Developer: Rainbow Studios
Release Date: October 29, 2007
Cars: Mater-National on the Wii marks one of the few times a movie license game has been so successful that it spawned a sequel of sorts. The first Cars title sold like gangbusters, and while Mater-National isn't quite the same as the previous Cars release on all of the consoles, the gameplay of this pseudo-sequel feels pretty much the same all the way around.
Keep in mind that Cars: Mater-National is only geared to one demographic, and that's obviously the youngest one. This isn't a racing title with the depth or appeal to keep an adult involved for long, but as far as racing titles for children go, it's actually pretty decent. The visuals are bright, the characters are recognizable, and while all of the voice acting might not be done by the same actors from the film, they do a close enough job of getting it right that the little ones probably won't notice much if something sounds a bit off.
You have a few modes to pick from, with the main gut of Mater-National being the story mode, which plays out in a sandbox environment featuring the town from the first game, where Mater can interact with the cast and go into certain events pertaining to the actual story. The Arcade mode allows you to select from a series of mini-games for one-time play, basically the free-play mode of the game. Arcade mode also lets you select from any of the races that you've already played in the main game, so if you want to practice a particular track or improve your previous attempts, you can do so here. There's also a bit of offline multiplayer with two players, and you can compete in various races and locations, similar to stuff that pops up in the single-player mode.
The story of the game obviously revolves around Mater, voiced by comedian Larry the Cable Guy, who sets up a championship in his name at Radiator Springs, offering the challenge to any competitor that would like to participate, even if they're from other countries. It's a sequel of sorts, with less of a focus on the original main character of Lightning McQueen and more so on the popular Mater character.
For the most part, there's a heavy emphasis on racing, like any title featuring a bunch of talking car characters should have, but they also try to mix up the events a bit with some mini-games, which have you performing various small tasks around Radiator Springs, usually with a time limit involved. It's these mini-games that you'll unlock to play later in the Arcade mode, and while they're a decent enough distraction from the main game, I wish they would've stuck a bit more to the racing aspect, since most of the mini-game tasks feel out of place compared to the rest of the title. They do have some use in the main game though, as they'll be one of the primary ways of earning Bolt Banners, which allow you to unlock more races and other games down the road. You can also unlock other vehicles to use as well, and completing the various mini-game activities takes care of most of this.
Instead, the most fun you'll get out of the title is with the races against various international competitors. Mater sets up these races, and the racing is pretty easy, but the AI tends to feel a bit elastic, easily catching up to you or never falling too far behind. That's not to say that the game is an incredible challenge because you'll almost always be in first place after the initial lap is over. Even if you've got someone very close behind you, it's pretty easy to block him off and stay in the lead. On the off chance that someone gets ahead of you, the elasticity seems to run both ways, and it's rare that you'll ever lag far enough behind to be left in the dust.
As far as the controls go, they all feel pretty precise, and they're easy to get the hang of. Mater-National feels like more of a kart racer than a typical arcade racing game, since you have the ability to add some extra oomph to your turns with mechanics like the tilt turn, which props you up on two wheels as you go around a bend, and a few other power-ups are scattered around the track. The controls aren't nearly as focused on motion with the Wiimote as you might expect, opting to not go the Mario Kart Wii route of tilting the remote on its side and moving it like a steering wheel. Instead, the majority of the movement is designated to the Nunchuk analog stick; you can perform your slides by tilting the Nunchuk and hit the gas with the A button. You can opt to use the Mario Kart control scheme, but you'll need to go into options to change it over.
As far as a preference goes, I didn't feel that the Wiimote steering option feels as precise as simply using the analog control setup; it was more difficult to keep my vehicle centered, and I had to focus so much on keeping away from obstacles on the road that it prevented the game from being fun. It just feels a little more sensitive than I'd like, but I imagine that kids would get a bigger kick out of feeling like they're turning a steering wheel than I did.
Visually, Mater-National obviously isn't as impressive as the 360 iteration, but it does a good enough job on the Wii. It's not the best we've seen on the system by far, but the characters have enough detail to stand out from one other, and the colors are nice, bright and definitely in tune with the film. Almost everything is rendered in real time, since there are no movie scenes to back up the in-game visuals for this sequel, but that works well, since there's no jarring difference between the two.
The voiceover work is top-notch, with quite a few surprising members of the cast coming back for this video game sequel. Obviously you have the lead character of Mater still being voiced by Larry the Cable Guy, with a few funny lines tossed in there and enough kid humor to keep the little ones engaged for the entire story.
Cars: Mater-National isn't a bad attempt at crafting a sequel to the popular film, but unlike Pixar's storytelling abilities, this doesn't walk a fine enough line to satisfy both adults and children. From the visuals to the gameplay, this is purely kid's stuff, and it's obviously not built with adults in mind. The challenges are far too easy, and the core gameplay doesn't offer up enough variations to keep you involved for long. I'm sure the younger crowd will eat it up, but adult fans of the movie need to keep in mind that this title wasn't intended for them.