Version tested Xbox 360
Pixar's Cars is a godsend to the weary games developer, tired of crowbarring kids movies into wheezing platform-game shapes, picking out the key action scenes and working out how best to stretch them into something that will work on a console.
The adventures of Lightning McQueen cut through all of that. When all your characters have wheels, and your hero is a racing car, the game genre sorts itself out naturally. No matter what you need them to do, it's got to be a driving game. And now, with Cars 2, Lightning and Mater have become international secret agents, with missiles and guns and a cackling bad guy. Driving. Shooting. Cackling. It's almost as if Pixar is writing the game design document for us!
So it is that Cars 2, the game, is inevitably an example of the venerable combat racing game, with front wheels parked neatly on the pavement of Mario Kart Street and the back rudely blocking the driveway of Mr Twisted Metal.
It's a slick, chunky and responsive racer, and one with a few tricks up its sleeve to amuse the kids. While the left stick steers and the right trigger accelerates, just as you'd expect, the right stick seems more interested in pretending it's controlling a skateboard game.
Flick down on the stick and your car flips around and starts driving backwards, ready to fend off attacks from the rear. Flick the stick upwards and you balance on two wheels. Left and right shunt your car across the track for instant and gratifying Road Rash-style side-swipes against overtaking enemies. There's also a simple drifting mechanic, which can be automatically activated for kids who struggle with the timing of the button presses.
These cars don't even need ramps, as a prod of the A button sends them hopping into the air all by themselves. While in the air, the right stick now twizzles and turns your vehicle in an immediately appealing series of flips and barrel rolls. It's a lovely, intuitive control system and one that taps straight into what kids love about gaming: the ability to do cool stuff really easily.
These stunts aren't just for show, however. Each trick you pull earns you boost, which gradually fills up four bars. Each bar is equal to one use of the turbo function, but when all four are full you can double tap for an extra fast speed injection which comes with a rival-frying shield as well.
Weaponry falls into all the expected categories. There's a machine gun, a rocket or a trio of rockets. Oil slicks and energy traps can be dropped behind you. A satellite laser fulfils your smart bomb needs, and instead of a homing missile there's a little RC bomb car that will chase down the driver in front and send them sky high (although in the world of Cars, isn't this like using babies as suicide bombers? Probably best not to dwell on that). It's a functional weapon set, but one that feels a little unimaginative given the potential that Pixar's wacky, knockabout world offers.