, this should be an obvious and immediate leap to make, but it's not because almost every racer out there is either car-centric (e.g. Gran Turismo) or environ-centric (e.g. Midnight Club L.A.). Some racers have stories, some racers aim for pure speed, but no racing game out there focuses on the art of building the perfect track like Trackmania. The first time you do an upside-down loop yo'll feel the thrill. The first time you pull off a perfect jump you'll beg those two tiny little screens for more. And the best part is, even if you take everything the built-in tracks have to give you (which rest assured will take even the greatest racers some time), you can then create your own tracks.

The track creator in Trackmania DS takes some getting used to. There's a serious learning curve, and the limitation of having to buy parts using your winnings in the races could put some players off. Still, spending time with it allows two benefits: one, you can keep adding tracks to your heart's content allowing for theoretically unlimited replay value, and, two, you actually start to appreciate the built-in tracks more. When a jump carries you through the same loop that you just went through, and as you see one of your opponents upside-down on the loop as you pass through it while airborne, you know you have a special track.

Trackmania DS won't be for everyone by any means. It's not flashy, requires a serious commitment to get the full value of the game, and finding the quickest way around some of its twists and turns is an utterly unforgiving experience. Hurting it further is a lack of any sort of online play other than quick races with friends in the same room -- there's no way to share your creations with the outside world, which is unfortunate. Still, as a single-player racing game, it's like nothing else on the DS right now, and the racing experience it provides is perhaps the most visceral and thrilling one to be found on a current-generation portable. If, after three straight years of constantly playing Mario Kart, you're finally looking for another racer to replace it (if only for a while), Trackmania DS may well be just what you're looking for.

8

Please Donate to Help Save PopMatters

PopMatters have been informed by our current technology and hosting provider that we have less than a month, until November 6, to move PopMatters off their service or we will be shut down. We are moving to WordPress and a new host, but we really need your help to save the site.


Music

Books

Film

Recent
Music

Laura Veirs Talks to Herself on 'My Echo'

The thematic connections between these 10 Laura Veirs songs and our current situation are somewhat coincidental, or maybe just the result of kismet or karmic or something in the zeitgeist.

Film

15 Classic Horror Films That Just Won't Die

Those lucky enough to be warped by these 15 classic horror films, now available on Blu-ray from The Criterion Collection and Kino Lorber, never got over them.

Music

Sixteen Years Later Wayne Payne Follows Up His Debut

Waylon Payne details a journey from addiction to redemption on Blue Eyes, The Harlot, The Queer, The Pusher & Me, his first album since his 2004 debut.

Music

Every Song on the Phoenix Foundation's 'Friend Ship' Is a Stand-Out

Friend Ship is the Phoenix Foundation's most personal work and also their most engaging since their 2010 classic, Buffalo.

Music

Kevin Morby Gets Back to Basics on 'Sundowner'

On Sundowner, Kevin Morby sings of valleys, broken stars, pale nights, and the midwestern American sun. Most of the time, he's alone with his guitar and a haunting mellotron.

Music

Lydia Loveless Creates Her Most Personal Album with 'Daughter'

Given the turmoil of the era, you might expect Lydia Loveless to lean into the anger, amplifying the electric guitar side of her cowpunk. Instead, she created a personal record with a full range of moods, still full of her typical wit.

Music

Flowers for Hermes: An Interview with Performing Activist André De Shields

From creating the title role in The Wiz to winning an Emmy for Ain't Misbehavin', André De Shields reflects on his roles in more than four decades of iconic musicals, including the GRAMMY and Tony Award-winning Hadestown.

Film

The 13 Greatest Horror Directors of All Time

In honor of Halloween, here are 13 fascinating fright mavens who've made scary movies that much more meaningful.

Music

British Jazz and Soul Artists Interpret the Classics on '​Blue Note Re:imagined'

Blue Note Re:imagined provides an entrance for new audiences to hear what's going on in British jazz today as well as to go back to the past and enjoy old glories.

Film

Bill Murray and Rashida Jones Add Another Shot to 'On the Rocks'

Sofia Coppola's domestic malaise comedy On the Rocks doesn't drown in its sorrows -- it simply pours another round, to which we raise our glass.

Music

​Patrick Cowley Remade Funk and Disco on 'Some Funkettes'

Patrick Cowley's Some Funkettes sports instrumental renditions from between 1975-1977 of songs previously made popular by Donna Summer, Herbie Hancock, the Temptations, and others.

Music

The Top 10 Definitive Breakup Albums

When you feel bombarded with overpriced consumerism disguised as love, here are ten albums that look at love's hangover.

Music

Dustin Laurenzi's Natural Language Digs Deep Into the Jazz Quartet Format with 'A Time and a Place'

Restless tenor saxophonist Dustin Laurenzi runs his four-piece combo through some thrilling jazz excursions on a fascinating new album, A Time and a Place.

Television

How 'Watchmen' and 'The Boys' Deconstruct American Fascism

Superhero media has a history of critiquing the dark side of power, hero worship, and vigilantism, but none have done so as radically as Watchmen and The Boys.

Music

Floodlights' 'From a View' Is Classicist Antipodal Indie Guitar Pop

Aussie indie rockers, Floodlights' debut From a View is a very cleanly, crisply-produced and mixed collection of shambolic, do-it-yourself indie guitar music.

Music

CF Watkins Embraces a Cool, Sophisticated Twang on 'Babygirl'

CF Watkins has pulled off the unique trick of creating an album that is imbued with the warmth of the American South as well as the urban sophistication of New York.

Music

Helena Deland Suggests Imagination Is More Rewarding Than Reality on 'Something New'

Canadian singer-songwriter Helena Deland's first full-length release Someone New reveals her considerable creative talents.

Music

While the Sun Shines: An Interview with Composer Joe Wong

Joe Wong, the composer behind Netflix's Russian Doll and Master of None, articulates personal grief and grappling with artistic fulfillment into a sweeping debut album.


Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews



Features
Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.