Mention the name TrackMania to any console gamer and barely anyone will know what you're talking about. Mention it to hardcore PC gamers, however, and there's a good chance they'll regale you with stories of what is perhaps the best racing series out there.
For those unfamiliar with the series, it's not really a pure "racing" game: you don't actually race against any other vehicles which you can physically interact with. It's more like the Time Trial mode in Mario Kart turned into a fully-fledged game, with a huge number of tracks and several staff ghosts to beat on every one.
It's also not all too serious in terms of tracks. You won't find any boring, flat, simple courses here, as every single one is filled to the brim with ramps, drop-offs, speed boosters, water hazards, half-pipes and even complete loop-de-loops. It's not so much a racing game as it is a platforming game in which you control a car, and it takes serious skill to finish certain tracks without ever resetting at a checkpoint.
Although fans of the PC titles will know that the series has had seven different environments to play in throughout its life, only six of them, Stadium, Island, Desert, Snow, Rally and Coast, are present in the Wii game, with the only one missing being the Bay area. The environments do not just offer different visuals: in each one you control a different car that controls completely unlike the previous ones, with the track layouts generally being adjusted to suit that car's handling as well.
For example, in the most well-known environment, Stadium, you control a good old Formula 1 car, which turns fairly slowly but otherwise handles very solidly and has a high top speed. As such, you can expect relatively wide tracks and a ton of jumps and loops. The Coast area on the other hand features a big, bulky Roadster that doesn't have a high top speed and tends to slip very easily when turning. To accommodate, the tricks present on its tracks are usually limited to holes in the road and small jumps, but as the road is very narrow you'll have to manage your speed and turning perfectly.
In all of the game's modes, the most basic objective is to simply reach the finish line. However, you can't just launch over the side of certain tracks and land right next to the goal as there are also numerous checkpoints to drive through in order before the game will allow you to finish.
As you might expect from a Wii racing game, there are several control schemes you can choose to use. The recommended way is to simply use your Wii Remote sideways or your Remote and Nunchuk, but if you simply love motion control, you can also opt to use your Remote on its own as a steering wheel.
The main single player game, Race, is divided into five difficulty tiers, with each one naturally getting increasingly harder. Each environment has five tracks on each of the first four difficulty levels, making for 120 tracks total. The last difficulty, the very appropriately titled Extreme, only has one track for each environment, but they will take you a long time to beat. If you manage to perform well enough on all of these, you'll unlock 5 more tracks in each environment on a "Bonus" difficulty level.
The basic goal on each of these tracks is to beat one (Bronze), two (Silver), or three (Gold) staff ghosts, each increasingly better than the previous one. For each ghost you manage to beat, you'll get the corresponding medal. By getting medals, you'll eventually unlock the higher difficulty levels, items for purchase in the game's store (like car skins and track editor parts), points to spend on those items and achievements.
But that's actually not all. As you'll eventually find out, each track actually has a fourth ghost, which will award an Author Medal when beaten. These final ghosts generally do not mess around in the slightest, so in most cases you'll have to be extremely good to beat them, thus usually making it best to continue to the next track after getting gold, but more unlocks and points await if you manage to beat them.
When you've had enough of the Race mode, there are two additional, much shorter single-player modes available as well. The Puzzle mode gives you a series of incomplete circuits – you get to put down the missing tracks, ramps, speed boosters and what-not, then drive on your creation and, again, try to beat the staff ghosts. Once you figure out the best way to place all available objects, getting gold is usually easy on these, but it's certainly easier said than done.
Platform Mode gives you a number of fairly hard tracks with absolutely no ghosts at all. The objective in these is simply to reach the finish line with the fewest falls and flips possible. Gold is awarded for reaching the end with no resets, a mighty feat indeed.
If that's still not enough for you, the game also allows you to create your very own entire tracks without having to worry about anything. The available space for self-made levels is quite considerable: they won't reach the size of the largest official tracks, but they can get pretty close.
You can create levels for any of the game's six environments, but you won't really be able to do anything special when you first boot up the game as you'll have to unlock and purchase additional parts from the store first. After making your ultimate creation, you'll get to test drive it, with whatever time you set becoming the Author Medal time, with the other three being automatically generated based on that performance.
But of course, a racing game, even an unusual one like this, would not be complete without a multiplayer mode. With support for up to six players online (and up to four players offline), it doesn't quite reach the hecticness of the 50+ player PC games, but it can still be good fun to race against other people. The setup for multiplayer is pretty simple: you'll go through as many tracks as there are players, with each player picking one track, and you'll get about three minutes to set the best possible time you can. Whoever has the best time out of all players will rake in the points at the end of the race.
At the moment, however, we found that finding opponents is pretty slow, even at what would be considered peak hours for other games. Thankfully, you can play with friends as well, and then you'll even be able to play on tracks you've made yourself, instead of being limited to the official ones.
Also available in the Wi-Fi menu is some good old DLC. You don't have to pay for any of it either: the developers will periodically upload new official tracks, with eight of them being available at the time of writing. Unfortunately, your best time on these will not be saved unless you save your ghost as well, but unlike the game's standard tracks, this must be done by overwriting one of the three accompanied staff ghosts.
Graphics-wise, the game looks pretty much exactly like the older title, and if you've previous entries you'll recognise each of the environments within a split second. Even when an entire large track is visible, there's no noticeable slowdown, which is quite an impressive achievement.
Sadly, the developers chose not to bring over any of the well-known music from previous games, opting instead to create completely new songs. They're actually not bad at all, but they're nowhere near as catchy as the old music. They're also much shorter, generally clocking in at maybe two minutes before looping, rather than five or six. However, to make up for this, there's two different songs for each environment, which at least brings some variety to the table.
After a somewhat lacking attempt at a DS instalment of TrackMania, the franchise has now more than successfully been brought to the Wii. While the multiplayer has lost a considerable amount of its magic due to the much lower number of max players, everything else has been very well done: with over 150 tracks and the ability to create your own, achievements, and online multiplayer with up to five others, it captures the feeling of TrackMania perfectly, and will hopefully gain a completely new fan following.