It doesn't happen very often, but sometimes games are created which look to move away from what's expected, and try to create their own niche within a genre. That's exactly what Trackmania Wii does, and it's what Trackmania has been trying to do for years, as it combines the world of racing, with the world of puzzle. It sounds like a rather odd mix, and it is, but there's something about it that works.
If there's one thing you'll take away from Trackmania Wii, it's that patience is a virtue. Because of the puzzle nature of the game, simply finishing the course often isn't good enough. There are no opponents to race against, just a clock, and finding the fastest route from start to finish is the key to progressing through the game. Often you'll be able to finish the tracks first time, and you might even get a silver medal, but just attaining these results won't get you very far.
As with many puzzle games, Trackmania Wii is separated by stages which get progressively harder. They start off with the "practice" difficulty and move up from there, but the next difficulty won't unlock until you've attained a certain amount of points, which are awarded by obtaining different medals. It might sound quite easy, and in theory it is, but you're pretty much going to have to get gold, or the hidden "author" medal, on all stages to progress.
It's not really a chore though, as the game is rather fun. There are numerous stage types, each with a different vehicle and it helps the game to feel fresh. Sure, the vehicles don't handle that well, but it's not a driving simulation so the expectation isn't really there. It's more about learning how to adapt to each situation and to achieve the best outcome based on what you're given. It can be a bit annoying though, when going around a corner and the car suddenly flips over for no real reason.
Before each race starts, the game shows you the times you need to achieve in order to obtain each medal, and then a ghost appears inside the "race" so you know what to aim at. There's a slight problem with this though, as the ghosts aren't actually representative of the time. You can beat the ghost and not beat the time the ghost was meant to represent, which can be a bit annoying.
Aside from the standard mode, Trackmania Wii also has a few other tricks up its sleeve, but they aren't anywhere near as robust as the main mode. The game allows players to create their own tracks, but there's also two other puzzle modes to enjoy.
The first gives players an incomplete track which they must complete given a select number of pieces - upon completion they then have to race around to gain medals, just like the main mode. The other mode isn't about time, it's about how many attempts it takes to finish. The courses are a lot more tricky, but it's a shame that there aren't that many to try out.
From the perspective of presentation, Trackmania Wii isn't that impressive. The models are quite bland and as previously mentioned, the physics aren't that great. The tracks, while offering variety with their design, also appear a bit lacklustre in the visuals department. The same can be said about the game's sound design, which is pretty forgettable.
To round out the experience, Trackmania Wii has an online mode, which is a bit clunky. It's possible to upload scores to the internet, and browse scores set by other people - from here, you can download their ghosts and try to beat their times. Despite the interface being cumbersome, it's actually a pretty neat feature, as it shows players how to get the best times if they were struggling.
Trackmania Wii is a surprisingly fun title. It offers a ton of replay value, which is bolstered by the online mode. The concept could have been better executed though, as the gameplay and visuals leave a bit to be desired. If you're a fan of racing, and a fan of puzzle games, Trackmania will certainly appeal to you.