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Cars: Mater-National
Score: 78%
ESRB: Everyone
Publisher: THQ
Developer: Rainbow Studios
Media: Blu-ray/1
Players: 1 - 2
Genre: Racing/ Mission-Based Driving

Graphics & Sound:
As far as licensed games go, Cars wasn't that bad. It suffered from some of the more common problems that face licensed games, but overall it was a fun experience that captured the feel of the movie. Cars Mater-National not only follows up on the game, but is a follow-up of sorts for the movie. Though it still has problems, it is still just as fun as the original.

Cars Mater-National comes pretty close to matching the movie. All of the characters are instantly recognizable, which is the exact look and feel you want to achieve in a licensed game. All of the vehicles show off an impressive amount of detail. However, the three towns featured in the game are sparse. The towns are ghost towns and there isn't much to look at. There are a few noticeable landmarks, but really most of the town is filled with generic-looking buildings, tumbleweeds and not much else. On the other hand, some of the tracks are well designed and fun to look at. Coupled with the vehicles, the tracks help balance out the dull environments.

The soundtrack and voicework are both great. The voicework is excellent and does a great job at capturing the personality of each character. Music is mainly heard during races and is pretty diverse. The actual sound effects do their job, but don't stand out as being noticeable.

Cars Mater-National is sort of a follow-up to the movie. You play as Lightning McQueen who has returned to Radiator Springs for the first-ever Mater-National race. Unlike the last Cars game, which was more of a pure racing game, Mater-National combines open-ended world maps with more straightforward racing. The structure isn't much different from Test Drive Unlimited. Events and mini-games are scattered throughout Radiator Springs which you must complete to earn flags which play into the game's tiered ranking system. By earning enough flags, you'll unlock new challenges, eventually leading up to an invitation to the Mater-National Championship. You aren't required to complete all of the challenges to get to the race, which is great since it opens the game up for younger players who may not like certain events or find them too difficult.

In addition to normal races, Mater-National includes a number of race types. Relay races are similar to normal races, except you change vehicles every lap. You'll also compete in Fuel Frenzy and Rhythmic Rumble events. In Fuel Frenzy games, your goal is to complete as many laps as you can without running out of gas. The trick is to plan you path around the track so that you'll reach the gas canisters that litter the track. The idea behind Rhythmic Rumble is based on something like Dance Dance Revolution; you match buttons presses as they scroll across the bottom of the screen. The concept is okay, the icons come from opposite sides of the screen, which makes it hard to get an idea of what button presses are coming up next.

Despite numerous races and mini-games, Mater-National does get a bit repetitive. The game world is rather small and though there are more than enough places to visit, you'll probably see them all within the first hour of gameplay. On the plus side, there is plenty to unlock, including new paint jobs, artwork and other extras.

Cars: Mater-National isn't that hard of a game. Experienced players will be able to complete the game in a few hours, while going for all 350 flags could take slightly longer. However, the game really isn't meant for the more hardcore set; instead Mater-National is meant for younger players who like racing, or Cars, but aren't quite at the level where they can give Need for Speed a shot. The focus here is more on fun, which is what the game aims to deliver.

However, while the A.I. is usually decent, it fluctuates a lot between amazingly hard and stupid. Most of the time it is easy to hang with the rest of the pack, though in a few races you'll find yourself stuck behind a driver that, no matter how much you try, you simply can't pass. The funny thing is that in the very same race, you'll easily pass the other drivers. This lends a very awkward feeling to the game; as long as A.I. doesn't reach one of the extremes, it is fun. Otherwise, it can be boring or frustrating.

Game Mechanics:
The controls are pretty straightforward and not much different than other racing games. The analog stick steers while the face buttons work as gas, brakes and emergency brake. The two buttons that will throw even more experienced players off are Tilt and Power Slide. Pressing (L1) puts your car up on two wheels, which is useful in tight turns - at least that's how it is supposed to work. Though you'll sometimes get lucky, most of the time you'll end up losing speed and falling behind in the race. Power Sliding, however, is much more useful.

Older gamers who enjoyed the movie might find Cars: Mater-National entertaining for a few hours. The races are fun, though simple, which doesn't lend much to the game's depth. However, the game shouldn't disappoint younger gamers, especially fans of the movie, making it a great choice.

-Starscream, GameVortex Communications
AKA Ricky Tucker

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