The term never judge a book by its cover strongly applies to TrackMania Turbo on the Nintendo DS. From the title of the game, to the box art, it seems like just another racing game. However, if anything, it has much more in common with puzzle games. The game requires much more thought and planning to succeed and it means Firebrand Games have created something very different from the typical games where it's about racing opponents and coming first.
The game offers four modes: Race, Platform, Puzzle and Quick Race. Quick Race is basically a redundant feature, as it essentially allows players to do any of the races they have unlocked at random, and considering the length of each race is rather short (and for a reason) it doesn't really make much difference if a race is selected from the standard mode. Race mode is the core of the game. There are four different track types: Stadium, Island, Snow and Coast. Each of these in turn also has its own particular vehicle. Players begin on practice difficulty and must then complete four races in each type (sixteen in total) to advance to the next difficulty bracket. These range from Easy to Extreme, however in order to advance players must also set track times and acquire medals. Once they've hit the required number of medals they then get access to the higher difficulties.
This is fairly straightforward until you actually begin a race and find things aren't quite what they seem. Players have to move around a track racing against ghosts (though they can turn them off), pass through a series of checkpoints and cross the finish line. Depending on which ghost they beat and the time they get, they will be awarded with a bronze, silver or gold medal. There is a 4th medal, hidden medal, which requires the player to beat the author time which isn't made known to the player. Each track is completely unique and often encompasses an almost platform like element to it. Falling off the sides and missing jumps will result in players having to restart. Almost all of these elements require a certain speed to either get around or across, and repeating races multiple times in order to do something as close to perfect as possible is completely necessary once the game reaches Easy difficulty. The required times for gold are really that tight to achieve, even silver isn't that much less difficult.
Here's the catch though; in order to advance to the next difficulty players must acquire about 75 percent of the medals from the previous races. Normal difficulty requires 90 medals and that's a lot of golds players have to earn in order to come close to that requirement. Without a doubt it's challenging to say the least, not just because of the platform like elements, but also because each of the four vehicles handles differently from each other. Some are rather slow and thus require more straight line speed to make it up hills or jumps, others have very sensitive steering. It makes completing each stage more tactical which just feels a little bit odd. As stated before, each stage is quite short. Most won't go over the 2 minute mark, and those that do will have multiple checkpoints which a player can restart from, however this is detrimental to time if a player has to do so.
Once a player has completed each of the different stages they'll unlock Platform Mode, which has an even bigger emphasis on jumps and avoiding fallings. Time isn't important, but more the number of attempts a player uses to complete a stage. Further stages are unlocked in the same way and the medal requirements once again are just as challenging - it's a fun mode if a little frustrating.
The final mode, Puzzle, is very unique as it requires players to use the track editor first and make a track. An editor is provided and the track must be completed using a handful of pieces they are given. Once done, players must then race around the track in the time limit passing through all the checkpoints. While the actual placing of the pieces initially starts out fairly easy, setting the times can still be pretty difficult. Some of the later puzzles need some additional planning as to the best way to actually fill in the gaps.
As mentioned before the track editor is also another mode available to players and it certainly allows for a lot of creativity. There is a vast array of building blocks and options, and while the editor can take getting used to initially on the DS it doesn't really constrain the player's imagination. There is also a shop feature which allows for even more blocks to be purchased as well as skins for cars and additional tracks for race, obtaining all of these will certainly take some time.
Presentation wise, the music is actually rather upbeat. However, it loops rather frequently and considering the amount of attempts required to get golds on later races, does unfortunately make it very repetitive to listen to. The car noises also end up peaking at a certain point and just become a monotonous drone. The tracks on the other hand are all very varied and there is more than enough to make each have a unique look. None of them really feel the same as each race progresses, some of the Platform ones are just out right bonkers. But in saying that, the display on the DS doesn't allow for much of an obvious route around levels and actually seeing where the track turns and leads can be quite hard.
TrackMania Turbo is certainly an interesting game. It feels more like a puzzle game than a racing game, and can be fun in places. The presentation is a bit of a let down, as the music and sounds just don't vary enough and eventually the tracks will start to suffer from repetition as a result of this. The difficulty of the game will also test hardened gamers. It's still worth checking out though, if you fancy a bit of puzzle racing.