Many games based on movies are doomed to mediocrity because their gameplay is designed to rigidly fit the movie's story rather than being a compliment to it. This is the case with the DS version of Cars 2, and it's a bit baffling because its console big brothers have an awesome design.
In Cars 2, Lightning McQueen travels around the globe to race in the World Grand Prix, while some agents from Command Headquarters for Recon Operations & Motorized Espionage (C.H.R.O.M.E) are trying to get to the bottom of an evil plot. You play as a number of different characters, including Lightning, Mater, Holly, and Finn in two basic types of gameplay – racing and stealth.
Visually, Cars 2 is about what you would expect for a DS game, though the characters are animated well and look exactly like lower resolution versions of their big-screen counterparts. Another bonus is that the game features voiceover and most of it is from the actors who did the voices in the film. With the exception of Lightning and Finn McMissile, pretty much all of the other characters have their true voices, even though they suffer from some distortion due to compression.
The racing gameplay is pretty solid, though the drifting controls seem to over compensate for turns and send you off the other side of the track. I ended up simply not drifting at all and was still able to complete all the races in first place. There are also only two types of races. Standard races are against one to a number of other competitors, and drop out races knock out the car in last place when a timer hits zero. These can be fun at first, but they get a little monotonous after a while.
Where the game really stumbles is in the stealth missions, which are frustrating because of the controls and the repetitive nature of your tasks. In nearly all of these missions, you're navigating an environment while trying to avoid detection by spotlights, helicopters, or other cars. You have a cloaking ability you can activate in a pinch if you're about to get caught. Some of the missions add in the additional challenge of obstacles like oil slicks or only give you a certain amount of time to complete them.
Many of these missions take place in indoor environments that are extremely small and tight. Granted, you are playing as a big bulky car, but the game seems pretty unforgiving in the collision. I certainly don't expect the characters to be as agile as a human, but controlling them feels more like you're driving a big rig than a tow truck or sports car. Barely grazing the corner of a wall will bring you to a complete stop, and your turn radius is so terrible, you have to back up a long way in order to appropriately redirect yourself. In other words, the mechanics of these levels feel way too real for a game based on a cartoon.
After beating all of the races and stealth missions in story mode, you can replay them in C.H.R.O.M.E. mode to unlock more awards. You can also jump right into a race in the quick mode. It seems like a no-brainer that a game based on racing would feature multiplayer, but the only online functionality in Cars 2 is a connection to the free-to-play World of Cars Online, as completing certain tasks in the DS game will unlock special items in the web game.
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