I'm completely torn over my feelings for Trackmania on the Wii. On the face of it, the game is so basic-looking it rekindles memories of N64 titles, the frame rate stutters all over the place and the structure is extremely basic. Play it, though, and you'll find an addictive time-trial racer so tough you'll want to tear your hair out, clever non-racing modes, a smartly-designed track creation tool and impressive (for the Wii) online functionality. Still, when a game looks like it was put together on a budget tighter than Jackie Stallone's face, it's hard to see the positives.
Trackmania is essentially a racing game without any racing in the traditional sense. You're against the clock, competing against ghosts that represent gold, silver and bronze track times. The goal is simple: reach the finish line in a time at least good enough to beat the bronze car. The better you do the more credits you earn, and these can then be used to buy new tracks and cars.
Events are spread across six themed locations: Stadium, Snow, Island, Rally, Desert and Coast. Each of these is paired with a unique car type that makes for six very different-feeling environments. The F1-style cars for Stadium reach high speeds, but struggle to corner; light American derby cars nip about the Desert tracks, constantly trying to remain on all four wheels; and the nippy Rally cars skid wonderfully around the dirt tracks.
Initially you might wonder why Trackmania has gained such a strong following on the PC, with early events being no more than 20-second sprints through fairly forgettable tracks against less-than-stellar time limits. This rapidly changes, though, and before too long earning a bronze medal will be quite an achievement; the courses become longer and more exciting, and the addiction has taken hold.
"Just one more try," you'll whisper to yourself as the clock enters the a.m. Just as in many of the best 'retry' games, you're able to instantly reset everything and return to the starting line, ready for another go. The time-trial nature of the events and the lure of medals and credits makes for a game that's nearly impossible to put down.
Part of the fun comes from the desire to constantly beat your previous best time, but the track designs need a special mention. The ludicrous jumps, half-pipes and leaps of faith make for some of the most entertaining driving the Wii has seen. The sheer craziness of the track designs can make for moments of frustration, with repeated plays needed to work out the layouts, but that's just part and parcel of the experience.
Outside of the core time-trialling there are two smaller, but equally entertaining modes. Platform sees you trying to reach the finish line in as few attempts as possible. Easy, you might think, but it's far from the case. You'll need to use your driving skills to reach high platforms, requiring precision and smart thinking.
Even more unique is the Puzzle mode, which combines the included track editor (which is excellent) with limited resources and the simple task of reaching the end. At times it's really tough, but sadly the whole thing is over far too soon. Neither Platform nor Puzzle have enough stages, so you'll definitely be left wanting more.
There's a lot of content on the game disc, but there's potentially unlimited amounts accessible through the online community. As well as being able to compete with players around the world (there's 4-player split-screen too, if your Wii isn't online), you can share your created tracks. With online leaderboards and downloadable ghosts, this is one of the most feature-rich online experiences available on the Wii.
Trackmania Wii has an unpleasant underbelly though - the kind of stain that you'd cover with a rug. It's ugly. On the PC its simple look was bolstered by crisp visuals and a silky smooth frame rate on even fairly modest rigs; on the Wii it looks rough and the frame rate is appalling. The courses are quite expansive, but in no way should the action run as sluggishly as it does. You can help matters by choosing not to show the cars that represent the three medal times, but this shouldn't be necessary. This visual sloppiness tarnishes what is otherwise a thoroughly entertaining release, and the graphical kinks really should have been ironed out well before the game got near the hands of consumers.
I have no idea what the development budget was for Trackmania Wii, but with more resources it could have easily been the most impressive racer on the platform. As it is, it's hugely addictive, but also terribly sloppy. The final game should have been much better.