Please note: due to there currently being no images available to the press, screenshots and box art from Trackmania DS 1 have been used and may not necessarily represent Trackmania DS 2.
Trackmania DS 2, or TMDS2 for short, is currently being developed by Firebrand, the makers of original Trackmania DS, but this time around we are looking at a bigger and better game. Trackmania is essentially an arcade racing game featuring tracks aplenty and an easy to use track editor. Tracks are put together using "blocks" - these are similar to Lego bricks but with the exception that the end result can look a lot more detailed and varied if the player provides a sprinkling of their imagination.
Replacing the Desert and Rally environments are Coast, Island and Snow which join up with Stadium for a total of four environments in TMDS2. Each environment has different visual styles, blocks and car handling characteristics, with the Coast environment receiving a handling overhaul from the PC version to make it more suited to the DS. Controlling the car on the Nintendo DS D-Pad isn't as easy as an analogue stick, but it is manageable thanks in part to the greater air control the car displays in comparison to the PC version.
The game modes in TMDS2 are also the same as the Wii: specifically Race, Platform and Puzzle, with the solo campaign promised over 150 new tracks spread across the spectrum of modes. Completing these tracks earns an in-game currency called Coppers, which can be spent on unlocking blocks, skins and tracks. You needn't worry about not being able to complete tracks quick enough though, as they can be completed multiple times to boost your copper count. The same wide ranging Forever block set from the PC will also be present in TMDS2.
For an actual race the top screen contains the visuals of the track, whilst the lower screen houses information about the times to beat. In the track editor the top screen displays information on controls and also how much memory is left, whilst the bottom touch screen displays the track and editing tools. It only took me about 5-10 minutes to get used to the editor controls, and thanks to the touch screen the camera is easy to control and blocks can be easily placed and manipulated. How big a track can be built within the memory constraint is currently unknown, but it may be that only scenery use will have to noticeably cut down.
Graphically TMDS2 looked decent and accessible for a DS game, but due to this being an early build it is difficult to say just how good it will turn out. It is also hoped that 60 frames per second will be maintained during gameplay. The menu music I heard was from the older PC Trackmania United version, though it sounded amusingly tinnier coming from the basic DS speakers. There was different music from the PC versions in the each of the environments though, and sound effects of the cars, whilst limited by the DS technology, did the job just fine.
Perhaps the most significant new feature to TMDS2 is the addition of Nintendo WiFi support for track sharing and playing online. The lack of this was the biggest criticism of the original Trackmania DS which has put many players off, so Firebrand have made a wise move by listening to their critics. It is not currently known quite how this online mode will be implemented or how many players will be able to race simultaneously, but at least players of the game should be able to play people on the same table as them or across the globe.
While it could be said that the original Trackmania DS should have had all of the features contained in this sequel, at least the developers have been able to learn from their past mistakes and correct them for what should be the ultimate handheld Trackmania experience. I very much look forward to seeing and testing these features further when TMDS2 is released in Q2 2010, but for now we can at least have hope that this will be the most rounded arcade racer on the Nintendo DS.