It has appeared on just about every other platform known to man, so it only makes sense that Cars, the video game based on the world of talking vehicles depicted in Pixar's animated film of the same name, would find its way to the Wii eventually. This is the same exact game released on multiple other consoles earlier in the year, but now the game includes some Wii-specific motion sensing controls. However, unlike the majority of other ports that have come Wii-side as of late, the motion controls in Cars don't feel broken or poorly shoveled in. These controls don't fundamentally make the game better, but steering the car feels natural and intuitive enough to be fun. Unfortunately, some of the game's previously enjoyable minigames are made less so by their respective control schemes. There are also some bugs and quirks unique to the Wii version that give the distinct impression this game absolutely, positively had to be out in time for the system's launch.
Leave it to Pixar to take big hunks of combustion-powered metal and rubber and turn them into endearing characters. Just in case you haven't seen the movie, Cars is about a world of, well, cars. These are cars with faces, unique personalities, and no human drivers to get in the way. The story focuses around an up-and-comer in stock car racing named Lightning McQueen. Lightning is the next big thing in racing, but when he inadvertently wreaks havoc in the sleepy burg of Radiator Springs on his way to his next race, Lightning finds himself stuck with these country bumpkins, learning inevitable lessons of life and love. You don't necessarily need to know any of this going into the video game version of Cars, but it helps to have seen the movie first, since Cars the game takes place after the movie's plotline. The vast majority of the principal characters from the movie, as well as their associated voice actors, are on hand here for an entirely original tale that sees Lightning working his way through the new racing season against his rival, Chick Hicks (voiced to twitchy perfection by Michael Keaton). It's a cute story that's got a good bit of humor, and anybody who liked the movie ought to be able to get into it easily.
As far as how Cars plays, imagine Grand Theft Auto if you never got out of the car (or, at least something along those lines). Radiator Springs isn't a particularly huge area, but spread across it are multiple locales that you, as Lightning McQueen, can drive to in order to acquire missions. You typically only have a few missions available to you at a time, and some missions are only unlockable after you complete an entire story chapter's worth of missions, but generally you can just kind of drive about the area with freedom, collecting bonus points and other hidden items as you go.
For the most part, Cars' missions revolve around racing. These are cars, after all. The racing itself is largely pretty simplistic, though the addition of Wii motion sensing controls adds a bit of a wrinkle to the experience. You hold the Wii Remote sideways, so the D pad is under your left thumb, with the 1 and 2 buttons on your right. The 2 button acts as your accelerator; the 1 button is for a speed boost; A is your brake; and B is your emergency brake. It's a good thing you almost never need to use your emergency brake because it's a pain to hit that thing. By tilting the remote to the left or right, you steer the car; by pressing buttons on the D pad, you can powerslide around corners and even tilt your car violently in one direction or the other. The steering controls have a nice level of sensitivity to them, which means you won't find yourself oversteering ridiculously with small movements of the remote. Additionally, powersliding feels markedly more effective than it did in the other console versions of the game, and it's actually fun to powerslide here. You can also make the car jump by swinging the remote upward at the right time.
You use stuff like powersliding and boosting only in the off-road races in Radiator Springs. When you're competing in the professional races, it's like a NASCAR cartoon. You drive to the left, occasionally bump up against other racers, and make a pit stop once in a while. The pit stops are just one of several minigames contained within the game. Most minigames are missions unto themselves, where you'll be collecting tires as Guido, the local tire mechanic, or "tractor tipping" around a local farm as Larry the Cable Guy-voiced Mater. Pit stops are the only in-race minigames to speak of, and they simply involve timed button presses and Wii Remote movements at random intervals to make your pit crew work as fast as possible. On older consoles, these minigames were pretty fun, but the Wii controls implemented here aren't very good. For instance, in the tractor tipping game, you're supposed to try to steer Mater around by spinning the remote around in the direction you want to go. But there's no specific accelerator button, and it's just a much, much harder minigame to control than it was when you were controlling with analog sticks. Pit stop games now require copious amounts of remote movement that sometimes seems intuitive to the action being performed onscreen but at other times seems utterly superfluous. It just makes these games take longer and doesn't make them more fun.
One particularly ingenious thing that Cars does is that it actually splits itself into two games. One is designed for players of "all ages," and the other is a shorter, easier version for younger kids. Obviously plenty of games have multiple difficulty levels, but most games of this ilk just play it safe and dumb the experience down for the kids. That's not to say Cars isn't completely absolved of this crime, mind you. Even in the general audience version, the game is still fairly simple. Until the last stages of the game, it's pretty hard to lose races, especially since the opponent artificial intelligence rubber bands quite a bit in favor of the player. Get behind by a significant margin, and you'll actually see cars ahead of you slow down sometimes, giving you the boost you need. The later races are certainly more challenging, but a more even balance of difficulty would have helped the gameplay quite a bit. For what it's worth, the difference between the two versions is still pretty noticeable.
Cars also suffers from a few glitches and technical issues. Some of these are old, holdover problems, while some are new and specific to this version of the game. It's all relatively minor stuff that just happens to become a bit infuriating in some areas. Most of the problems have to do with graphical bugs and physics issues. The game's environments are often set up with borders and sections you're not supposed to be able to traverse, but some of these borders are spotty with their barriers, and you can get stuck in certain pieces of the environment if you run into them the wrong way. The car physics also get wonky in some spots. If you fall sideways off a ledge, you may find yourself driving on your left tires for a while until the game figures out a way to reset your car back to normal. You'll also see some occasional issues with cars clipping through one another. Specifically on the Wii, you'll also notice some problems with audio and cutscene transitions. The game will periodically hitch when it's trying to shift from one scene to another, as if the load time hasn't fully completed or something. Also, when driving around, you'll often hear voices of other characters calling out to you. The trouble is that these characters aren't anywhere onscreen...not even close. The lines also start repeating like crazy, which leads one to believe there's some sort of goofy audio bug at work here.
These issues aside, however, Cars is a nice-looking game. The character models are great interpretations of the characters from the movie, and the quality of animation, especially in cutscenes, is excellent. The cars are extremely expressive with their facial animations, and the lip-syncing is more spot-on than most games starring humans. The one downside to this is that while you're driving, you are typically relegated to the usual third-person camera, so in effect, all you get is the butt cam. But there are more than enough cutscenes to make it so all that great character animation isn't wasted. Radiator Springs itself is also rather pleasing to look at. Most of the area is made up of desert, but the few scattered bits of the township, as well as some of the mountain environments and areas, look great. You'll certainly see some dirty textures here and there, but usually you're moving so fast that it doesn't even matter. The Wii version does look a hair better than its GameCube counterpart. It's closer to the Xbox version in quality, though it's not quite as sharp.
Obviously, one of the biggest selling points of Cars is the inclusion of the movie's voice cast. Owen Wilson, Bonnie Hunt, Tony Shaloub, Michael Keaton, Larry the Cable Guy (in a decidedly "Git 'er done!"-free performance), George Carlin, Darrell Waltrip, Richard Petty, Cheech Marin, and Paul Newman are all on hand. Yeah, Paul Newman in a video game. Kind of insane, no? All the actors are pretty much on point throughout the game. Wilson is just as endearing in the game as he was in the film, and pretty much every actor seems to be treating their game dialogue as importantly as the movie stuff. There's also a pretty good licensed soundtrack on hand with tracks from the Stray Cats, Lynryd Skynryd, the Edgar Winter Group, and the All American Rejects, among others. The only thing really worth complaining about in the audio department is the repetition of the aforementioned aspects. One-liners from the characters during races tend to repeat too often, as do most of the soundtrack songs. Again, it's all great stuff, so it makes the repetitious nature of it a little easier to swallow. It would just be nice if there were more variety.
Though Cars will almost certainly take you well under 10 hours to complete, there's two-player multiplayer to mess with, as well as some bonus materials to check out. Of course, all that and just about everything else positive that can be said about Cars for the Wii can also be said about its cheaper counterparts on old-generation consoles. Sure, you don't get the tilt motion steering controls in those versions, but again, the added controls don't add to or detract from the game--they're just kind of there. What does detract from the Wii game a bit is that it happens to cost $20 more than its Xbox, PlayStation 2, and GameCube cousins. If the Wii happens to be the only system in your household, Cars is a worthwhile interpretation of the film that's perhaps best suited for a younger kid but still holds some appeal for older fans of the film. But if you do own another platform that the game happens to be available for, the cheaper price tag and less intrusive minigame controls make it a better option than the Wii version.