As a new parent, I find myself doing all sorts of things I never would have even a year ago. For example, my wife, five-month-old boy, and I went to the birthday party of a family friend's three-year old son the other day. Evidently, kids that age really love the movie Cars. Everywhere I looked, there were Cars-licensed items – paper plates, tablecloths, wrapping paper, and toys. Even the cake was baked in a molding pan shaped liked the film's hero Lightning McQueen. I'm not new to the concept of licensing phenomenon, of course, especially considering I grew up during the heady days of the original Star Wars trilogy, carting my own Luke Skywalker lunch pail to school and dutifully lining up all of my action figures for battle whenever I had the chance.
However, it did give me a bit of perspective on Cars Mater-National, the latest DS racer based upon the uber-popular Disney movie. The folks at THQ could've easily put together some licensed shlock that plenty of unwitting parents would've simply bought for their little ones without a second's thought. However, that's not the case. Mater-National is a breezy, colorful, and downright fun racer for the kids that features the ability to unlock and play as just about all of their favorite characters from the movie. Even better, each track has a series of hidden shortcuts that beg for exploration, plus extra hard-to-reach bonus golden wheels that help you score additional goodies. Overall, it's a more-than-worthy title that you won't feel dumb for buying – and your kids will be happy, too.
Cars Mater-National is a terrific game for the little tykes in your life.
The controls are easy to grasp right off the bat, as each of the vehicles starts off using their accelerators, brakes, and shocks to perform jumps. Drifting comes into play too (which may take a little but of coaching for the younger set to grasp), and successfully doing so enables a boost function. After you pile up a few victories in races, additional turbos get unlocked, which come in handy for those tougher competitions down the line. Cars doesn't suffer for lack of content, as the main story line offers 17 races on almost as many tracks. In addition, some single cart multiplayer means other DS owners can join in on the race.
While the story mode is the core of the game, other single-player modes give the option to unlock more cars and paint jobs, which gives the kids a ton of gameplay features that should keep them quiet in the backseat for plenty of hours. Every parent knows that there's a lot to be said about that.
There are a few issues. Cars often struggles with draw-in, as mountain ranges, treelines, and other objects in the distance have a tendency to pop in as you get closer to them. The funny lines spouted by the characters as they race get repetitive fairly quickly too. In addition, the difficulty level ramps up significantly in the later rounds, which will either be a lesson in patience and practice or result in the occasional temper tantrum. Despite its faults, though, none of these will detract too much from the fun.
All things considered, Cars Mater-National is a terrific game for the little tykes in your life. THQ had an opportunity to cash in on an expensive license with a barely-there effort, but instead decided to spend the time and resources necessary to build a racing game that offers lots of fun for kids and fans of the movie. Even better, they set up a multiplayer mode that lets one copy handle four racers at a time. Hats off to THQ for avoiding the easy road for one that pays off in spades.