There are a few things that are absolutely guaranteed to happen when you have children. Lack of sleep, smelling like baby sick and having to put your life on hold in order to be at the beck and call of a small, mewling human are all a given.
But it’s not all bad. One of the perks of having a noisy invader in your home is the ability to have prime parking spaces when you go to the supermarket, and another is the ability to go to the cinema and watch animated films without a shred of embarrassment. Now, if you are going to watch an animated film, it really has to be one of the Pixar ones, and the finest of those films that feature living automobiles is the Cars franchise. My son and I loved these films, and as you can imagine, the money making machine of the games industry wasn’t slow to catch on to the possibilities of a Cars-based video game (or two or three or… ). So, come with me to a world that was dominated by the animated hi-jinks and the racing based fun times of Cars.
The first Cars game was released on June 6th, 2006. The story is set after the events of the first film, where Lightning McQueen has thrown away his chance of winning the Piston Cup in order to help one of his rivals, The King, finish the race after the villain of the piece has caused him to crash. Basically, what Lightning has to do is work his way through the next racing season with the end goal to actually win the Piston Cup. He does this by competing in a mixture of races, and also by training with the inhabitants of Radiator Springs; the town that Lightning ends up in during the course of the film. The bad guy from the film, Chick Hicks, has come to Radiator Springs and we have to get rid of them, as well as win the Piston Cup. No pressure then!
The game itself is a kind of sandbox environment, where you have to drive around the town and find missions to take in. A very good touch was that of the use of all the real actors from the film, including Owen Wilson and even the mighty Paul Newman, and this helps with the immersion, especially playing with younger children – driving around, looking for characters from the film, performing the various tasks that they somehow need doing were par for the course.
Cars was viewed from an above and behind the car perspective (by far my least favourite viewpoint in a racing game) and while we were stuck in that view, my son did seem to find it easier to play the game from this perspective. Letting him drive around town is one of the first gaming experiences he had, as he was just old enough not to fall for the old “controller with no batteries in” trick and wanted to play himself. While for the kids it was pretty good, my overriding memories of the game are that the graphics weren’t great, even by OG Xbox standards, and the sound was dreadful. Seriously, the engine note was a long, drawn-out drone, kind of like a bored hairdryer, and while the commentary was newish for the time, the stock phrases did start to repeat fairly quickly and begin to grate. Of course, when you are four years old, you don’t tend to notice.
When Cars 2: The Video Game was released, again in June but in 2011 this time, things had moved on a bit. No longer was the game purely about racing; now, borrowing ideas from the film where some of the cars were secret agents with secret weapons, this game turned into a blend of the first Cars game and Mario Kart. The story was that you, as one of 25 playable characters from the film, were undergoing spy training at CHROME (Command Headquarters for Recon Operations and Motorised Espionage), a secret facility where cars are assessed for their suitability to become wheeled espionage agents.
The two spies from the film, Finn McMissile and Holley Shiftwell, are also playable, along with some characters from the first film and the Cars Toons series of short films. Gameplay is still based around a behind the car perspective, but the actual mechanics had undergone something of a revolution. Gone were the free roam parts of the game, with only track-based shenanigans to take part in, and also in came car mounted weaponry and stunts. The weapons are picked up in the traditional way, by driving over certain points on the track, and range from straightforward machine guns and missiles to oil slicks and giant purple bouncy balls of doom. The stunts were a way of earning boost, almost like nitro in the Need for Speed series of games, and you could drive backwards, on two wheels, or do various flips and rolls off the ramps scattered about the place.
This change did add to the fun considerably, and while the addition of up to four player drop-in/drop-out multiplayer modes also helped with the longevity, the lack of online racing seemed like a massive oversight then, and still does to this day. Why would you release a game on the Xbox 360, with arguably the world’s best online system in the shape of Xbox Live Gold, and then not support online multiplayer in your game? It seems like a major missed opportunity, and the reviewers of the time also felt the same; marking things down because of it. Still, it was what it was, and playing head to head with my son is still fun to this day, when he’s not fighting in Destiny 2, of course.
So, these then are my memories of playing the two games based on the Pixar Cars films back in the day. What are your thoughts, dear readers? Did you play the games when they were new, do you still play Cars on your Xbox 360 (it isn’t backwards compatible, sadly) or do you play Cars 2, which is backwards compatible, on your current gen of Xbox hardware? Let us know in the comments!