Version tested: Wii
TrackMania and Wii make for unlikely bedfellows, even if, as you launch off one of the game's gargantuan ramps, the console's name is the first thing your inner child wants to yell. It's an unusual match because TrackMania is a pretty harsh mistress: the finest of margins separates winners and losers, a single gentle nudge of the analogue stick often the difference between total success and complete failure. In other words, it's bloody hard.
Therefore it doesn't really seem like the kind of game your average Wii owner is going to be interested in. But then Nintendo's expanded audience is probably not the market Focus Home Interactive is aiming at. Believe it or not, some of us Wii owners actually relish a challenge, and those that do are in for a treat. Whether those same players will feel quite so pleased after their umpteenth attempt at Rally C5 is another matter.
If you've never played a TrackMania game before, you might be surprised to learn that it's not really a racing game in the traditional sense. You can see your opponents, sure, but they're ghosts rather than obstacles, simply representing the three times you have to better to achieve bronze, silver and gold medals. The idea is to beat them all in very short point-to-point races, get the gold and move on. Simple.
Well, it is to begin with. Practice tracks are fairly straightforward affairs, offering a few gentle turns, perhaps one or two bumps and the occasional small ramp, but you'll still need to be careful not to make mistakes if you want the gold medal. One misjudged corner is all it takes to see the pack whizz past - or even through - you, and we're talking about the easiest setting here. From here on in, it only gets tougher. There's no tutorial as such, you learn by doing: the best way to eradicate carelessness from your game.
There are six different racing environments, each with a different vehicle type whose handling model must be mastered before you can attempt the tougher stages. In the Stadium levels, the miniature F1 car hugs the track tightly but cornering can be tricky at speed. The Island tracks pass by in a blur as your super-fast sports car glides impossibly around sharp corners and catches some serious air off the world's biggest ramps.
Pick-ups chug around the Snow levels, boosted by acceleration strips across the track, while the comically large Roadsters almost take up the entire width of the narrow coastal circuits. Rally and Desert tracks are some of the toughest to master, the former slowing and skidding should but a single tyre encroach onto the grass, while the desert tracks often see you take bends on two wheels with a car that's all too easy to oversteer.
You'll need to learn the idiosyncrasies of every one if you want to access the later levels, as there's only a certain number of gold medals you can miss in each difficulty level to access the next. But by the time you've finished the patronisingly-named Practice stages, each a mere thirty seconds long at most, you'll already be hooked on the pursuit of gold.