As you might expect, Cars for the Game Boy Advance is a racing game that's based loosely on the events that took place in the Disney-Pixar film of the same name. You assume the role of Lightning McQueen and watch the story unfold by winning a multitude of time trials, road races, and track races. For the most part, the racing action is solid and easy to get the hang of, and the game as a whole is pleasing to the eye. The limited number of events, though, combined with the lack of any multiplayer features, means that you probably won't get more than one or two days' worth of play out of this one before you're done with it.
Action out on the track is depicted from a top-down, isometric perspective. The tracks are sufficiently detailed and have a fair number of cones and trees that you can knock around. Dust is kicked up when you drive over dirt surfaces, and skid marks are left behind if you fishtail on pavement. If you look closely, you'll also notice that the cars' wheels rotate. Each of the vehicles resembles a character from the movie, complete with big goofy eyes and front grilles that look eerily like teeth. The only other obvious links to the film are the dialogue scenes that appear after each race, which feature the likenesses of characters and various humorous comments. The game doesn't incorporate any of the music from the movie, or any voice snippets, but the engine and skid sound effects that form the in-race soundtrack are satisfyingly loud and fit the action perfectly.
The GBA certainly has its fair share of isometric-view racing games. Karnaaj Rally made a big splash a few years ago, charming players with its weapons-oriented gameplay, while, more recently, Racing Gears Advance has been gaining fans thanks to intricate track designs and customizable vehicles. Cars takes a more simplified approach. There aren't any weapons to use or parts to install. It's just you, as Lightning McQueen, competing against three other CPU opponents. Despite the simple design, the game manages to keep things fresh by shaking up how the different events work. Road races and time trials take place on twisty courses that snake along country roads lined with a combination of asphalt, dirt, and gravel. You have to watch out for turbo pads and road blocks, as well as the slow-moving vehicles that frequently get in the way. Piston Cup races, by contrast, take place on paved oval tracks and don't involve any turbo pads or obstacles. They do, however, let you earn and abuse a nitro boost by tailgating your opponents.
For the most part, Cars is a solid racing game that's genuinely fun to play. Skidding through turns on the road courses is suitably exciting, and using the nitro to steal the lead in Piston Cup races is worth a mischievous grin every time. Road courses have a fair number of twists, turns, and hazards to memorize. Throughout it all, the overall difficulty feels just right. Chick Hicks is always on Lightning's tail, which is as it should be, and you'll be passed if you make too many mistakes, but the CPU doesn't resort to lame catch-up programming or cheats when you're in the lead. You may wrestle with the controls initially, since steering requires quick presses on the D pad, as opposed to holding a particular direction for any length of time. Also, the zoomed-in viewpoint can make it tough to react to surprises in time, even though pop-up signs tell you which way to turn ahead of time. These quibbles, while worth mentioning, are pretty much a nonissue once you get used to them.
What is an issue, though, is that the game is over too soon. There are 16 different events to participate in. After you've taken first place in each of them, there isn't much incentive to go back except to unlock additional film images from the gallery. Karnaaj Rally and Racing Gears Advance, besides having a few more single-player events, both took advantage of the GBA's link feature by offering multiplayer modes. Cars would be a blast to play against human opponents. Unfortunately, the game doesn't offer a multiplayer mode. You can expect to put a day, maybe two, into it before your attention is exhausted.
Fans of the movie will probably be satisfied with Cars for the GBA. The game is a competent movie tie-in and a good racing game in its own right. The limited number of events, though, combined with the lack of a multiplayer mode, means that those looking to add another racing game to their GBA collection should probably look elsewhere.