Review: Cars: Race-o-Rama (Sony PS3)

coverCars: Race-o-Rama
Publisher: THQ
Developer: Incinerator Studios
Genre: Driving
Release Date: 10/12/2009

Cars. Neither the Toy Story 2 of Pixar classics, nor the Bugs Life of Pixar hum drums. Cars falls neatly into the category of, “Yeah, ok, it’s an interesting idea; lets go with it.” This is a world where cars are alive, don’t need humans to drive them, and NASCAR is alive and well. Now comes Cars Race-o-Rama. Is it the “Toy Story 2“ of Pixar games?

Story:

Lightning McQueen, our hero, is challenged by Chick Hicks, a dastardly villain, to a series of contests to determine the bragging rights of who has the best racing school. Yes, that’s basically it. As you progress through the series, you will race against different opponents who are students at Chick’s school who drive dirty and cheat, along with students of your own school who are model drivers and would never take advantage on the track.

There is a side plot which has been added to flesh out the story and add variety to the gameplay. Mater, the tow truck from the movie, tells the story of how he kept the rights to towing in Radiator Springs and met his friends the Taters.

Honestly, none of the story was very interesting. Admittedly this is a racing game and so who really cares about story, but when you go to the trouble of making a game where you have not one but two separate stories being told, you should at least make them somewhat interesting. The story here makes Mortal Kombat look in-depth and prize winning.

Graphics:

Nothing here shows me what the PS3 is capable of pushing. The game certainly looks nice, and it fits the general theme of the movie, but aside from the Lightning McQueen model, nothing really has the polish I saw in the movie. Perhaps it’s unfair to compare this to a Pixar movie. I say that would have been the case for a movie early in Pixar’s career, like a Toy Story, when game consoles were only just switching over to 3D. Now though, when the PS3 is capable of producing games that look like Uncharted 2, I can make that comparison.

lightningWhat this game lacks in wax and polish it makes up for in color. There is certainly an over-abundance of brown in vast portions of the game, but colors still splash the screen thanks to many of the cars driving on the track with you. Combine that with tracks at night and on the beach along the ocean side and the game at least isn’t blinding.

The Mater race levels (with one exception) are very brown, so much so in fact I expected to see a UPS logo splashed here or there. What they lack in color they gain in the amount of things flying around the screen, as they all contain items intended to slow you down and block your path. Towards the end of the game on Hard, there is a veritable storm of things flying around as you and the other cars crash into them and push them around.

Sound:

The music is inspired by the movie’s NASCAR roots, with a little bit of country twang looping in the background. It’s not immediately sickening but after a little while you may begin to reach for the remote.

Voice acting is superb, with most of the original cast returning to voice lines for the game. Or perhaps they had already voiced so much THQ was able to mine it for their game. Either way, John Ratzenburger and other Cars voice actors reprise their roles here in the game. Even better, one new addition has been made which I demand be added to every game from now on. El Machismo, one of the sub bosses you must race against, is voiced by none other than Randy “Macho Man” Savage, and he sounds awesome.

All is not well on the audio front. The sound effects could use some time in the shop. Or perhaps it’s the game engine, as the effects when they are there are pretty good. NASCAR engines tend to be pretty loud, and here is no exception. Unless of course you’re hearing the game when it loses track of what its supposed to be playing through your speakers. Whomever you happen to be driving as will constantly be spouting one liners about what’s going on around them. The game will often over ride one sound with another, and if a clip is too short the game will simply mosey along with just the ambient background noise and nothing else. Not the worst mistake in history, and certainly not the only time I’ve ever heard it, but I do have to point it out.

Control/Gameplay:

Race-o-Rama controls like many arcade racers. There is a boost button and a drift button, and learning to use them both together will make your life a lot easier. Your car also has the ability to jump on it’s own and spring up onto its two side wheels at a command.

The main game is built around drifting. The farther into the game you get the more you need to be able to successfully hold a good long drift. You can still beat much of the game using standard racing techniques but some levels (like “Tokyo Mater”) are designed specifically with drifting in mind.
guido
In addition to the McQueen levels and the Mater levels, there are a number of mini game missions which were thrown in to give the game a little more variety. Specifically there are a few Monster Truck rallies, where you drive as a super roided up version of Lightning against fellow roid raging cars, and, “Guido Kart,” which aside from being racist as hell, is annoying and not the least bit entertaining. Guido was of course the name of the pit crew car from “Cars”, lending the name some defense.

There are also a couple of quick time event missions but these only serve to provide a brief respite. Think of them as rest stops on the highway to finishing your game.

Replayability:

The allows you to go back and play any of the missions you’ve unlocked via the story map or via another mode, which is Arcade mode. This is seemingly an unneeded redundancy until you see that in Arcade you can fly through all of the races at once, where in Story mode you have to travel to the various cities in order to re-race those levels.

There is also a two player split screen mode, which you can access from Arcade mode. I found that it ran pretty well.

There is no online mode, but I don’t really think that’s a mistake on the developers part. As this is a children’s game, it’s probably just safer to not include an online mode.

Balance:

I played the main game on difficult, and found very few times when I could not advance fairly quickly. On the race that is Mater’s last, things become absurdly difficult, mostly due to the fact that the course seems to be designed to prey on Mater’s weaknesses as a racing vehicle. He can’t turn very well, and there are a number of sharp turns required. Once you figure this out, you can turn in mid jump however even this race is conquered fairly fast.

Originality:

El Machismo is perhaps the most original thing I can think of in this game, and even he only peaks my interest because of who is voicing him.
machismo
The monster truck rallies are also entertaining, and gets a mention here because making the character sound all roided up was probably the best thing they could have done to make the levels entertaining.

Addictiveness:

There is nothing to suggest that this game would not keep the attention of it’s target audience for at least as long as it takes to finish the game.

Appeal Factor:

Kids who enjoyed Cars will find all of their favorite characters have returned except for Sally, who I’m guessing was left out due to licensing issues with Porsche…or with her voice actor Bonnie Hunt. Even Doc Hudson returns, despite his voice actor Paul Newman having passed away.

It’s also a racing game that tries to a little cross promotion. There is a level based on the Mattel “Cars Race-o-Rama Stunt Jump Speedway” toy set. You might call it shameless self promotion, but I think it’s the kind of thing a kid would find sort of cool, being able to race around the track you and your buddies were just playing on.

Miscellaneous:

Characters from another of Pixar’s movies, Monsters Inc., make guest appearances as cars in the game during the Guido Kart and Monster Truck rallies.

The Scores
Story: Poor
Graphics: Above Average
Sound: Good
Control and Gameplay: Good
Replayability: Good
Balance: Mediocre
Originality: Above Average
Addictiveness: Above Average
Appeal Factor: Good
Miscellaneous: Above Average
FINAL SCORE: Above Average Game

Short Attention Span Summary
This is a solid game that will entertain its target audience, but don’t expect it to compete with the likes of Forza or Need for Speed.

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