In anticipation of the June 2011 theatrical release of Cars 2, kids can refuel their excitement for Lightning McQueen and the gang on the Nintendo DS. Based on the Disney Pixar movie Cars, Cars Race-O-Rama puts kids in the driver's seat with Lightning McQueen as he races across 20 different tracks in his quest to win the Race-O-Rama trophy, all along the way teaching his students at the Doc Hudson Academy about the finer points of racing. The game introduces some fun characters like Candace, Stinger and El Machismo which you can race one-on-one, but all turn out to be students of Chick Hicks, who's interested in one thing: secretly learning Lightning's winning moves.
Game Play: While you can jump right into a race, I recommend starting with the tutorial mode to help get a feel for the game and establish the basics of accelerating, braking, jumping, and drifting and to learn special techniques like "Boost," which you earn by driving at top speeds on some of the tracks.
Race-O-Rama includes multiple playing modes in the main feature, "Story Mode." In this mode, all levels are locked, and winning a race is required to unlock subsequent levels. Scattered about each track are wrenches - some hidden - and some in plain sight. Collect enough and you can trade them in for upgrades at the Radiator Springs Market. Buying items like the bumper, inflatable tires, magnetic tires and horn aid in the ease of conquering levels and accessing special areas later on.
If you can find it, each level has one special photo opportunity, allowing the characters to strike a pose for the camera, and unlocking locations in "Postcard Events." These events feature competitions where you can compete in a "Single Race," "Beat the Clock," "Drift Challenge," or "Cone Chaos."
In the main feature "Story Mode," Chick Hicks tries to become "the perfect high performance, custom racer who's gonna take you down." You need to accumulate enough stars, by winning races on each of the tracks (at least 80 total) to challenge Chick Hicks directly himself. Beating Chick unlocks the Tokyo Mater mini-game and enables you to race as Chick Hicks in "Postcard Events" and multiplayer play, and unlocks the Radiator Springs Speedway postcard event.
Pros For Kid Play:
- The concept of the game is simple track racing, and controls are easy for younger kids (one button to accelerate and the left-side navigation controls of the DS to steer).
- Even young players at 3 years old could play this game.
- Positive themes like the importance of teamwork are a part of the game. Cars even apologize at the end for their poor behavior on the track.
Cons For Kid Play:
- Mastering the drifting controls may be hard for younger kids since it requres multi-button operation and timing. It's important to note that to drift, you need to hold down both the A and B buttons at the same time, and little thumbs (3-5 year olds) may not be able to cover both buttons at once.
- Snapshots can be difficult to find, which render the "Postcard" feature of the game disabled until found - and may be frustrating for younger kids.
Appropriateness For Children: Race-O-Rama is rated E for Everyone and the language, themes and gameplay are well-suited for mid-to-older children. The taunting amongst the cars is fun for the 6-10 year old audience, as each car has catch phrases like "You're not afraid of a little Lightning are you?" or "What's going on?" when passed by competitive cars, and a little post-race attitude like "To be honest, I could have done it with my eyes closed."
Preschoolers 3-5 years old may not understand or appreciate the concept of drifting, and while it makes the game play more fun, you can successfully navigate the game levels without it.
Some adult help may be required for some of the higher level tracks with younger kids, but overall Race-O-Rama has incorporated staggered difficulty levels to make the game engaging for kids of all ages, and is a game you can feel confident will help them with their own video game exploration and decision-making abilities.
ESRB: E (Everyone 6+)
Released: October 19, 2009
Available: At most major retailers
List Price: $29.99, although you can likely find it discounted these days.