Cars for the Nintendo DS is a collection of race missions and character-inspired minigames based on events that took place in the animated feature film. The game as a whole makes good use of the system's graphical horsepower and is actually rather fun, for the short time that it lasts. Despite the variety provided by the different minigames, there aren't enough of them here to hold a person's attention for more than a couple hours.
Anyone that has seen the film will appreciate how the game is presented. The game-selection menu is a 3D mockup of a drive-in theater, where all of the characters have gathered to watch the latest flick. Each game is based on a particular character. To pick an individual game, you simply tap on one of the characters with the stylus. Before and after each game, still shots from the film and textual dialogue are shown that tell you what the characters are up to and where you are in the story. All of the various games are rendered using 3D graphics, but the viewpoints vary. Race levels are viewed top-down across both screens. The other minigames employ side views and behind-the-back views. Typically, the lower screen shows each character in action, while the upper screen shows the fruits of their labor. Characters are large and look identical to their movie depictions. Meanwhile, the action is generally fast paced, and the game's 3D engine manages to pump out plenty of polygons and textures without so much as a hiccup. The audio portion of the presentation isn't nearly as fleshed out, but the whimsical music isn't offensive, and each game has a healthy variety of appropriate sound effects.
Like the movie it's based on, the game isn't highbrow. Players mainly use the touch screen to manipulate the characters doing bizarre activities, such as fishing for garbage with Mater's tow-hook or catching the trophies that fall out of the back of Mack's trailer. In the fishing game, for example, you slide and pick up the stylus to cast the hook and then draw circles to reel in the bits of trash that you find. In the trophy-catching game, you touch trophies to grab them and slide the stylus to sort them into colored boxes. Other minigames challenge you to leap off ramps, match the DJ's beat, or wake up sleeping tractors, all by tapping the stylus and blowing into the microphone. Most minigames take approximately two or three minutes to complete. In total, there are 12 different minigames to pick from, each with multiple rounds of play.
Only three minigames are available from the start. When you finish those three, a Piston Cup race opens up. Winning the race will unlock three additional minigames, which you then must complete to unlock the next race, and so it goes, until you've unlocked all four races and 12 minigames. The Piston Cup levels are traditional racing levels. Players have to guide Lightning McQueen around a track and reach the finish line ahead of Chick Hicks, while trying not to run into the slower vehicles that constantly seem to be in the way. Steering, accelerating, and braking are handled with the directional pad and buttons. There's also a jump button that you can use to leap over oncoming hazards. Midway through each race, you'll have to replace Lightning's tires by completing a pit-stop minigame, which involves quickly tapping individual lug nuts when they're highlighted.
Between all of the different minigames and the four race stages, there's a fair amount of variety here. None of the tasks are particularly challenging, but they're all enjoyable while they manage to hold the player's attention. It shouldn't take an average player more than two hours to unlock every minigame and see every story scene. After that, you can replay minigames to set high scores. The minigames aren't really intricate enough to hold up to long-term play sessions, though. There's also a multiplayer-race mode that lets two players compete against one another in Piston Cup events, but it requires multiple game cards to access. In all likelihood, you probably won't come back to the game once you've seen the story through to the end.
Compared to so many other movie-inspired games, Cars for the Nintendo DS is genuinely one of the more interesting ones. The care that went into each of the different minigames is impressive. Unfortunately, there just aren't enough of them here to hold a person's attention for very long.