capsule review

Disney/Pixar Cars: Radiator Springs Adventures

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OK, let’s get some confusion out of the way: There are two games based on Pixar’s summer movie Cars out in circulation. One is an arcade-style game that is exclusive to Target department stores. The other is a more broadly available game intended for younger players. This is a review of that latter title.

Radiator Springs Adventures is a game for kids ages four and up that puts you in control of Lightning McQueen, the cocky race car hero of Cars (voiced by Owen Wilson), as well as many of his friends. You make your way around Radiator Springs—setting of much of the movie—interacting with the characters from the film in a series of activities and drag races.

Disney games for younger kids have, in the past, carried the stigma of execrable “Activity Centers” from Disney Interactive. Typically, they were forgettable point-and-click activities with production quality that rarely exceeded shareware level. THQ’s gone in a very different direction with Radiator Springs Adventures—these are a bunch of varied and fun games, though older gamers may want to opt for the more arcade-like Cars game you can buy in Target department stores.

There are a total of ten different activities kids can play. Each one revolves around Lightning McQueen helping or interacting with a different resident of Radiator Springs. For example, Ramone, the low rider, leads Lightning in a dance activity that’s part Simon, part Dance Dance Revolution—you have to repeat a sequence of dance moves by pressing arrows at the top of the screen, not only matching the sequence but also the beat.

In another activity, you have to help Lightning navigate through Sarge’s boot camp obstacle course. In Speed Trap, you’re Sheriff, the police car, chasing hot rod pranksters and impounding them in a game not unlike the old classic Spy Hunter. Tow the Line puts you in control of Mater, the rusty tow truck voiced by comedian Larry the Cable Guy, in a variation on the computer game Snake—Mater has to navigate around the junkyard, picking up wrecks and towing them, picking up additional tow hooks on the way to grab more vehicles and being careful not to hit either the cars he’s towing or other obstructions. Each activity features five increasingly difficult levels.

As you successfully complete each of these activities, the game unlocks secret tips to help Lightning defeat challengers in the Rev It Up Drag Races. The drag races are very simple affairs—it’s just straight-line racing; you don’t control the steering wheel, but clicking the mouse button tells Lightning when to shift (a circular gauge on the screen shows you when it’s time), and the shift patterns are different for each vehicle you race against. You can race against the other challengers without unlocking the shift gauge, if you want, but it gets tricky quickly, because you’re not exactly sure when to punch it to the next gear.

If you win all nine races, you’ll get to compete against none other than Chick Hicks, Lightning’s arch-nemesis.

As the age range of this game implies, the developers have kept the content very safe and family friendly—the game rated an E for Everyone by the ESRB. The game play is on the simple side. My six year old, who was already sold on Cars before the movie was ever released, loved it. His older brother and sister found most of the games too silly or too easy to be challenging for very long.

Although there’s no labeling on the package to indicate it as such, Radiator Springs Adventures is, in fact, a Universal Binary that runs natively on Intel-based Macs (unlike the Target-exclusive arcade game, which, as of this writing, ran natively only on PowerPC-based Macs). I gave it a whirl on my iMac and the game played just fine. Minimum system requirements for non-Intel Macs call for a 1.2GHz G4 or faster with Mac OS X v10,3 or later running with at least 256MB RAM, and you’ll need a bit more than 500MB of hard disk space to install it.

Production quality is good. The game looks a bit stretched on widescreen displays—the absence of any sort of anti-aliasing makes the rendered characters look particularly jaggy. There are no settings to control resolution or windowed/full screen modes.

Many of the same actors who voiced characters have reprised their roles for the game, including some recognizable names like Larry the Cable Guy, Cheech Marin, and Tony Shaloub. Owen Wilson wasn’t available for Lightning McQueen’s dialogue, but a fairly suitable soundalike is used instead.

The bottom line

Better than “Activity Centers” of old, Radiator Springs Adventures is a fun romp in the world of Disney/Pixar’s Cars , at least for younger players.

Gas attack In Fill ’Er Up, you help Flo fuel the residents of Radiator Springs when they come in for service.
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