Rainbow Studios' version of Cars on the GameCube was a very sturdy racing adventure indeed, but sadly the Wii 'upgrade' fell foul of a different team bringing in a terrible control set-up. Now a second Cars title has hit, this time on the DS and developed by Australian team Tantalus Interactive, has it managed to step up a gear? Given that the game has ditched the adventure side and gone for straight-up racing from the team that brought us the fantastic Top Gear Rally on GBA, signs sure are positive...
Mater-National is a racer through-and-through, leaving behind any thoughts of adventuring and tasks, choosing instead to focus on the main theme of the actual movie: car racing! This could have been a downright disaster, though, since the majority of licensed tie-ins are thrown together to hit the timing of the movie's release and suffer from sloppy, unfinished workmanship. However, it definitely works in the game's favour that 1.) There was more time to develop the game as the movie has been out for ages now; 2.) Tantalus, a team with a strong background in racing games, was enlisted to work on it. There are three modes on offer in this stylish looking title (which comes complete with sturdy visuals and lots of great speech), the two main ones being 'Story' and 'Challenge'. Gamers can also dive into single-card multiplayer racing as well if they so desire, which helps extend the game further since the game's solo modes are rather simple and will no doubt be breezed through in barely any time at all by veteran gamers. However, of course, younger children will get for more value for money.
The basic aim is to choose your favourite character and then race around the various tracks on offer, keeping ahead of the pack and finishing the whole thing with more points than the rest of the competition. Controls make or break racing games, and whilst the Wii version of the original Cars was ridiculously poor in this respect, Mater-National opts to leave the stylus behind in favour of traditional face button controls and it pays off big time. In fact, the only use of the touch-screen is for menu navigation, zooming in-and-out of the lower-screen's course map and the odd little mini-game. Instead the developer has decided to wisely hone the steering of cars to ensure even entry-level gamers can pick this up and play away without too much hassle. That is not to say there are not pitfalls for reckless driving, since there are numerous trackside hazards, such as narrow cliff edges that can lead to certain doom. So there is still a need for caution and the requirement to learn the layout of courses and how best to control your vehicles before blasting round tracks without any cares in the world as you strive for pole position.
Shortcuts are dotted around each level as well, but they are somewhat countered by the fact that the computer AI plays automatic catch-up, meaning no matter how well you are doing, someone will always be right up your tail pipe when the slightest mistake is made. On the flipside, though, it works the other way with the gamer being able to soon catch up to opponents with ease after specific mishaps. Other sections on a course may look like handy by-passes, but turn out to in fact be paths to a special item that can only be collected once a small mini-game has been completed (such as dodging several aeroplanes whilst driving down a runway). Cars can now jump as well, although more often than not all that will happen is control will be momentarily lost, meaning most will leave that ability by the wayside. The boost function does not feature much either because of the whole 'catch up' inclusion meaning the general speed of your vehicle is sufficient to take the lead...but again it is still a handy addition for anyone playing particularly terribly or younger gamers. On the whole, Mater-National is a splendid portable racer, which whilst not as good as Mario Kart DS or Race Driver: Create and Race, is certainly a cut above the rest of the DS crowd.
Good vehicle handling is key in a racing game and Cars definitely delivers, along with cleverly designed courses.
Whilst not quite up there with the DS big boys, Mater-National definitely looks the part, with good car animations and varied track locations.
Complete with familiar tunes from the film and great voice work, this is definitely an aural pleaser.
It may not be the hardest game ever, but there are plenty of racing stages on offer, as well as extras and single-card multiplayer options galore to extend its life.
Tantalus has shown that it definitely knows what it is doing when it comes to handheld racing games and Cars: Mater-National even has shades of Top Gear Rally at times, which is definitely a good thing. Fans of the movie thinking this is just another cheap cash-in should think twice as it proves to be a very impressive racer.