Amid the sea of mediocre or just plain awful licensed games, Disney and Avalanche Software surprised everyone with Toy Story 3 last year. By working closely with Pixar, Avalanche was able to take the essence of the property and turn it into a game that not only made sense, but was actually really good. When I heard the same amount of time and collaboration was going into Cars 2, I expected to see the same level quality. I'm pleased to say Cars 2 exceeded my expectations.
In Cars 2 (the film) 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. The console versions of Cars 2 leave the story-telling to the masters at Pixar, and instead focus on making a game that's related to the story, but not bogged down by it. There really isn't a story in the Cars 2 game. You're taken behind the scenes to be trained as a C.H.R.O.M.E. agent by completing simulations of races and other driving tasks, and that's basically it.
Cars 2 is a kart racer that takes more than a little inspiration from Mario Kart and is just as fun. But instead of turtle shells and banana peels, you're using real weapons like machine guns and rocket launchers. You're also doing more than racing in Cars 2. Different modes have you hunting down enemies in a vast arena, or competing in teams in a capture the flag-style set-up. With easy drop-in and drop-out local multiplayer for up to four players, Cars 2 should have many a family having fun together.
But it's really not just for families. If you can look past the kiddie license, you'll find a racer that's super easy to pick up and play, but a bit more complicated to master. Besides using weapons, you can also perform tricks in Cars 2 to build up your turbo boost meter. These tricks include in-air flips and spins, driving on two wheels, and driving backwards (with the controls reversed appropriately.)You can also forcefully side-swipe opponents to force them off the track. I had a blast racing against some of my fellow editors or blowing them to bits in the deathmatch-style arena mode.
But that also brings me to the game's biggest fault. Racing by yourself just isn't as fun as with others. Thankfully, the game supports multiplayer in all modes, meaning you can unlock all the characters and tracks (of which there are many) by playing multiplayer. Another minor flaw is the lack of knowledge you have of your position in a race relative to the finish line and other players. You're told what place you're currently in, but it would have been nice to have a mini-map of sorts that showed you just how far behind or ahead you are.
Controls on the Wii can be a little finicky. Since you have to use the single analog stick to steer and perform tricks, I sometimes found myself driving backwards or up on two wheels when I hadn't intended to. Cars 2 also uses motion controls to jump and side-swipe other cars, but these feel pretty natural and don't get in way of the gameplay. The game supports a wheel and both the classic controller and GameCube controllers, which solve the inadvertent tricks by separating them from the controls for steering.
Visually, Cars 2 is great. You can tell that Avalanche works closely with Pixar in the little details, like how the cars lift their tires to turn and move their entire bodies in expressions. Another nice touch is that during all of the modes, you can see your car's face in the upper left corner, so even though you're staring at their backside most of the time, you still get the feeling that you're playing as one of the characters from the film. This is helped along by the fact that many of the actors who voiced the characters on the big screen also voice the characters in the game. With the exception of Lightning and Finn McMissile, pretty much all of the other characters have their true voices, and each character has a collection of unique comments and taunts that help add to the atmosphere.
It's not surprising with Disney's kid-friendly focus that Cars 2 doesn't feature online play. This would have been cool for us older gamers, but I can understand where Disney is coming from in leaving it out.