Reviewed: March 1, 2007
Released: November 19, 2006
There seems to be a paradigm shift going on in the gaming industry these days, at least when it comes to games based on movie licenses. It used to be you could just write off any movie-game that hit the shelf, but as technology has improved and the designers are actually figuring out how to make a decent game we are starting to see some outstanding products.
Cars is one such game, and it probably doesnít hurt that itís based on what, in my opinion, is one of the best animated tales of all time. And much like the movie, this is one game that will appeal to gamers of all ages. My younger niece and nephew had a great time playing it and so did their 42-year old uncle.
Cars has all the classic ingredients; charming characters, professional voice acting, stunning graphics right from Pixar, and some truly inspired gameplay that blends puzzles, adventure, action, and pure racing. Players can even pick from the Full Story or a Compact mode targeted toward the younger drivers out there.
The Story mode is where youíll have to start, since youíll unlock tracks and cars that can be used for the Arcade and VS. mode as you complete chapters within the main story. The video game does a good job of borrowing set piece moments from the movie but doesnít try to recreate the plot.
Youíll play as Lightning McQueen, starting off in Radiator Springs where you get to explore the town and surrounding areas as well as engage in all sorts of challenge races and even hunt down some missing postcards. Once you hook up with Mator youíll get to go tractor-tipping, which is probably the most fun Iíve had in a stealth mission since Splinter Cell.
Youíre guided through the multi-chapter story through a series of goals and race events you can do in any order you choose. Once complete, new chapters and new areas become available. Itís a pretty clever system that keeps you in certain sections of a very large map through natural obstacles or manmade ones like a road that is under construction preventing you from going into the desert.
There are lighting bolt pick-ups scattered about the levels as well as dozens of missing postcards you must located to complete one of the larger missions that spreads across the entire game. These postcards represent the hardest challenge in the entire game since they are hidden under bridges, in caves, and on the highest mushroom mesa. Getting these requires some very tricky jumping puzzles.
Youíll acquire numerous trophy points that track your progress through the story. These lead to major racing events on actual tracks and it all leads up to the Piston Cup. The big race events are usually not that difficult to win, but they do offer a really fun and interactive pit crew mini-game where you have to match button-presses to changes tires, clean the window, etc.
There are 30 mini-games that offer some of the more memorable moments in the game. Youíll get to chase down speeders as the Sheriff, or compete in a military obstacle course, race Mator backwards, or try some dirt racing with crazy jumps and even crazier powerslides. As you complete these games within the story they are unlocked for future replays in the other game modes.
The big hook for the Wii is the motion control and the designers have managed to work in some competent vehicle controls that allow you to steer by tilting the Wii-mote and jump by lifting it up. It's pretty natural and actually quite fun. Gas and brake controls are amiss with the gas being on 2 and the brakes assigned to A while boost is activated with the 1 button. Since drifting requires the use of the D-pad and your finger is already being used to brake (A) it makes things awkward and even worse, you cannot reassign any of the controls.
If you aren't comfortable with the motion control steering you can hook-up the nunchuk and use the analog stick to steer and flick the Wii-mote to jump. There are also some clever motion control elements worked into the various mini-games, especially the pit stops during the big races.
While all of the game content made the trip to the Wii along with some nifty motion input nuances, the visuals are more akin to the GameCube version. At least the Wii outputs the graphics in widescreen and progressive scan for some crisp clear graphics and animation. Nobody is really expected a next-gen graphics experience on the Wii so you won't be disappointed. The car models still look perfect and include all the subtle quirks and animations that bring these vehicles to life.
The map is huge, even when you are initially restricted to certain zones, but when the game is over and you can go back and just free drive, it can take you a good 15-20 minutes of real time to go from one end of the map to the other, and the scenery is breathtaking. Remember that movie moment where Lightning comes out of the tunnel and sees the giant waterfall and the pine trees? The game captures that moment with perfect clarity. The overall draw distance isn't as long as the 360 but it's comparable to every other system Cars has appeared on.
The HUD and map screen is fun and friendly with a nice overview map that lets you change chapters and access events. The entire presentation of the game has a Cars flavor from entering your name on a license plate to selecting your events from road signs. There are some excellent cutscenes and movies that take the visuals to near film-like quality and seamlessly transition with the game graphics.
The voice cast sports and impressive list of actors and celebrities. Pretty much everyone from the movie contributed to the game with actors like Owen Wilson, Cheech Marin, John Ratzenberger, Michael Keaton, George Carlin, Larry the Cable Guy, Bonnie Hunt, Tony Shalhoub, Richard Petty, Darrell Waltrip, and about 20 other stars. There isnít much of a story so the speech pretty much just supports the action and offers countless humorous moments Ė mostly from Larry (Mator).
Sound effects are excellent with all sorts of engine sounds and environmental noises. There is a fantastic 3D mix that really envelops you as you drive through the desert and scream down Route 66 at 200mph.
The soundtrack is short but oh so sweet, even if it is aimed at gamers my age rather than the kids who are likely to be playing the game. With groups like Los Lobos, Stray Cats, and The Edgar Winter Group, there are 9 licensed tracks that will keep your toes tapping while you race around Radiator Springs and explore the desert.
For the die-hard racer and adventure fan there are 250 Trophies to collect. Youíll also earn bonus points that you can spend on dozens of unlockables like new cars, paint jobs, and art and scenes from the movie. Expect a good 12-15 hours to complete the full story mode and about half that time if you go for the compact model.
The multiplayer is great fun, at least for the younger racing audience, offering split-screen racing action for any of the tracks and courses using any of the cars already unlocked during the story mode. Sure, there are better racing games out there with a lot more substance, but they donít have the charm of Cars.
The motion control is a whole new way to experience this game, but if you already own a previous version it would be hard to recommend a repeat purchase just for this one element. Rent it if you are curious.
Cars is quite simply one of the best movie-to-game conversions in the history of the sketchy genre. I wasn't expecting much more beyond a straight port from the other systems and that is exactly what I got with the Wii. The graphics aren't as good but they don't disappoint either. And while Rainbow put in a valiant attempt to add motion control they messed up with a bad and non-configurable default control scheme when it came to the button assignments.
Despite these minor glitches, Cars is just plain fun to play, with races, exploration, and even some tactical stealth puzzles, making this truly a game for all ages. Guaranteed to put a smile on your face, Cars is a fun diversion for Wii gamers and a hint of things to come for the racing genre.