Having watched Cars 2 - the movie - this weekend, and played Cars 2 - the video game...both have surprised me in opposite ways. The film, a cheeky, decent attempt to sequel-ize my favorite Pixar flick, left me slightly disappointed. It did nothing really new, and didn’t capitalize on some of the great secondary and tertiary characters from the first film. The game, however, is perfect for the film’s setting; my wife and I actually had a lot of fun with it.
Keeping in mind that the first Cars-branded game that we purchased - a splitscreen title for the Wii - was downright terrible, we had meager hopes for this one. It was rented as a trial run for the Redbox post from last week. However, humor and production prevailed as the intro kicked in, and we found ourselves pleasantly surprised.
What I liked most about the game is that simplicity and complexity are both present. A child familiar with the Mario Kart series can drive and win. Someone with a little bit more gaming experience will have fun performing airborne stunts, drifting, shooting a small variety of weapons at other racers, and even pulling moves inspired by the movies - like jumping over obstacles and pushing horizontally off of walls when turns get too shallow.
Overall campaign progress is slow, which can be good or bad depending on the player. Someone trying to beat the game 100% is going to take a long time. A long time. With 10 tiers of around 10 races each...well, you get the picture. And while the difficulty is very mild so as not to be frustrating, the flip side is that not every race is the height of excitement.
Luckily for younger players with short attention spans there are about 10 cars to choose from at the start, with even more available as unlocks and at least four as paid DLC. In total, over 20 individual characters can be used, plus re-skinned variants of some of them. Choosing a car to play as may take longer for a youngster than picking a track. The potential is there to keep a child interested for months...maybe years.
More mature gamers are going to find less lasting enjoyment, unless they’re playing with their kids. Achievements and Trophies are few and far between, focusing on unusual in-game actions as opposed to progress milestones. On top of that, there is no online mode whatsoever. Multiplayer/co-op is very fluid and easy to jump into, but only on the local side. The gameplay is fun...but after 20 races or so it would be nice to have some added challenge or something to show for the last six hours of racing.
Just how cooperative the game is depends on where you’re at in the campaign. The entire storyline is playable in splitscreen with up to four players...but until you reach each tier's end and unlock those races for Free Play, friendly fire remains on and players are scored individually. It’s arguable that the campaign is less co-op than Free Play (where you can turn off friendly fire), but ultimately all four players are assisting the person whose game save is being played on. All it takes to win a race is one player - so while teamwork isn't necessary, you're also not fighting against each other.
For its flexible gameplay and four-player local support, Cars 2 is a very worthwhile rental. I would go so far to say that gaming families would do well to buy it. There’s something here for nearly everyone, plain and simple. The pseudo-cooperative nature of the campaign is debatable, but it’s a solid casual game and worth checking out.