Everybody knows that games that spawn from movie licenses have a tendency to, um, stink. This is generally even more evident when said film-inspired games hit every console imaginable. In the case of Cars for the Game Boy Advance, the axiom is thankfully not the case. While the game is neither particularly inspiring nor original, it is far from an offense to the senses and the kids may even have a little fun playing as their hero from the popular movie.
As you may expect, Cars is a racing game starring you as the film's protagonist and leading "man", Lightning McQueen. The ever-cocky and hyper-confident McQueen tears through a series of events that ultimately allow the pursuit of the vaunted Piston Cup, i.e. the Holy Grail of the Cars universe. The story, as it were, tracks McQueen through an assortment of time trials, races, and grand prix jaunts, meeting up with other characters from the movie along the way.
The racing action is well executed, and a decent number of obstacles and helpful power-ups will do their part to occupy time and space. Rarely will you be able to win any of the later events on the first or second try. Head off of the road, and McQueen will get slowed down to a crawl. Ditto if he runs into the "wrong way" icons strewn among the roads, causing the auto to slow to the same painfully slooooooow speed. Hit one of the green "right way" posts, though, and you'll zoom forward at (ahem) lightning speed. It won't take a brain surgeon or a fourth grader too long to figure out the mechanics of the game, but there's enough of a challenge and a method to the racing to offer up some fun.
The Piston Cup races are the best of the bunch, incorporating such racing concepts as drafting. The drafting is pretty clunky in execution, and it's not exactly on the level of a NASCAR title, of course, but it definitely offers a needed extra sumpin' sumpin' to the mix. Collectors be warned - perfecting the events from start to finish unlocks some nice-looking screen shots from the movie that fans will appreciate.
Overall, the graphics are bright and sporty, as the car models look just like their film counterparts. The racing is from a traditional top-down mode and the camera is almost always positioned in the right place. As expected, there is no audio dialogue and the music is pretty generic. Nothing spectacular, to be sure, but perhaps we've been spoiled by the superb DS and PSP handheld machines just a bit too much.
Short track racing
Today's modern superchildren will likely be able to win the races and assorted events even faster than Mom or Dad, which will lead them to realize Cars' biggest fault – the painfully short length. With a complete lack of multiplayer, the 16 or so events that make up the length of the entire game are not enough to keep the attention of anyone for very long. With other GBA racing titles offering linked-up head to head racing, this is a definite problem, and the game suffers because of it. Chances are Junior will be complaining shortly after getting Cars that he's done everything there is to do in the game.
As movie games go, Cars accomplishes a number of things. Fans of the movie will surely get a brief kick out of it, and even racing afficianados will be able to give a tip of their collective trucker hats to fully functional car mechanics that are fun if not overly complicated. Smaller kids will have the most fun, which is good since this is clearly the demographic being targeted. Parents can rest assured that there's nothing offensive anywhere to be found. Cars is a brief summer respite, but won't hold your attention longer than a couple of trips back and forth to the beach.