The previous console entries for the Cars series were racing games. Based on the Disney/Pixar movie of the same name, the main title and its two sequels were simple but entertaining racing games that also threw in a bit of open world exploration through the town of Radiator Springs. Before coming out with the inevitable game tie-in for the movie Cars 2, Disney Interactive decided that it was time to release another Cars game to keep the franchise fresh in fans' eyes. Instead of making another racing game, though, the publisher decided to team up with developer Papaya Games to make a minigame collection. The result is Cars Toon: Mater's Tall Tales, a game that's good but not outstanding for the average young gamer.
The premise is based on the Mater's Tall Tales shorts that have appeared on the Disney Channel and its other kid-oriented affiliates. Mater tells Lightning McQueen about the time he was something other than an ordinary tow truck. No matter how unbelievable the story is, there's always some indication that perhaps it was true after all. Of the many tall tales, the game uses six of them as the foundation for the various plots, including tales where Mater is a daredevil, fire fighter, matador and pro wrestler. There are also tales of a chance encounter with a UFO and Mater towing a car to Japan.
There are three gameplay modes in the game. In Tall Tales mode, each of the six episodes is split up into five pieces consisting of different minigames. Instead of playing as Mater, though, you'll play a nameless, custom car that happens to be at Mater's every adventure. Every event can be played with multiple people simultaneously, and the scores at the end of each game not only determine the amount of coins you gain for customization purposes, but it also unlocks personal achievement trophies and the ability to play those games again in the other modes.
With the minigames being the real heart of the experience, it's good to know that there is some real variety to the minigames. You've seen most of them before. Trying to collect as many items as possible before time runs out or doing timed jumps and ducks is standard minigame fare, and the only difference here is the Cars theme. They may be classic fare by now, but they're still fun experiences to be had. The real eye-openers go out of their way to emulate games that haven't previously been replicated in minigame format. The Unidentified Flying Mater episode, for example, features a nice little Frogger homage, while Tokyo Mater has a good Space Invaders-like sequence. Monster Truck Mater, though, seems to have the more surprising ones, including an on-rails shooter, a button-mashing final boss encounter and a simple fighting game.
Free Play mode has you selecting any of the minigames — provided you've unlocked them — and Playlist mode gives you the ability to create a list of minigames to play in one sitting. Both options come complete with the cut scenes from the Tall Tales mode, and while they are short, you will see them more often than you'd like. The money earned in each of the minigames can be used for personal car customization. Though it isn't as in-depth as most modern racing games, you can change a few of your car's aesthetics, such as color, decals, hats, rims and spoilers.
There are a few issues to contend with when you're playing Cars Toon. The numerous load screens aren't long enough to dampen the experience, but the amount of disc access makes you worry that you're ruining the lifespan of your console. The games are on the easy side, which is fine for the intended audience, but more experienced players won't glean any satisfaction. Most of the games are self-explanatory, but a few can only be learned through trial and error. The pictograms that explain the controls for each game aren't always informative, and neither is some of the dialogue that sets up the scene. The number of minigames in the compilation is what hurts the most. Unlike most minigame compilations, this title only features 30 games. If you really want to be a stickler about it, the number would be even smaller because some of the minigames are repeated throughout a story. With nothing else to play, those who are looking for more substantial fare along the lines of Mario Party will be disappointed.
The graphics of the previous Cars games always did a good job of rendering the world faithfully, thanks to the bright colors and overall basic layout of the movies, and Cars Toon continues that tradition. The characters match the animated versions perfectly, save for some extra detail in the lighting, and the animations are as smooth as can be, especially your character's facial expressions during slow-motion jumps. The backgrounds are more varied and lively than they have been in previous games. For example, the neon streets of Tokyo look great and the crowds for the matador arena and wrestling ring have audience members that utilize full motion instead of a few animation frames. The particle effects are also top-notch, and while the camera is perfect for most of the minigames, it appears much too close and low to the ground in a few racing sections; it's a tad unwieldy since there isn't an option to change the camera angle.
For the most part, the sound is as good as it ever was. The voice actors are the same ones from the animated shorts, so there's no disconnect between the in-game audio and cut scenes. The quality is as good as it is in the shorts, though there are a few times when Mater's repeated lines can get annoying. The music is repetitive considering the length of most of the minigames, but all of the tracks fit well with the themes of each level. With effects that are practically flawless, the only knock against the sound would be the use of the Wii Remote speaker for some of the effects. The quality of the speaker has always been an issue, and the game makes no case about why developers would want to keep using it.
The controls work well most of the time. Utilizing only the Wiimote, the game often switches back and forth from standard remote configuration to horizontal, NES-style button configuration. Anything requiring simple button presses or shaking the Wiimote works well. The controls don't work so well in games that require subtle movement of the Wiimote in the horizontal position. It works well enough in the racing sequences, but for the ring race in Unidentified Flying Mater and the tire rescue in the fire truck episode, you feel like you have less control of your character. Even with that caveat, the overall controls can still be considered good enough.
Cars Toon: Mater's Tall Tales is best described as a good children's game in an unfortunately crowded genre. Most of the games are different enough that party game vets will enjoy them, and fans of the characters will be pleased to know that the game also looks and sounds good. Fans of the series will be fine with this purchase, while gamers who are weary of the genre may want to hold wait until the price starts to drop or they reignite their appreciation for the genre.
More articles about Cars Toon: Mater's Tall Tales