Nov 1, 2007
As the second adaptation of a now-sixteen-month-old Disney/Pixar CG animated film, Cars: Mater-National absolutely screams cash-in. But considering the quality of the original release and the pristine pedigree of Rainbow Studios, we remained optimistic that Mater-National would prove to be an evolutionary upgrade over its very solid predecessor.
It's not - it's a total cash-in. In fact, Cars: Mater-National is one of the more blatant retreads we've seen in some time, as the core elements of the original - environments, vehicles, minigames, and even parts of the soundtrack - have been copied and pasted into Mater-National, albeit with modifications and light additions. For example, while the three open-world environments (Radiator Springs, Ornament Valley, and Tailfin Pass) are essentially as-is with slight cosmetic alterations, the race routes have been remapped (same backgrounds, new paths).
But as the millions of Cars owners can attest, drawing heavily from the original isn't an especially bad plan. While the loose, arcade-style racing was merely adequate in the first adaptation (and still is in Mater-National), the presentation and use of the license was top-notch, recreating Radiator Springs and the surrounding areas with races and minigames that set it high above many of its licensed contemporaries. Mater-National maintains a similar blend of familiar characters/settings and relevant events, though the lack of a direct film tie-in (the first Cars game continued the films narrative) and a depleted sense of originality hurt the title.
Having tow truck Mater (voiced by Larry the Cable Guy) host a series of race events for new international racers (including a Japanese tuner car voiced by Heroes star Masi Oka) makes sense, but it's not an especially interesting premise, nor is it a long-lasting one - players can blast through all the necessary races (including the new Stadium Events, which replace the Piston Cup races) in five hours flat. Numerous minigames are included to extend the playtime, but the most notable ones (such as Tractor Tipping and Ghosting Mater) simply return from the previous game. Ramone's Rhythmic Rumble is a passable new addition, and while Fillmore's Fuel Frenzy fares slightly better, the monster truck races are uniformly terrible, sporting sloppy controls and asinine gate layouts.
As a game designed to be mass-ported across all consoles, Cars: Mater-National doesn't take full advantage of the Xbox 360 hardware, though it certainly presents a competent visual experience. From the vehicles to the desert environments, everything is solidly rendered and sharply displayed with a frame rate that only dips (and noticeably so) during the two-player split-screen battles. Pop-in can be an issue, as plants and environmental effects will appear suddenly within a couple dozen feet of your vehicle, but it doesn't prove to be much of a distraction during gameplay.
Cars: Mater-National is essentially the same game as its predecessor, but with a weaker campaign and even less reason to give it a shot in this packed holiday season. Minor issues from the original remain unchanged, while online play is still missing and the single-player experience seems significantly less robust. While still quite playable for several hours, the lack of true innovation or noteworthy upgrades makes Mater-National seem like more of a rushed expansion than a full-fledged - or fully necessary - follow-up to a memorable kid-friendly racer.