THQ takes the checkered flag with "Cars: Mater-National," the inevitable sequel to last year's hit "Cars" game based on the 2006 Disney/Pixar animated film of the same name.

THQ takes the checkered flag with “Cars: Mater-National,” the inevitable sequel to last year’s hit “Cars” game based on the 2006 Disney/Pixar animated film of the same name.

Game is clearly geared towards tots, but even mature gamers will find parts challenging, especially when battling it out in multiplayer mode, and also eye-pleasing with top production values in graphics, music and voice talent. Racer arrives on retail shelves just in time for the holiday shopping frenzy and is sure to speed into many stockings.

Single player story mode transports racers to the movie’s setting of Radiator Springs, where players start out driving as main character Lightning McQueen. Larry the Cable Guy is his hilarious hick self as he voices the rusty old tow truck named Mater, who is hosting the “First Annual Mater-National Race Festival.” While driving around the expansive open world of Radiator Springs, McQueen is introduced to five new international racers, a nice addition to shake things up a bit from the original.

Players must qualify in some races to advance the story and others simply to accumulate points or gain stickers. With rookie, pro and champion skill levels to choose from, kids and older gamers can find an appropriate level of challenge. In-race graphics are nicely rendered and there is a good variety of race tracks to choose from.

Multiplayer races and unlockable mini-games provide some replay value after the brief story is finished. In “Filmore’s Fuel Frenzy,” for instance, players have to pick up gas canisters along the race track or they will run out of fuel and lose the race. “Monster Mode” is another fun new feature in which players are able to race with giant tires attached to their vehicles.

Gameplay is hardly as sophisticated as “Gran Turismo,” but simple controls will please the younger demographic. Even with turbo boosts, the speed never gets so fast that players will lose control. Since it is impossible to crash, the worst racers can do when not taking a turn tight enough is slam into a barrier and get knocked back on the track.

Game is able to capture the look and feel of Pixar pic through colorful animated backgrounds and an ear-pleasing country-tinged soundtrack. Voice talent is top-notch, with many of the actors from the film returning to bring out the quirky humor in each character.

Cars: Mater-National

Rated E. $20 - $50

Production

A THQ presentation of a game developed by Rainbow Studios and licensed by Disney/Pixar for the PC, Playstation 2, Playstation 3, Wii and Xbox 360. Reviewed on PS2.
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