Be sure to park this fun and underrated Cars title in your game garage!!

User Rating: 9 | Cars Race-O-Rama PS2
Cars Race o' Rama for the PS2 is a pretty good vehicle based action/exploration game that takes place within the rich and vibrant world of Disney's popular Cars franchise. This title is very similar in function to the Cars: MaterNational game I reviewed for the Wii a while back. The premise behind the game is that both Doc Hudson and Chick Hicks have set up their own racing academies, training future generations of race cars. However, Chick isn't content to share this responsibility, his ulterior motive is to shut down Doc Hudson's operation for good and be the sole racing academy in the region! Taking control of Lightning McQueen (and some others along the way) you must race in a slew of events and achieve positive results in order to keep Doc's racing academy from going under. But along the way Chick Hicks has a few surprises for you in the form of some nasty new recruits . . .

From the main menu you have three choices. The first option is "Story Mode" and is the main mode of this game. When you select it your adventure in the world of Cars will begin. You are first taken to Radiator Springs Speedway where the initial confrontation between Lightning McQueen and Chick Hicks takes place, and the tone of the game is set. You then have to complete the events in Radiator Springs Speedway before you unlock the next region in the game . . . rinse, repeat. In total there are 7 regions in the game including Radiator Springs Speedway, Radiator Springs, Ornament Valley, Tailfin Pass, Autovia, Motoropolis & Santa Carburera. Most of these regions you visit just once, but you always revisit Radiator Springs in between.

These regions I mentioned are totally explorable. You can cruise around and check everything out, choosing to begin an event whenever you feel ready. As you move amongst these 7 regions there are a number of different types of events to take part in. In total there are about 65 events, here is a description of the various types:

The Auto Cross event is a solo race that Lightning McQueen takes part in. He has to navigate an obstacle course made up of barriers and traffic cones within the given time limit in order to complete said event. There are 7 versions of this event throughout the game.

Luigi's Tire Find is a stand-alone event. Guido has left 15 tires lying about Radiator Springs, your job is to find and collect them all within the given time limit.

The Mack Track Challenge is another stand-alone event and is a 4 lap, solo drift race for Lightning. At the end of it he has to perform a jump over Mack's trailer. You score points for your drifting skills, completing the event depends on your total score at the end.

Sheriff's Chase is a stand-alone event and it differs because you get to control Sheriff instead of Lightning. Three law-breaking speeders are racing around Radiator Springs, your job is to catch them within the given time limit.

The Tractor Stampede is yet another stand-alone event. 10 tractors are rampaging through Radiator Springs, your job is to find them and tip them over by revving your engine within the given time limit.

There are 3 Transporter events. In this one you simply have to carry an object and deliver it to one of your Radiator Springs friends within the given time limit.

The Photo Op event is one of the most numerous, there are 8 of them in total. Here you are given a time limit and have to find the photographer car within that limit. Once you do you simply jump through the gold hoop and snap off a promotional photo of Lightning McQueen.

There are 3 Smash Up events, in these you get to control Mater. These events are 3 lap races against other rustbucket vehicles.

Bubba's Bucket Bash is a stand-alone event and is a boss race in the Radiator Springs region. Controlling Mater you have to beat Bubba and his cronies in a 3 lap race.

There are 5 Monster Truck Mayhem events where you get to control Lightning McQueen in monster truck format! These are simply 3 lap races against a few other monstered-up characters.

There are 4 Academy Challenge events. These are 5 lap races where you control Lightning McQueen and take on trainees from both Doc Hudson and Chick Hicks' racing academies.

The Off Road Race events are 2 lap races on the dirt track. There are 2 of these events in total.

The Point to Point events are simply a 1 lap race, first vehicle to get from point A to point B wins! There are 2 of these events in total as well.

There are 3 Road Race events, which are 3 lap races that utilize a combination of both paved and dirt roads.

There are 3 Sprint events, which are simply 3 lap races at the actual race track.

The Street Race event is a stand-alone, it is a 5 lap race through the streets of Motoropolis.

Hudson Student Run is another stand-alone event. It is a 3 lap race solely against members of Chick Hicks' racing academy.

The Relay Race events are 2 lap races where you share the racing duties with a partner. After the first lap you tag your partner and he/she takes control of the second lap. There are 2 of these events in total.

The Guido Kart Race events are the most numerous in the game, numbering 9 in total. These are 5 lap races where you take control of Guido against a few other small fries.

There are 3 Cars Toons events, where you get to control Mater in some different sorts of circumstances. These events recreate sequences from some of the Mater's Tall Tales shorts that Disney created. The events in question are Mater the Greater, Tokyo Mater & El Materdor.

Candice's Glam Tour is a stand-alone event, a boss race from the Santa Carburera region. It is simply a 3 lap race against Candice and some of her cronies.

The Match Up event is another stand-alone event, a boss race from the Autovia region. It is a 3 lap race against El Machismo and some of his cronies.

Singer's Stir Up is a stand-alone event, a boss race from the Motoropolis region. It is a 3 lap race against Stinger and some of his cronies.

Reunion Rundown is a stand-alone event and is a multiple boss race! You must partake in a 3 lap race against Candice, El Machismo, Stinger, and Chick Hicks' generic car creations, the VIN's.

As you may guess, the Chick Hicks Showdown event is the final stand-alone event of the game, a 3 lap boss race against Chick Hicks and his VIN's.

In the non-solo events where you are competing against other cars in a traditional sort of race, you are normally up against three other opponents in most cases. Also, in these traditional sorts of events above where you are taking part in races that have laps, in order to simply complete the event you need to finish third or better. However, in order to beat the event and unlock all of the associated items with said event, you need to win the race. As for the events that are decided by time limits or rely on points totals, there are target levels you can reach with your times or points scores. These pre-set levels are Gold, Silver and Bronze. In order to simply complete these events you just have to reach the Bronze level or better, but to win the event and obtain all the unlockables, you need to achieve the Gold target level.

While exploring the various regions in free play mode between events there are a number of things to watch out for. The first thing is points orbs. They are little floating circles with a Lightning McQueen bolt through them that are scattered amongst the environment. They are worth different amounts of points, depending on their colour. There are two ways to achieve all of the unlockables in this game . . . by winning events, and by collecting as many of these points orbs as you can.

Also watch out for Mack. He is how you move from region to region.

As for the actual events in this game, their locations are marked by circular grey icons on the ground with a picture inside of them that indicates what type of event they are. Using your on screen map (and the one you can access from the pause menu) is key to locating all of these events. Now, there are two different categories of events in this game. Most of them are regular events but 27 of the 65 are classified as "Gold Star" events. Their locations are marked by a yellow star icon on the ground instead of the grey circles. Beating these Gold Star events are how you unlock and advance from region to region, and are the key races you must win in order to beat the game. Also, when competing in these gold star events you must find the 3 orange star icons within the race in order to receive an extra unlock. You don't need to find them in order to win the race, but you do need to find them in order to obtain all of the game's unlockables.

Now, I've been mentioning the game's unlockables quite a bit. To specify, the objects you can unlock in this game include wheel sets, paint jobs, kit pieces, kit parts, new characters and game concept art. The last thing I need to mention on what to look out for amongst the regions in this game ties in to these unlockables. Within the various regions you will see three blue icons on the ground with a certain character inside of them. These icons represent Ramone's House of Body Art, Luigi's Casa Della Tires and Doc's Garage. At Ramone's you can change your character as well as equip them with the different paint schemes you've unlocked. At Luigi's you can change your character's wheels from amongst the various wheel sets you've unlocked. And at Doc's you can equip Lightning McQueen with the various kit parts and pieces you've unlocked (categories of modifications include hood, sideskirt, bumper and spoiler). Note that Lightning McQueen is the only car who can be modified at Doc's Garage, none of the other characters can go there. All characters in the game can access Ramone's and Luigi's though.

And that about sums up Story Mode! The second choice from the main menu is the "Arcade Mode" option. This is a more generic mode where you can have one off races of your choosing, either by yourself or with a friend. As you complete all of the events I mentioned above in Story Mode, they then become available for play in Arcade Mode. All 65 events will become available and they are divided up in to categories where you will access them from. The categories include Circuit Races, Relay Races, Guido Kart, Cars Toons, Mini Games, Missions, Rust Bucket Derby & Monster Truck Races.

To start a race you first select how many players will be competing (1 or 2), then select the race category you want, then select the actual race you want to compete in from said category, and finally select your difficulty level (Beginner, Average or Professional). You will then be taken to the character selection screen. Basically you are taken to Ramone's House of Body Art where you can select your character and alter their paint scheme (you can also switch between Luigi's Casa Della Tires and Doc's Garage at this screen to further alter your appearance). One thing to note is that not all characters are available for every event, each event seems to have a pre-set selection of who you can and can't use. After you get your character prepped you are literally off to the races! And that takes care of Arcade Mode . . .

The third option from the main menu is of course "Options"! Here you can adjust quite a few of the game's settings, as well as some other stuff. These features include Bonus Content (view all of the concept art you've unlocked), Cheats (enter cheat codes), Control Options (view control scheme and toggle vibration on/off), Audio (adjust sliders for music, sound effects and dialogue volumes), Change Profile (create new, load or delete save game profiles), Credits (view the game credits) & Display Mode (have the game scan your TV for optimal display format).

As for the controls in this game, they're pretty easy to use. To steer you can use either the control pad or the left analog stick. To make your car jump press down and then up. The X button is used to accelerate, and the square button is used to brake/reverse. It is also your action button when it comes to entering events. The O button is your hand brake, and if you tap it twice in a row you will flip around and drive backwards. The L2 button you hold down while you steer to engage your drift function, whereas R2 utilizes your turbo function. L1 makes your vehicle tilt (go up on 2 wheels for sharp turns), and R1 is used to look behind you. The Select button changes the camera angle and finally the right analog stick is used as a free look function with the camera, to look all around you. The triangle button is not used.

This game's presentation is very good. Once again they've done a really good job of recreating and staying true to the Cars universe Disney envisioned and that so many people love. The locales and characters are colourful and vibrant, and the sound track they created is downright catchy!! The controls come across great and there are no issues with camera angles whatsoever. The graphics can be a bit choppy in some spots and at times could have used a tiny bit of extra polish, but otherwise this game looks and feels as good as they got at the time.

In terms of pros and cons, there are some of both, but fortunately the pros well outweigh the cons. I guess I'll start with the cons, of which there are two. The main one is the save/load times on this game . . . man do they take forever!! I could have finished this game weeks ago if it weren't for the fact that half the time you're playing it you're waiting for it to boot up or save something! Also, earlier I mentioned that the controls are really good on this game, and that is true, but there is one series of events where they're not, and that is the Guido's Kart Race events. For some reason whenever you run in to anything, a wall, an environmental object, another vehicle, etc., Guido gets all out of whack and starts rolling around (similar to the troubles I had in the Mike & Sulley's Last Laugh events in Cars: MaterNational). Once you finally get going again he then wants to lean and steer himself to one side for some reason. I'm not sure if this has to do with the controls or with the actual design of that particular event, but it is frustrating.

As for pros, to reiterate I really think the game's presentation is dynamite, and I especially love that soundtrack! Also, I'm 99.9% sure that they got Randy "Macho Man" Savage to voice El Machismo's character, which is friggin' amazing!! I also really liked the amount of unlockables in this game. There are a lot of different characters you can obtain, and then with all of the variations you can put on them with wheels and paint jobs, it's a lot of fun. This game is also a very good length. There are 7 total Cars environments you can visit and about 65 events to compete in, that's a pretty good size. Lastly, I was really impressed with how the storyline and previously unknown characters in this game tied in with some other Cars merchandise we have. We've got a couple Cars storybooks that I read to my son at bedtime and all of these new characters like Bubba, Candice, Stinger, El Machismo, etc., they're all in them! I love it when franchises weave storylines amongst all of their various outlets, I really found this to be a great feature of the game. And of course the fun factor is very high in this game!

I do have some tips and tricks to offer for this game. First, use the left analog stick to control your vehicle instead of the control pad. For some reason you get a much better feel for the vehicle and it steers much better with the analog stick. This is doubly so when it comes to the Guido's Kart Race events, if you want any shot in hell of winning them, use the analog stick! Also, get familiar with the drift feature as soon as you can, it can save your bacon in those tight cornered races. Lastly, when it comes to the gold star events where you have to collect the three orange stars, take it easy on the first lap and find the locations of these items, collecting as many of them as you can, and get the rest that you missed on the first lap the second time around. With how much turbo you can earn in this game you can easily make up lost time over the last lap and win the race. If you lose, no worries, you keep any orange stars you've already collected if you have to restart the race.

Overall Cars Race o' Rama is a fun and well laid out game that certainly comes in at a great value, being priced at a mere $9.99! This title will especially please the multitudes of Cars fans out there, but should provide some excitement for fans of racing games in general.