Alongside Cars, the newest addition to the ever-growing and consistently high-quality lexicon of Pixar animated films, comes the predictable video game tie-in. But there’s something altogether unfamiliar about this version of Cars, something unexpected from the perspective of anyone who’s ever played a lackluster Pixar-licensed movie game before. You see, Cars isn’t just a middling cash-in on the license. It’s a legitimately fun piece of work that combines driving game components with an open-ended gameworld and a host of goofy minigames that aren’t broken, tacked-on, or otherwise unpleasant. It also manages to capture the heart and humor of the film pretty well, thanks in no small part to the great character animation and use of the entire celebrity voice cast from the movie. Certainly there are a few aspects of Cars that feel hurried for the sake of getting the game on store shelves in tune with the film release, but Cars transcends these few nagging issues with its charm and character, and it manages to be a good bit of fun to play, too.
Leave it to Pixar to take big hunks of combustion-powered metal and rubber and turn them into endearing characters. Just in case you haven’t seen the movie, Cars is about a world of, well, cars. These are cars with faces, unique personalities, and no human drivers to get in the way. The story focuses around an up-and-comer in stock car racing named Lightning McQueen. Lightning is the next big thing in racing, but when he inadvertently wreaks havoc in the sleepy burg of Radiator Springs on his way to his next race, Lightning finds himself stuck with these country bumpkins, learning inevitable lessons of life and love. You don’t necessarily need to know any of this going into the video game version of Cars, but it helps to have seen the movie first, since Cars the game actually takes place after the movie’s plotline. The vast majority of the principal characters from the movie, as well as their associated voice actors, are on hand here for an entirely original tale that sees Lightning working his way through the new racing season against his rival, Chick Hicks (voiced to twitchy perfection by Michael Keaton). It’s a cute story that’s got a good bit of humor, and anybody who liked the movie ought to be able to get into it easily.