TrackMania DS kicks off with some decent potential. Through a mix of F-1, muscle, and rally car arcade races, the game shows off its slick DS engine. Players perform big jumps and loop-de-loops with the goal of landing gold medals, which are key to unlocking more difficult races. A separate currency can be spent on car skins and other bonuses. If you screw up, resets can be triggered instantly so you can grind away until you beat a challenge. Even losses earn you money, so you don't necessarily feel like you're wasting time as you shoot for a new record. There's always something to unlock.
However, the veneer starts to crack as you spend more time behind the wheel. Racing against these intangible ghost cars (basically, the clock) is not as fun as a competitor you can slam into. The difficulty ramps up very quickly, so you're forced to race perfectly on the line to beat the top time and earn the medals you need to progress further. If you're even slightly behind the leader, it's usually not worth finishing the race. You'll be mashing that reset button again and again. This is supposed to be an arcade racer, for Pete's sake!
This philosophy unfortunately applies to the other modes as well. Platform mode tasks you with maneuvering through roads with huge holes cut out of them and maintaining enough speed to make extra long jumps. Even one mistake takes you out of the running for gold in a world that tries to go beyond its physics capabilities and sometimes is completely unclear on where to drive next.
Puzzle mode allows you to build tracks with a limited number of pieces and strict objectives, but manipulating 3D space on the tiny DS screen is an exercise in frustration. You must constantly zoom and rotate the camera to make sure that track pieces line up correctly (especially when it comes to height). These editing problems extend to creating your own tracks, which can only be shared locally. In this day and age, you just can't get away with not sharing user-created content online.