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Get ready for a wild ride as the crazy, stunt filled racing game Trackmania hits the Nintendo DS

Trackmania DS is a conversion from the popular PC game to the tiny handheld console. Given that the original game was designed for a big screen super powerful gaming PC, can Firebrand software shrink the game down and make it work on the humble Nintendo DS?

Firebrand software have something of a reputation for being one of the most ambitious third party software developers for the Nintendo DS. After the excellent Race Driver GRID we knew that Trackmania DS was in capable hands and the end result is certainly an ambitious conversion. The DS version features three different track-types, each with their own cars and scenery. Stadium tracks feature fast Grand Prix style racing cars, which have a tendancy to under-steer. Desert levels feature slightly more wobbly cars (which look somewhat similar to the MK1 Escort) racing round dust tracks and mud ramps. Rally stages take place through castle walls and over drawbridges and feature cars which over-steer slightly. None of the cars are difficult to drive however, and Trackmania never pretends to be anything like a realistic racer.

Race Driver GRID - Screenshot
This is one of the more conservative levels!
Starting up the cartridge, the game will be instantly familiar to fans of the PC version, right down to the music which plays in the menus. For the uninitiated, Trackmania is all about crazy stunts, jumps and silly courses. Physics are exaggerated for more dramatic flips and rolls and even the easiest courses would be utterly deadly if they were in a real world setting. If the realism of GRID was a turn-off for you, you'll be much more at home with the joyful silliness of Trackmania.

Diving into your first race, many players will be alarmed at how short the tracks are. The first few races are all short sprints to the finish, lasting no longer than a minute. This is exactly like the PC version and the short sprint-like races not only ease the player in gently, they suit quick burst hand-held play brilliantly. Because the courses are so short, they constantly encourage the player to have just one more go to improve their time. In race mode, you simply need to beat all of the competitors cars to win the gold medal and there's even a Firebrand medal for really speedy runs. Later tracks are longer, run over several laps and will satisfy players looking for more than just a quick burst of play.

Most of Trackmania's courses are suspended in mid-air and unfortunate trips off the side of the course are inevitable.  If you fall off the edge, you can press X to instantly place your car back on the track. Should you make a complete hash of things, it is possible to restart the course instantly, with no annoying pause for re-loading. On some of the harder levels this saves a great deal of frustration.

Having been positively delighted with the race mode, it was time to delve into the "platform" mode. In this mode, the object is simply to get from one end of the track to the other, without falling off. If you have an unfortunate gravity related accident, you can use the X button to reset your car. Medals are awarded based on how many times you were forced to do this. You'll need a certain amount of trial and error to master the courses. Luckily, as with race mode, you can instantly restart.

Sadly, it is during platform mode that the developers ambition starts to overstretch what the DS is capable of. Even the easiest level courses are complicated mazes of jumps and blind corners. Having invisible pits hidden around the course which can only be avoided by memory is not a great way of designing a challenging level. Worse still, particularly on Stadium levels, the smaller screen and lower resolution of the DS (compared to the PC) make it utterly impossible to tell which direction you should be travelling in. You'll find yourself jumping off the side of the track thinking that there is a platform nearby, only to find that when the perspective shifts, it is nowhere near. It's bitterly disappointing, especially after the superbly enjoyable race levels.

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