If there’s one system that has consistently surprised, entertained and delighted me this year it’s my Wii. That upstanding little plinth of wand waggling fun has had more attention lavished upon it than my 360 as I traded blows with fellow assassins in No More Heroes 2: Desperate Struggle, screeched my heart out to Robyn songs on We Sing Encore or explored it’s back catalogue with New Super Mario Bros. Wii. The system just doesn’t get the respect it deserves from the hardcore market, with superb entertainment experiences being overlooked by an audience too jaded, too cynical and too lazy to invest time into seeking out said releases.
It seems an odd decision then to port TrackMania – a now seven year old racing title for the PC – to Nintendo’s console. What’s the audience here? Who is their demographic? Would most Wii owners even know about this series? To boot, the marketing for the title has been crushingly minimal, silently pushed out with little aplomb. Not that the makers have anything to be ashamed of, this is an excellent racing game with a few interesting twists and an almost abnormal level of acceptance and inclusion of the tech the Wii has under the bonnet.
If you aren’t familiar with the TrackMania series yet, it’s essentially a game of time trials on increasingly challenging courses, punctuated with loop-the-loops, walls of death and ridiculous jumps, all held together by a mesh of a smooth frame rate, a consistent physics engine and tight controls. If you were a junkie for Trials HD’s obsessive striving for perfect runs and faster times then TrackMania‘s numerous… err… tracks and fully featured level editor will be the compulsive equivalent of smoking crack. Full of rock bottom lows – like hitting restart for the fiftieth time in a row – to the sweetest ecstasies – smashing your friend’s once-thought-unbeatable time, TW may be the beginning of many a lost hour and many a broken friendship.
The friends you do still have you’ll be able to meet up with for a number of races, through the titles comprehensive although – at the time of writing achingly unpopulated – online mode. Though you can’t directly affect another player’s game as you’re essentially racing time trial ghosts, the added element of other players being visible on track lends a tangible quality to your opposition, helping enforce this competitive aspect much better than just times on leader boards. Taking to the track, dirt, sand, steel cages, castle ramparts and other surfaces the game has to offer feels different from material to material, with the choice of vehicles – F1, pick up truck, sports car etc – having significant affect on the driving model. Saying ‘different cars handle differently’ in a review isn’t usually particularly helpful, but in this instance different automobiles create fundamentally different game types to experience. Formula 1 style challenges call for fluid and smooth cornering, the rally car is liable to buckle up onto two wheels when taking a bend and the pick up truck can turn 90 degrees with the faintest press of the D-pad and the gentlest turn of the wheel. Tracks are tailored to these differences and feel more like puzzles at times than straight courses, the perfect antithesis to Gran Turismo’s po-faced realism, with an entire mode dedicated to what the developers call ‘platforming’, where the title’s focus on verticality is even further increased.
TrackMania is what I’d call a ‘podcast game’, a title that you can happily mute the – fairly weak – audio and listen to your favourite podcast, catching up with your listening backlog while keeping your hands engaged. That’s not to say that the game is easy, far from it, TrackMania can be insanely challenging, especially obtaining the elusive gold medals rewarded for especially fast times, but generally a third place pass will be within the capabilities of most players after a few attempts, just before the frustration sets in. If you’re more of a creative type then the comprehensive track editor will allow you to make your own automotive Rubik’s cubes and pass them to friends via Wi-Fi, as well as create custom paint jobs for your vehicles, again, further enhancing this already full experience.
Considering you can grab this for just over £20 right now, it’s a no-brainer. The gameplay itself is impressive but the quality and quantity of content, slick presentation, spot-on controls, potential for community, online leader boards and the levels of customisation absolutely seals the deal. If you’re looking for a racer this winter, even taking Gran Turismo and Need For Speed: Hot Pursuit into account, you need to consider TrackMania for your four wheel thrills.
MLG Rating: 9/10
Platform: Nintendo Wii Release Date: 24/09/2010
Disclosure: Midlife Gamer were provided a physical copy of TrackMania for review purposes by the promoter. The title was reviewed over the course of five days on a Nintendo Wii. For more information on what our scores mean, plus details of our reviews policy, click here.