By now most people are aware of the Cars franchise – it’s one of Pixars most recognisable IPs alongside Toy Story and The Incredibles – with multiple spin offs and sequel movies releasing since the original first hit cinemas in 2006. Back in 2006 there was still only one film and Cars 2 wouldn’t release until 2011. Racing games have always been a popular genre, so it’s no surprise that the movie ended up having its own tie-in game but it’s not a retelling of the movie’s events; it’s a direct sequel to the film that was made prior to Cars 2.
It’s status as a sequel allows it to bring in characters established in the movie without having to explain who they are to a new audience. Mater, Doc Hudson, Sally, Fillmore, Luigi and more are all in the cast and voiced by the talent that played them in the movie instead of being re-cast by actors that sound like the original. Some of these characters are playable in the game in certain areas as you progress through the game’s story and in a few minigames. For example, the third race of the game – Sally’s Sunshine Circuit – has the player racing as Sally against Mia and Tia around Radiator Springs.
Cars: The Video Game has five chapters, with each one seeing you take on a few races around the Cars universe as well as a minigame before taking on one of the five big raceways. Depending on how you want to play, the story has two modes – full size and compact – where the latter only has three chapters instead of five, and locks you out of certain races (For example North Desert Dash) as well as making the AI easier. This means that you only have to race through three major raceways: Palm Mile Speedway, Sun Valley International Speedway and Los Angeles International Speedway, whilst Motor Speedway of the South and Smasherville International Speedway are omitted.
The races themselves are inventive, interesting and fun, often focusing themselves around the same general three areas of play (Radiator Springs, Ornament Valley, and Tailfin Pass) but changing them up so that the races start and end in a variety of different areas across those three maps. In one race you’ll be going one way but in another you’ll be racing the opposite direction or even going off track. For a game that’s only meant to be a small tie-in for a kid’s film, it has a surprising amount of different race tracks that can be tackled.
Most races will feature a wide range of other cars that you’ll be competing against. The majority are prominent figures in the Cars universe from the movie, but less important characters such as the Delinquent Road Hazards also make an appearance later on in the game, as well as some entirely new characters made just for the game. As the game only features three areas (they are quite big), you will end up noticing that some characters do end up returning in races to fill the gaps of all six required places for the competition.
Outside of the main story, there’s a chunk of minigames that can be played, accessible throughout the semi-open world. There’s Luigi’s Pit Stop, which sees you collecting tires around Radiator Springs within the time limit, an obstacle course with Sarge’s Bootcamp and Tractor Tipping with Mater. These are only a few of the accessible minigames littered in the game, and each one has its own unique minigame and twist on the gameplay that makes them a joy to take part in, although the difficulty does seem to only get a small spike between the first and last levels and isn’t much of a challenge for older players; a point that doesn’t take away from the overall enjoyment of the activities.
Cars has one of the most natural feeling controls of any racing game. Sure, you’re not getting something incredibly realistic or close to Formula 1 or NASCAR, but it just feels right. The movement of the car as you turn left and right, whether powersliding or not, never has the impression that you’re doing it too early or too late. It hits a sweet spot where its not too strict or too lenient on the controls that you’ll end up making a mistake because of bad driving.
The big five races are much more linear, and don’t allow for more intricate manoeuvres or strategies around the track, so they end up feeling more like a chore than a fun part of the game. These five races also figure the gas mechanic, where you’ll have to refill yourself near the end of the race – it’s a fun little minigame and not too difficult and provides a nice change of pace from the rest of the game, even if the majority of the actual racing is repetitive and not as fun.
Cars: The Video Game is a surprising but genuinely fun racing game that can entertain both adults and children alike. Although we know that Cars 2 is the proper sequel, the game still manages to create a fulfilling journey using already established areas from the original game. It never falters throughout its story or optional adventures and brings a truly refreshing experience in not only the racing game genre, but for games based on their film counterparts as well.