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Cars
Review By: Jared Black
Developer: Incinerator Games
Publisher: THQ
Genre: Racing
ESRB: Everyone
# Of Players: 1-2
Online Play: No
Accessories: Nunchuk, Dolby Pro Logic II, HDTV (480p)
Buy Now: Buy Cars at Amazon.com!

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One last version of Cars has arrived in the console realm, as the series arrives in the form of a launch title for the Nintendo Wii. Unlike the Xbox 360 version and its exclusive content however, this higher-priced version relies on its support of the Wii Remote to differentiate it from the last-gen versions that arrived before it. Unfortunately, this port has hit some potholes in the road during that conversion, resulting in perhaps the worst version of the game yet.

As with most other versions of the game, Cars’ Story Mode takes place in the open-ended world of Radiator Springs. Taking place after the events in the movie, Story Mode is basically a series of individual events strung together with cut-scenes between them. Players can explore the town and Ornament Valley to their heart’s content, collecting Bolt icons for bonus points and visiting various hot spots to trigger events. The world is large for a children’s game (although nowhere near the size of a proper sandbox title), full of various cliffs, side roads, and other landmarks to make exploration interesting for younger children.

Events are divided up into three different types: Road Races, Piston Cup Races, and Mini-Games. Road Races make up the bulk of the game, as players will compete in over 20 different ones while advancing the game’s plotline in the process. Piston Cup Races are basically NASCAR-lite, with all other mechanics removed allowing the player to focus on simply going as quickly as possible around each speedway. Finally, Mini-Games feature a nice variety of entertaining games based on events in the movie, such as Tractor Tipping with Mater (blow Mater’s horn at tractors while avoiding Frank and other obstacles) and chasing down speeders as Sheriff. There’s also a “Bonus Game” in the form of Ghosting Mater, but there’s really no reason for it to be in its own category.

Cars

As you’d imagine from a kid’s game, the actual race mechanics are fairly simple in theory. While vehicles can leap, use boosts, and perform power slides, the first two are rarely needed to win any given race. That’s because the A.I. rubber bands to an absurd degree, making it nearly impossible to lose until close to the end of the Story Mode. Should you happen to fall behind, the other drivers will virtually stop and wait for you to catch up. And once you get ahead, they generally keep things fairly close until they all mysteriously fall back quickly on the last lap. The effect is somewhat reversed during the Piston Cup Races however, as the rubber band A.I. actually serves to keep each race closer than it should be. On the whole though, this has the net effect of making the game a little too easy, even for the audience it’s aimed at.

Like pretty much all racers on the Wii, the game supports play with the Wii Remote turned on its side. In this mode, tilting it left or right controls steering, while raising it quickly jumps. The 1 button is used for the boost, 2 for gas, and the A button to brake. That’s a little unwieldy; to me it’d make more sense to have the 1 button as the brake, but it’s serviceable. The D-pad presents a problem though, as it’s used for powersliding (pressing left, up or down) and tilting (pressing right). I found powersliding with the D-pad to be very difficult, and confusing at first given I’ve been steering with it throughout my gaming lifetime. Even after adjusting for that however, I never got the response out of it I did from a shoulder button on the Xbox 360. Also, the B button is used as the emergency brake, and it’s very hard to use that with the controller on its side.

The alternative control scheme uses the Nunchuk’s control stick to steer, with moving the Remote still handling the jumping. Under this configuration, the Z button is used for the gas, the B button boosts, the C button brakes, and the A button is the emergency brake. The D-pad is still used for powersliding and tilting, and here the developers missed an opportunity in my view. Under this control setup, the team could’ve easily set powersliding to tilting the Nunchuk, or even to twisting the Remote itself. To me, either way would’ve been better than using the D-pad. So this setup too is serviceable, but hardly ideal.

As far as extras are concerned, collecting bonus points (both from icons scattered around Radiator Springs and points earned for doing well in a race) opens up a surprisingly large amount of unlockable items. These include new vehicles, concept art, alternate paint jobs, and more. Two players can also race against each other in the versus mode split-screen. There’s also an Arcade mode, where anything unlocked in Story Mode (as well as other bonus games) can be played at any time.

Cars

Graphically, Cars looks nice on its surface with well-animated characters, an interesting game world, and plenty of vibrant colors despite the desert setting. It may be a bit too vivid for crabby old adults, but children will no doubt enjoy the game’s look as they did the movie’s. Unfortunately there are a number of major technical glitches that come into play when it’s actually in motion, most glaringly a tremendous amount of pop-up. Large objects not painted on as background scenery pop in and out of view right in front of you, with many smaller details on the side of the road also filling out as you approach them. As expected the game also runs at a lower resolution than the Xbox 360 version (480p vs. 720p), which makes the extra pop-up even more troubling given there’s less demand on the system’s hardware. There are also other glitches, including tearing and frame rate hitches that point to a shoddy and rushed port.

Given that this game is based on a Pixar movie, naturally both the soundtrack and voice acting are very nice. The soundtrack features a number of classic driving and pop tunes, including “Rock This Town” by the Stray Cats, “Free Ride” by The Edgar Winter Group, and features several other well-known artists such as Los Lobos, Lynryd Skynyrd, etc. The voice actors are also an accomplished bunch, including George Carlin, Owen Wilson, Larry the Cable Guy, Pixar veteran John Ratzenberger, Paul Newman, and the rest of a rather large cast that’s just as eclectic as that mix. Fortunately they didn’t treat this product lightly, almost universally pulling off their characters with the same spirit and gusto as the film itself. However, the Piston Cup Races are marred by a repetitive announcer that doesn’t even get all of the calls right (ex: saying I had lost a spot when there wasn’t anyone even around me) as he’s repeating the same few sentences over and over again.

Bottom Line:

If you have a young one that’s still a Cars fan, and you haven’t picked up another version of the game for him or her yet (with the possible exception of the ultra-simple PC version), then this makes a decent purchase when looked at on its own. However, given the less than ideal Wii Remote & Nunchuk support I recommend the GameCube version, which can of course be played on the Wii and is a better value at $20 cheaper.

Pros:Cons:Final Score:
  • A sandbox game of sorts for children.
  • One of the best soundtracks and collection of voice talent you’ll find in any video game due to its connection with the movie.
  • Vibrant and appealing graphics on the surface.
  • Features an ultra-easy mode for young children, and a normal one for those slightly older.
  • Graphic glitches including tearing and even more pop-up than found in the Xbox 360 version, despite lower-res graphics.
  • Not optimized for the Wii Remote, with both control setups being usable but not ideal.
  • Simplistic racing and extreme rubber band A.I. rarely presents a challenge, unless it’s coming from the control scheme.
  • Only supports multiplayer for two, which means this isn’t the young kids’ party game it could’ve been.
5.3

Posted: 2007-01-14 13:08:05 PST