The Cars franchise is widely know as Pixar’s black sheep. The first movie was an okay effort, with most references being much more enjoyable for older gearheads than kids, while the second movie was critically panned for shifting its focus from a racing movie to a spy flick starring Larry the Cable Guy. Cars 3 is a film nobody asked for, and in order to keep with the good old tradition of the 90s and 2000s, a tie-in game was released alongside it. Is the Cars 3 game that bad? Is it just another bad tie-in just like 90% of the movie-based titles out there?
I will be honest with you, I got Cars 3 expecting it to be a piss poor cash-in attempt. I was ready to bash the game throughout this review. And you know what? Cars 3 is a very okay game. Not fantastic, not horrible, just okay. It has some horrendous flaws but it also has some very interesting positive aspects. Interesting enough to get me to play the game for way longer than expected.
The game features a well-varied handful of modes. “Race” is your standard racing (duh) mode, in which all you need to do is to beat everybody else by carefully drifting and using your well-earned boosts (which are earned by performing stunts); “Stunt Showcase” is all about trying to grab as many points as possible by either drifting or doing air tricks like a poor man’s Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater; and “Thomasville Playground” is a sandbox-esque mode in which you’re free to explore and do whatever you want, even though the main catch here is to collect enough items to unlock an extra character.
The weirdest and most enjoyable modes in Cars 3, however, are the “Battle Race” and “Takedown” modes. “Battle Race” is the same as “Race” mode, with the addition of items to attack your opponents with, and I’m not talking about PG weapons like banana peels and shells. We’re talking machine guns, rocket launchers, grenades, landmines, and so on. “Takedown” is all about using these weapons to destroy as many cars as possible, in the closest you’ll get to a new Twisted Metal or Vigilante 8 nowadays. I have no idea if this has actually any canonical relationship to the movie, and I also can’t deny it feels completely out of place in a Disney game, but dammit I found entertaining. Those weapons pack one hell of a punch, and it’s really delightful to explode those screaming ambulances and school buses.
Besides all of these varied modes, Cars 3 boasts a lot of content to unlock. There are twenty racers available and twenty racetracks to unlock both in “Race” and “Battle Race”. You can also unlock cosmetic customizations to your cars, such as colorful nitro boosts and different types of horns. Everything in the game is unlockable either by winning standard races or by completing certain milestones. There’s a lot to unlock in this game, and it’s not as simple as it seems, which was also a pretty nice surprise for me: Cars 3 can actually be a challenging game at some points. That is clearly not a good thing for what is probably its main demographic (little kids), but the level of difficulty is just right for us older gamers.
Sadly, not everything is perfect in Cars 3. In fact, there are a lot of issues with it.
For starters, the game is ugly. Sure, the character models are well-animated and the lighting effects are okay at best, but the game looks like a late PS2 title, with very poor textures and and very wonky framerate. I know the Switch isn’t exactly a powerhouse, but I’ve already seen much better visuals in it, just take a look at Fast RMX, a launch title for the Switch, for instance.
Another issue with the game comes in its level design. Not only are the levels quite uninteresting due to lack of variety (most of them take place in the American countryside), but quite a lot of them are also too long for a more casual-oriented game like this. Some racetracks are so long that it can easily take you more than three minutes to complete a lap. To add insult to injury, the game has a very disappointing sense of speed, making the tracks look even longer than they actually are.
There is a little issue with the controls, and that’s more on the joycon’s design than a fault from the game itself. You use the ZR button to accelerate, something that would be completely normal for the game if the Switch had analog triggers. Given the lack of said triggers, you don’t have quite the same precise acceleration feel you’d get from playing the game in other platforms. The right stick, which is used for performing little stunts while on air, isn’t always responsive as well.
Finally, the soundtrack is just okay at best. This is not a big complaint, however as most songs are just very quiet bluegrass tunes you won’t even remember. Thankfully, the voice acting is actually pretty good, even if the movie’s cast doesn’t return to voice the characters. Not-Owen Wilson, who voices the main character Lightning McQueen, did a very good job in imitating the Texan actor’s voice, for instance.
Cars 3 wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be, and it surely impressed me with the sheer amount of content included in the base game. Granted, it’s not better than Mario Kart 8, and yes, it has the typical myriad of issues present in most movie tie-in games, but I’d be lying if I said the game was actually bad, even though I was completely ready to roast it mercilessly. If you already have Mario Kart 8, you can either ignore it or wait until you find it preowned or at a very generous discount. If you’re not into Mario Kart games but you’re still into racers, the game would be an interesting choice. If you want to ravage Mater with a machine gun, buy it right now.
Did the game convince me to go to the movie theater and watch the actual Cars 3 movie, though? Nope, not even close.
Also available on: PS4, PS3, Xbox One, Xbox 360, Wii U.