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Cars: Race-O-Rama (Xbox 360) artwork

Cars: Race-O-Rama (Xbox 360) review

"Cars: Race-O-Rama is essentially a streamlined version of the first game with new collectibles, bigger environments, superior controls, and fewer story developments. If you’re a kid who loves Cars, this drive is going to feel like a highway to Heaven. If not, the repetition and lack of challenge could make this game feel like a road with no exit."

Lightning McQueen was once a cocky SOD (son of a driver). It wasn’t until he met a young Porsche and a rusty tow truck that he finally realized what it meant to have a heart. While that heart may have only been made of cylinders and motor oil, Lightning McQueen learned to cherish the little things in life. Of course, deep down he was still a high-end racing machine, which is why he has driven his way to not one, not two, but three video games.

His third, Cars: Race-O-Rama, is essentially a streamlined version of the first with new collectibles, bigger environments, superior controls, and fewer story developments. If you’re a kid who loves Cars, this drive is going to feel like a highway to Heaven. If not, the repetition and lack of challenge could make this game feel like a road with no exit.

Cars: Race-O-Rama is very much the 2009 version of a three-year-old automobile. One of the most damaging kinks of the first two Cars games – level navigation – has been remedied with one-click access via the road map screen. This feature is usable even if you haven’t visited a particular location before, which means you no longer have to drive around for hours, searching for the weird and/or hard-to-see path that’ll take you to each event. There are a few benefits to driving around aimlessly, however; the sights are fairly attractive, shortcuts are hidden all over the place, and there are dozens of bolt pickups (items used to upgrade Lightning McQueen’s appearance) to uncover.

Hands down, the controls are the best part of the game. Cruising around with Lighting McQueen (or Guido, Luigi, Mater and others in arcade mode) is a breeze; the steering mechanics are very smooth and tight, and the game offers a simplistic drift feature that lets you handle almost any turn with ease. Jumps are easy to perform – hold down the left stick for one second, then flick it up – and are still a big part of the racing experience. Ramps, dirt hills, and mountain cliffs are a common feature of Radiator Springs, Ornament Valley, Tailfin Pass, Santa Carburea, and other Cars: Race-O-Rama locations. Each environment comes with its own film-inspired theme (desert, grand prix, waterfall, small towns, etc.), creating a world that Cars fans will be eager to visit.

If simplistic and familiar gameplay styles are what kids want, Cars: Race-O-Rama will keep them very satisfied. It takes a page right out of the NEW Super Mario Bros. playbook by choosing to include three collectible stars in every stage. Most of them are dropped in plain sight, though you’ll occasionally come across one that’s floating thirty feet in the air or one that’s hidden deep within a cavernous shortcut. Despite the lack of necessity in collecting them – your only reward is new parts to customize your vehicle’s appearance – the star system is a fun, albeit shallow feature that gives players a reason to keep playing.

Like most racing games, new events are unlocked by completing (by winning) the events that are already available. This system works well up until two things happen: first, you realize that there isn’t much else to do in Cars: Race-O-Rama. It’s a by-the-books racer that, yes, happens to be a lot of fun. But you can only drive in a circle so many times before the repetition levels begin to skyrocket.

Second, the game stumbles the moment you take on the monster truck races, which are all but unbearable. Driving a monster truck in Cars: Race-O-Rama is the complete opposite of driving a normal vehicle; the controls are super-slippery, detrimental collisions occur more frequently, and if you just barely bump into an opponent, you are practically guaranteed to spin out. The rest of the game is so simple – and despite the repetition, so free of frustration – that it’s hard to imagine what the developers were thinking when they designed the monster truck controls. It’s as if they were determined to make the monster trucks drive differently, even if it meant sacrificing every ounce of potential fun in the process.

Cars: Race-O-Rama is a straightforward, kid-targeted racing game that, aside from one monstrous disaster and a collection of repetitive events, is bound to surpass the expectations of anyone who’s played a kid-targeted game with a movie license attached. It may not offer enough fresh content to appeal to older Cars fans, but if you’re 12 or younger or need a gift for someone who is, Cars: Race-O-Rama has just the right content – great courses, fast cars, and (mostly) solid controls – to keep you cruising till the end.

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Freelance review by Louis Bedigian (December 02, 2009)

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