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You've seen the movie, got the t-shit, and enjoyed the happy meal. Now you can play the game! Ok so I admit it, the adults in our house are suffering from Cars fatigue. Something not helped by the fact that it is, understandably, our kids' favourite film of the moment which results in multiple viewings.
If ever there was a film crying out for merchandise and games it was this one. It is simply oozing potential for racing game series. Not only is the film based around racing cars, but one of the main plot points features Lightning (the red car for those not in the know) learning how to reverse lock and power slide around corners.
Before spending too much time on the game myself, and formed too much of an opinion, I wanted to see it through the eyes of my kids. We managed to find a free hour one weekend afternoon and I was able to sit down and play it with the kids.
Eddie (2) obviously had less of a connection between his movements and what was happening on screen, but the images and sounds were bright enough to keep him interested for the duration of the race.
Having played some Wii before, they instinctively grabbed a Wii-mote each whilst I was popping in the disk. As they watched the game fire up to much applause, you could really see that the sugar coated neon aesthetic adopted from the film really grabbed their attention. It was good to see that the menus were clear with well designed icons for each option. Something that should help my kids (4 and 2) play on their own when they are a bit older.
I got them started on a two player head to head race and sat back to watch the chaos. Carly (4) actually did much better then I had expected. She's played a fare few Wii games and quite a lot of WarioWare Twisted so has got a good feel for tilt controls. For some reason she needed no instruction and was already holding the Wii-mote sideways. In this orientation tilting left or right steers whilst acceleration, turbo and drift are mapped to the buttons and D-pad. Eddie (2) obviously had less of a connection between his movements and what was happening on screen, but the images and sounds were bright enough to keep him interested for the duration of the race. Admittedly, he did spend the majority of his time jerking the controller trying to get Flash to jump, and was most satisfied when he pulled it off!
One downside for the younger player was the post game save options. A window with a full paragraph of text pops up asking if you want to save. The default option is No which leads to a second window asking if you are sure. Unfortunately this defaults to No as well, taking you back to the previous question. My kids kept pressing A and looping round these two questions until I intervened.
As with any movie franchise, they obviously need to maximise the use of the license. To that end Cars has seen a release on pretty much every portable and home console. This enables them to share art and sound assets between the different games. Cars on the Wii did seem to have benefited from the extra investment. When compared to the other titles, it is a shame that Nintendo don't have anything like the 360's achievement scheme as this adds another incentive to play the game. Your progress is rewarded with film footage, artwork, additional characters and paint jobs, but this soon gets a little tired. If only Nintendo would join the rest of the constructors in providing standardised rewards for playing. Just imagine if you could earn accessories and clothing for your Mii as you collected your game achievements!
This lack of incentives belies their focus on the younger player. The racing experience, although quite solid, is just nowhere near as refined as other games on the Wii. Most disappointing for me was the drift feature. As this had featured heavily in the film I was expecting a good few levels drifting elegantly around a snaking track. However, the drifting feature turned out to be quite limited with little scope for prolonged tangential movement. Although the steering itself offers a good analogue experience via the Wii-mote, you apply a drift with a button press which locks you into the skid and limits your steering control. This results in twitchy cornering, a million miles from that achieved by Flash in the big screen version. Add to this the fact that you can't adjust the buttons of the sensitivity of the controls and things start to feel a little constrained.
The main story mode of the game is accessed by exploring a pretty accurate recreation of the Radiator Springs town from the film. Different events and races are accessed by driving to appropriate locations on the map. As you work your way through each course you slowly unlock other courses and mini games. Some of the courses do look pretty similar, but the 30 or so mini games turn out to be a great little addition to the game and provide a bit more value.
Apart from the control issues, the racing itself is actually better than I had expected. The computer drivers do a good job of sticking to their line whilst getting in your way. At times they even manage to exhibit a bit of aggression. Additionally, I was also pleased to see that you could pull out a lead without the computer cheating and catching the other drivers up the minute you crash. The racing is of the rough and ready arcade style perfected by Burnout, although substantially dumbed down and child friendly. This didn't stop it from being good clean fun.
Overall, the game does what it sets out to do. It is a competent rendition of a franchising formula we all know and have at least leant to live with. My kids remain oblivious to my issues about the controls and physics; they just want to control their favourite cars from the films. Although an older player can also have some fun here, this is really a game best played through the eyes of the younger members of our population.
With so many different perspectives it can be hard to know where to start - a little like walking into a crowded pub. Sorry about that.
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