Release Date: June 6, 2006
The reviewers here at WorthPlaying are required to use a pair of chest waders before they start, in order to push through the flood of movie and television licenses that need reviewing. For every movie marketed to children or teenagers, there's at least one game for each system, and for every television show marketed to such, there are at least three. The heavy majority of these are almost depressingly mediocre, though a few in each crop are absolutely horrible. A good rule of thumb to use is that for every 10 licensed titles, three are actually worth playing, with one out of possibly 50 is actually an honestly good game, regardless of its license.
So when Disney and Pixar teamed up again for "Cars," my hope for the license pool sank a slight notch. After all, the Toy Story and Monsters, Inc. games were less than spectacular, and let's not mention the Finding Nemo licenses. The games themselves ended up a wild hodgepodge of roam-about, racing and mini-games. While the Nintendo DS snagged mainly the mini-games from the console inceptions of Cars, the GBA incarnation of the game focuses more on the racing.
For those who haven't seen the newest kids' movie blockbuster, Cars is the story, of, well, cars. If you've ever seen those Chevron commercials with the cars sitting there and talking to each other, just imagine that, but a whole movie-sized planet of nothing but that: Cars with eyes, mouths, personalities, and not a human in sight. "Cars" – the movie – is the story of Lightning McQueen, hotshot stock race car (a la NASCAR) who gets himself stranded doing community service in the little podunk town of Radiator Springs; naturally, along the way, he'll learn the virtues of friendship and perseverance, just like in every other Disney movie ever.
Cars – the game – has none of that. It's simply the story of Lightning McQueen as he drives around. That is to say, there's practically no plot, short of a few brief cut scenes that have Lightning swapping half-hearted jabs at his competition, usually archetypical rival Chick Hicks. So what's the point, one might ask?
You're a car. Now, what exactly do cars do? If you said anything other than "drive around," maybe you should rethink your view of the world. If you said "break down constantly," maybe you should simply look into another car company. Sixty percent of Cars is racing, and 30% consists of time trials, where your only goal is to get from point A to point B faster. The other 10% of the game is the fairly inane task of collecting medals that are arbitrarily strewn about each track after you complete it.
There's good and bad to this equation in practically every field. The game is easy to pick up and put down, making it nicely portable, but at the same time, playtime is hideously short. Even collecting every last medal in every last race and completing the game will be a task finished in less than a day, and all of the medals unlock are a few extra movie screenshots.
Compounding the problem is the fact that there is absolutely no multiplayer, leaving the true potential for fun that the game bears totally unrealized. In addition, the unlocking of alternate cars to use – ranging from mentor Doc Hudson to rival Chick Hicks – seems utterly pointless with the lack of multiplayer, as the game forces you to use Lightning in every last unfinished race, only allowing you to choose others in the medal-collecting portion of the game.
The graphics are beautiful for the Game Boy Advance, the sprites easily distinguishable from each other and their surroundings, but the road races have occasional spots where it's a bit tricky to see where you're supposed to turn next, even with the helpful indicators of upcoming turns almost constantly flashing on your screen. Music is surprisingly palatable but is entirely nonexistent during the gameplay portions themselves, leaving the completely average revving of engines and squealing of tires to abuse your ears.
This leaves the control to be discussed. Ah, the controls. Anybody who's played Kirby Air Ride knows exactly where the good and bad lie with this, just from me mentioning the game alone, but for those who haven't experienced the seemingly unrelated game: Cars is practically on rails. Sure, you can brake, but there is no direction to go but forward. This makes control a breeze: You may skid, swerve and suffer the occasional spinout, but if you know how early you need to take each turn, there's absolutely nothing stopping you from simply sliding and drifting through every last race into an easy first. On the other hand, it also makes Cars even more of a cakewalk incapable of holding the attention of even the most stoic child for very long at all.
Cars is an acceptable game in just about every respect, but it never once steps into the realm of "good game." Sometimes, the flaws make the masterpiece, and sometimes, the flaws just make something flawed. More a case of the latter than the former, Cars is a game that is a rental at best, unless you have children who are really, really into the movie, or if you really liked Kirby Air Ride but didn't care much for all that replay value.
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