Thursday, August 3, 2017

Plug n Play Game Corner: Cars 2

Well, we've already looked at one Cars Plug n Play game, and since I'm almost positive this is the last chance I'll have to tie anything into a Cars movie, let's go ahead and talk about the other one, which is based on the bizarre sequel to the first movie. Will it be more playable than the first one? ...Well, the second one was more watchable, so let's hope that's something...

Game: Cars 2
Manufacturer:Jakks Pacific
Release Date: 2011
Genre: Sports

Cars 2 is a weird, WEIRD sequel. Not necessarily in concept or execution, but just that they arrived at the conclusion that this idea fit as a continuation of the first movie. So here you have a slow-paced, cliched, average racing movie about a hotheaded race car who has to be put in his place and learn the importance of small town values and respecting others. ...What's the logical next step?

 A SPY MOVIE! A VERY intense, somewhat complicated, surprisingly violent action-comedy spy movie where the main character is pushed into the background while the goofy sidekick is given the spotlight!

It's possibly the first example of a Disney movie jumping the shark. It's like if they made Toy Story 3 about how Hamm invented a time machine that took them back to the Wild West where toys were the lords and masters of humans. ...I don't have a joke there, I think that's enough of one.

Still, I can't say it's the worst shark jump for a franchise. ...I've seen MUCH worse...

It's like Disney/Pixar also admitted they were bored with their first movie, so they just scrapped whatever else they had planned, grabbed a script meant for a different Larry the Cable Guy movie, and said "THIS is what we need! We need a movie where there's a plot to control the world's oil, so British spies recruit Mater to see who's behind it, not knowing that he's NOT a spy, and they have to travel all around the world, avoiding heavy fire, explosions, crushing, and a lot of other stuff trying to kill them to see who's behind it! ...Oh, and Lightning McQueen is in a World Grand Prix to promote a fuel alternative that somehow ties in with the plot. ...If this isn't the next Toy Story 2, I don't know what is!"

 And that's what we have. A VERY action-centric movie involving sabotage, heavy gunfire, spy gadgets, misunderstandings, and DEATH! ...Yes, this is possibly Disney's most violent movie with just how many cars are shot at, injured, or straight-up DIE! And not the "it happens offscreen so we just hear a scream and maybe a crunch" kind that movies usually use, no no, you SEE characters die and break apart onscreen, nameless goons and secondary characters alike! Someone introduced in the opening can be crushed into a metal cube or even explode from the inside! Part of the story even involves a plot to kill Lightning McQueen using a bomb strapped to Mater, who just narrowly escapes being crushed between giant clock gears!

 ...This got a "G" rating, by the way. What? Because they're cars, it's fine that they're tortured and killed as the audience watches? ...They're still sentient beings with concepts of life and death. It would STILL leave an impact on people, especially younger viewers! I appreciate Disney not wussing out on showing us intense action and its realistic consequences, but GEEZ!

Honestly, I don't know what's stranger. That this is the direction they went with for this movie... or that it's actually better than the first one. The first one, every scene was predictable. Every line, every character, every twist, everything was done to death! This one, I never knew exactly where they were going with it. There were quite a few twists and turns, there were a lot more funny scenes, the plot flowed a lot more smoothly(though the transitions weren't the best), and, like I mentioned, there's a LOT of action! The first one nearly made me fall asleep. This one WOULDN'T LET ME SLEEP! With all the crashing, shooting, exploding, dying, racing, chasing, etc., it was an action-packed thrill ride from beginning to end, whether you liked it or not!

On top of that, we're shown a lot more of the Cars world. While the first one was mostly just desert terrain, this one has various landscapes, beautiful interiors, a lot of professional camera and lighting work to set up the atmosphere of each scene, and a wide variety of different cars and characters. Admittedly, most of the work is put into the Japan scenes, with not as much in the later Italy and Britain locations, but we do get a sense of size and scope throughout the movie, as well as more scenes detailing how this world works! ...It's not done as well as I'd hoped, but it is there, unlike the first movie.

Now I know a lot of people absolutely hate this movie and call it Pixar's worst* and I can understand why. Like I said, there's too much action and destruction and not enough focus on Lightning McQueen, racing, or any of the characters or locations the first movie set up. And the fact they decided to make this a Larry the Cable Guy spy movie with a slight environmental theme is a HUGE leap in logic, to the point you're wondering why nobody stepped in and asked "...Really?" ...Still, I enjoyed it and I would even recommend it to anyone who just wants to watch some mindless destruction and humor. It's not Pixar's best, but it's not their worst either.

*Though I disagree and would argue the first Cars or Ratatouille fits that description.

 If they had just been honest and called it a Mater's Tall Tales movie instead of trying to label it a Cars sequel, maybe we would have accepted it more. ...Maybe.

So ok, the movie's not Disney/Pixar's best, but it was still successful. Successful enough that they commissioned a Plug n Play system to be made off of it. And would you look at that? It's a racing game this time!

This is the most elaborate setup we've had since the Play TV Monster Truck a few months back. Except instead of a truck, this looks more like the standard car dashboard. ...If the standard dashboard had a button on the left for no reason, the gearshift right next to the wheel*, and two pedals behind the steering wheel.

*I know there are cars that have a gearshift on the wheel, usually in trucks and heavier cars, but this is clearly the gearshift you'd find between the driver & passenger seats. Hopefully I've stopped that nitpick before it began.

 Maybe they skinned Putt Putt and sold him for parts?

There's a bit of decoration on front of the wheel, with the Cars 2 logo on the horn and twin lightning bolts on either side. ...Or there would be if I didn't buy this second hand and one of the stickers had previously fallen off...The one on the left looks like it'll soon be joining it.

I don't quite understand these pedals on either side of the wheel. They serve a purpose in the game, but what is their practical function? They're pushed in-and-out as opposed to up-and-down as the blinker and windshield wiper levers are in a regular car, so what do they do? Are there actually cars with these "flippers"? Or am I just overanalyzing this?

Something a little unique is that, instead of using the common on/off switch most consoles use, you turn the console on and off by turning this key! I like how that adds to the illusion and fits the design aesthetic. ...Though if you have big hands like I do, the side of your pinky will be hitting it every time you turn right, so when it's turned on its side in the "On" position, you have a chance of turning it off. Just a warning.

The gearshift serves the same purpose it did in the Monster Truck game, though here, you don't need to hold it down to accelerate. It's much cheaper than that game as well, very loose and wobby. I thought I'd actually snap it off while I was playing this.

And for anyone who's ever wanted to see the backside of a car dashboard, here you go! ...Moving on.

On the bottom, they included two halves of a velcro strip. I'm guessing it originally came with the other halves to stick on a table so it can rest comfortably without being moved around. Unfortunately, the place I bought this from forgot to include that table, so I had nowhere to rest this but my lap. The inconsideration of these second-hand stores, I tell you...

And just a warning for anyone trying to get the battery cover off: They did too good a job. Instead of being deep enough to be flush with the rest of the console like most other systems, the screw on this is quite deep*, so a normal interchangeable screwdriver isn't enough to reach. You'll need a long and relatively thin Philips-head screwdriver to reach this thing. Just think of this as the preliminaries before they actually let you race with it. ...Or don't, because that's a stupid thing I just said...

*You WISH that that's what she said...

 Once again, this is a Jakks Pacific/HotGen collaboration, which, seeing what other companies do with licenses like this, I'm gaining more and more appreciation for.

It's also one of the games proudly featured on HotGen's website. ...They don't give you an option to buy one, but it's nice they still have a severely outdated partial resume.

When the soundtrack starts on the title screen, the theme they chose doesn't quite sound like something from Cars. In fact, it's almost copyright-violating N64 Goldeneye-style. If they were going for the spy theme of the movie, Finn McMissile's was much more upbeat, like a 60s Mission Impossible-esque score, not the dreary 90s James Bond this sounds like. It seriously sounds more at home on a Terminator game than a Disney console...

The only game on here is, obviously, to Race. You can also check out your high scores, go through the limited options, and see your trophies, but this is the first game here we've had in a while that isn't split into different minigames. As with Bikini Bottom 500, the whole game is one big race. ...With a few other missions thrown in, but we'll get to those soon.

The first track you complete is a Tutorial level, where they get you up to speed on the controls. Turn the wheel to move, push the gearshift to accelerate, pull to brake, honk the horn to use your boost, etc. There are quite a few features they throw at you all at once, but don't worry, it's not as hard as they make it look. Once you start playing, you'll get the hang of everything within minutes.

The game is split into three areas, each with a different number of levels and loosely tying into the plot of the movie:

  1. Tutorial
  2. Downtown
  3. Countryside
  4. Freeway
  5. Trouble
  6. Runway Escape
Porta Corso:
  1. Harbor
  2. Town
  3. Coastline
  4. Chase
  1. Park
  2. Main Street
  3. City
  4. Dash for Mater
  5. Professor Z Pursuit

That's 15 levels in total. So that "18 Fun Games" blurb on the front of the box? I have no idea where they got that number...

Since this is once again basically one long game, where nearly every section has the same goal to get Lightning McQueen to achieve 5th place or higher, there's no sense in going over each individual level, so let's talk about the more general aspects of it.

For starters, as you can see, the graphics are GORGEOUS! As with the Bikini Bottom 500 game, it's rendered in Mode 7-esque pseudo-3D. The cars have a good number of frames while turning, the fast scrolling scenery on either side gives the illusion of high-speed racing, and the scaling used with the sprites gives a sense of perspective as you gain on and eventually pass each car. On top of that, each sprite is finely drawn, with bright, vibrant colors and attention to detail really giving you a sense the artists were passionate about making these characters look as close to the movie versions as possible!

Each race even starts with a camera pan over the racers, ending right in front of Lightning McQueen! Unfortunately, it doesn't then spin around to give a rear shot of the race like Mario Kart, instead fading out to black and back in to orient itself behind McQueen, but it's a nice effect anyway.

Obviously, they're using something more modern than 20-year-old Nintendo tech, so instead of drawing each size of an approaching sprite like had to be done with foreground sprites in Mode 7, they're using some sort of scaling program to stretch the sprites and make it appear they're approaching. This gives a much more realistic and fluid look to oncoming traffic.*

*And if you stand in front of oncoming traffic, YOU'LL look much more realistic and fluid!

I'm also really impressed with the speed and detail of the side graphics. Buildings, fences, audience stands, trees, all whiz by as you zoom at 400 MPH! The backdrops aren't bad either, showing you a well detailed cityscape or countryside that rotates when you turn! Of course, everything looks a little flat and not as solid as the cars themselves, but for what they could do, this is impressive!

 Though maybe the draw distance could have used a bit more work. It's not the worst I've ever seen, as I've played games where things literally pop up right in front of you, but it looks like you're about ready to drive right off the edge and into the blue backdrop...

While it don't have fully voiced dialog as other games we've looked at do, this console does have character voice clips, most noticeably before and after the races and when a boost or weapon is used. I couldn't tell if these were clips taken from the movies, rerecorded dialog, or soundalike voice actors(like Keith Ferguson filling in for Owen Wilson), but they're really clear and help give the game personality. ...Even if the characters end up saying something irrelevant to the situation with how few clips they're given.

I did check the credits to see if they included the voice actors, but they weren't listed, so we'll probably never know.

They put in some pretty fun features to keep this from being a bare bones racing game. For starters, this game has a pretty unique boost system. Instead of drifting or collecting power-ups as most other cartoonish racers do, you fill your boost meter by getting behind another race car and absorbing the energy from its slipstream. There's even a blue rectangle indicator when you're close enough to start absorbing energy.

Admittedly, this isn't as challenging as you might think. I originally thought I needed to also keep speed with the car in front of me to avoid crashing into it, but it turns out that once you're centered behind it, all other racers just freeze in place, so as long as you can stay centered behind the other racer, that's all you need to charge the boost.

Once it's charged, the boost will give you the speed you need to overtake anyone who's somehow managed to pass you!

However, because of the game's low difficulty, I usually didn't need to use it and I just saved it for the end of the race to make winning more epic.

The pedals on either side of the steering wheel are used to drift around tight corners so you don't drag against the sides of the track and lose health. The game suggests that you slow down for tight turns, but if you can time it right, you can go full speed and just drift around turns without consequence.

And yes, there's a health bar in this game. If you smash into other racers or drag against the wall for too long, it begins to deplete. However, I didn't even notice for the first half of the game since there's no sound of scraping against the wall unless you're intentionally up against it and there's no warning sound unless you're on your last few bars. Plus most of the turns are easy enough that you can avoid scraping against the sides of the track and at most cause minimal damage. So for most of the game, I didn't even know what the bar represented.

I had to intentionally go back and damage myself to see what happened if you depleted your health. You're slowed to a crawl where other racers can easily pass you as the announcer tells you to push the horn to enter the pit stop.

Once in the pit stop, we're given another throwback to Bikini Bottom 500 as you're instructed(while watching some really awkward Photoshop animation that makes Angela Anaconda look sober) to perform actions in the allotted time with the onscreen prompts in 1 of 4 minigames. Push the gearshift to raise the platform, continuously pull on the pedals to buff, turn the wheel to tighten lug nuts, etc. This was one of the best parts of Bikini Bottom 500, so I'm glad it makes a return here.

And if you're quick enough and perform all the actions without messing up, you're placed right back in the race fully repaired and with a speed boost. ... I can see how this method could be abused, as you could intentionally damage yourself enough to access the pit stop and continually earn a speed boost, and since you're always put back in the exact place you were before you entered the pit stop, there's no ground lost. However, I didn't actually test this theory out, so it might take long enough to damage yourself that other racers pass you and all the speed boost will do is help you catch up. ...But the game's easy enough that that's not really something to look into exploiting.

Overall, the race sections are REALLY fun! ...Except for one or two things. The main problem is it has the exact same problem as Bikini Bottom 500, i.e. it's not as much of a race as it is a game of overtake. You're always put in last place as the other cars speed away, so it's more about catching up to the other racers than it is mastering the course to keep your lead.

Eventually, you'll speed past the racer in the lead(which is always John Turturro's character from the movie), and it's smooth sailing until the end of the race. No obstacles, no shortcuts, no danger of blowing out your tires or the villains pointing that camera at you to make you explode, just straight roads and a few corners.* ...It can get boring...

*You're welcome to think about the Jeff Dunham skit on NASCAR and "making another left turn" because I can't find a clip to turn into a gif.

I did intentionally lose a race just to see what would happen. McQueen puts on a bit of a disappointed face, says something irrelevant, then you're asked if you'd like to try again. Not exactly the Arkham series of Game Over screens, but at least they don't rub it in...

When you do win the race, depending on your position, you're awarded a Gold, Silver, or Bronze trophy. Needless to say, I swept each race and got the gold trophy every time. Unlike the Fry Cook Games, they only keep the most valuable trophy, so there was no need to go back and intentionally get a lower score.

You also get to enter your initials for the high score screen, which of course were ZCI for me.

Except for the last one, where I accidentally entered ZCA. ...Oops.

The default high score screen belongs to "Hot" and "Gen" by the way. ...Cute.

But in case you're worried that the entire game is basically one long race track, they DO vary it up after the three races in each zone. For the first two zones, after completing the races, you're then given control of Finn McMissile or Mater trying to escape two of the lemon car goons* from the movie. You push the horn when they're in range to fire whatever gadget the level gives you and hope that you can deplete their health before time runs out.

*It just hit me that in the movie, all the villains are "lemons", models that flopped due to component failures and part issues. ...So cars in this universe are actually given life by assembly line AND they try different models to improve on previous makes, meaning that there are probably hundreds, if not thousands of Cars that have to go through their lives being the product of someone else's mistake? And since the bad guys are all defective cars, isn't that the equivalent of making a James Bond movie where the bad guy and his henchmen are crippled and/or have birth defects? ...This movie is getting darker the more I think about it...

These were the more challenging parts of the game. The henchmen are continually moving in the background and approaching/retreating while you're trying to line up a shot, so trying to hit a moving target enough times in a short time limit can prove really frustrating. Still, they don't actually do anything when they catch up with you, so your entire focus is on flinging projectiles at them and not worrying about them throwing some at you. Also, you're given more examples of some truly professional animation as they spin out of control when hit.

When you win these levels, it just cuts to a standard "Well Done" screen. It doesn't record any trophies or high scores, so these can be seen as more of an interlude than a main part of the game.

I also intentionally lost during one of these levels. It's the same thing as losing a race, only you get the stare of disappointment from Michael Caine. Possibly the same look he gave Jeremy Irons when he found out he was no longer playing Alfred.

So while they're not the most fun of minigames and they're even more simplistic than the race segments, it is nice that there's some variation and a break from the action for some other action to keep the game from being monotonous. It's something I would have liked to see in Bikini Bottom 500.

At the end of the final segment of the game, instead of the race or escape levels, you're given two "chase" levels as you first control Lightning McQueen chasing after Mater(which he left the race he was winning to do so, making the ending possibly the worst part of the movie), then Finn McMissile as he speeds after "Professor Z."

These basically have the same mechanics as the race levels, but the goal here is to keep within range of the target until the end of the course, dodging other cars and jumping off ramps to keep your speed. It still has the same drift and boost features, except now you're using them to keep up as opposed to overtake.

This is a great way to end the game, as it takes the core concepts of what we've gotten used to in the race segments and then challenges us to use them in a much more intense situation, chasing after our friends and eventually the main bad guys. The boosts are actually required here, since it's very hard to avoid every obstacle and keep speed with the target, so every chance you get, absorb some slipstream energy and use your boost!

Unfortunately, they nerfed these segments slightly by removing the health meter, so dragging along the wall or crashing into other objects does nothing. I guess it wouldn't make sense to pull into the pit stop in the middle of a high-speed chase(with as much sense as there was already in the middle of a race...), but they could have included an instant fail or something if the health depletes. I guess there's still a consequence since crashing slows you down, but it needed an additional edge to it.

And once you've won all the races and stopped Professor Z(with no mention of the movie's actual bad guy), you're given a screen that says "GAME COMPLETE! You are the champion!" Have we come to expect anything different by this point?


Design: The design for the console is fine, if a bit clunky. It's nice that they put some thought into how a racing game would look and designed it like a car dashboard. We have a steering wheel, a horn, a gear shift, and two pedals behind the steering wheel to work with, and everything is in reach while you're playing. The key being the on/off switch is a nice touch as well. I guess if I had to complain, it's a little too big and clunky to hold unless you have it on a table surface, but I managed alright. It's not as creatively overboard as the Play TV Monster Truck game, but it's still creative nonetheless.

Controls: The controls are well thought out and put together in a way they'd do the most good. Having the pedals behind the steering wheel was weird, but effective, especially if they're trying to keep it all as one system, and I'm glad you don't need to keep one hand on the gearshift to maintain speed, allowing you to focus on the wheel through most of the game. The gearshift felt cheap and loose, and the fact the wheel doesn't have an automatic return does slightly annoy me, but everything was fully responsive and never felt overbearing.

Graphics: The graphics are REALLY good! It's clear that they improved on the graphics from the Bikini Bottom 500 game and game us much more detailed models, more three-dimensional effects, and a better sense of perspective. Admittedly, I like the BB500 models a little better since they had cartoonish stretching and skewing included to them, while the Cars models are much more solid, but that was a wackier cartoon format than Cars. Everything almost looks like true 3D graphics, with a very high frame rate I'm impressed a console like this could process. Maybe the draw distance could have used a little more work and more sweeping camera angles would have made it look nicer, but as is, this is a shining example of what dedicated consoles are capable of showing.

Music & Sound: Honestly, I had to watch the video again to realize that there was music. The sound of cars revving and other effects drowned out most other sounds, so when I was playing this game, I could only barely hear any music. From what I can hear, it's ok. It basically just sounds like a 2 second MIDI file of drums and guitars that do sound exciting, but probably wasn't needed to establish the fast-paced action atmosphere of the game. The title music just sounds out of place, like something you'd hear in a war game or a more serious espionage movie, not a goofy spy movie that's a throwback to the 60s. The Incredibles had more accurate spy music, and that was a superhero movie! The sound, on the other hand, is really good. Very clear, very varied, and not just featuring stock sounds we've heard many times before in other games. Admittedly, some of the sounds aren't looped correctly, especially the drifting sound, and don't sync up, but it's not especially noticeable when you're barrelling down the street at 400 MPH. While I appreciate spoken dialog in these games, the quotes they chose sound out of place and irrelevant to what's happening on screen, so they could have cut those out and I wouldn't have missed them. Overall, everything was serviceable and that's it.

Gameplay: The gameplay isn't very varied, but it's a LOT of fun! I really did enjoy all the racing segments, trying to pull ahead of all the other cars, maneuvering around corners, and playing the Pit Stop minigame when I learned that it existed. They didn't have as much as BB500 offered(no power-ups, quick time events, or obstacles), but they were presented in such a way that you could feel the excitement of driving at fast speeds. And while it wasn't much, the opponents DO get slightly faster each race, so it takes longer to overtake them and grab first place. It's much shorter than BB500 and the tracks take less time to complete, but that actually helps its case since I thought BB500 got monotonous after a while, so having fewer tracks meant it wasn't as redundant as BB500. And they included other levels based on scenes from the movie to break up the monotony and challenge you in different ways, so you're not stuck with the same race levels over and over again. So while there's not as much to this game as BB500, the fact they shake things up with escape and chase levels and they make the racing shorter and less boring makes this game more fun.

Replay Value: Like BB500, there's not much to do after you've completed it all in under an hour. Heck, there's even less to do since it doesn't have a challenge to collect all the coins in a level like that game had. And, once again, NO MULTIPLAYER! Even the Fry Cook Games worked around that one! I'd only recommend replaying it if you were so blown away with the graphics, you want to see them again.


Like the movie it's based on, this is a total popcorn game. It's exciting, it's beautiful, it throws unexpected twists and turns at you, but when it's over, you don't care. Still, it's a lot of fun while it lasts. It's definitely one of the best racing games I've come across for a Plug n Play system. If you like Cars and need to collect everything relating to the franchise, here's another collectable. If you want something for your kids that'll keep them distracted and entertained, this is good for that too. If you want a really fun racing game with varied tracks, a large roster of characters, track obstacles, and a large amount of power-ups... Go buy Sonic & Sega All-Stars Racing.