Kids' Game Roundup

Cars, cartoons and purple dragons.

Version tested

Christmas is coming, the goose is getting fat, HMV's head of entertainment software retail is panicking because Santa's elves say they can't physically make Wiis any faster. But, they've assured him, they do have an excellent disc burner so at least there will be plenty of games to go round.

That will include plenty of games for younger players, for the times they are a-changing. In the olden days, when consoles ran on oil, there were plenty of bright and bouncy platform adventures about. Then everything went Dark, and now for every title starring a brightly coloured fictional creature there are ten games about Nazis.

Games companies have taken this on board and responded by creating more and more games aimed specifically at kids. Not because of the lucrative revenue opportunities but out of the goodness of their hearts, of course. Their cold, dead hearts. Anyway, here we take a look at some of the many titles vying for parents' cash this Christmas.

Cars Mater-National

1

Why has no one ever offered US the key to their brand new combine harvester?

It's surprising THQ found time to make another Cars game in between counting all the gold it made from the first one. It was the second best-selling game of last year, and more than 7 million copies have now been shipped around the globe.

It certainly wasn't the best game of last year, and Cars Mater-National isn't going to make it into Eurogamer's top 100 games of 2007. But it's not meant for the likes of us. It's meant for small children who like talking cars and racing games and the DVD Daddy puts on when Mummy says she's going to do a Plath if she has to watch In the Night Garden one more time. Makka-Pakka!

Cars Mater-National fits the bill. True, it's shallow and functional and won't entertain anyone over the age of seven. However, it's also highly polished and well put together, and if you're seven or under there's a good chance you'll love it.

In Story mode, you drive round a sandbox environment competing in various types of event such as races and relays. There's also an Arcade mode where you can compete in one-off events, and plenty of mini-games. There's no online option but that wouldn't make much (nonce) sense for a game like this anyway. The two-player offline modes suffice.

The cars handle easily and can do fun stuff like jumps and turbo charges. The AI is elastickier than a bungee rope, but there are various difficulty settings to suit different ages and abilities.

The game's visuals look surprisingly good, although that's judging by the Xbox 360 version running in 1080p on a bloody great big telly. The soundtrack is jollier than Santa himself and while the movie actors haven't provided the voiceovers this time, their imitators do a fine job.

Cars Mater-National is a hard game to score. So take a look at the number below. If you're old, knock two points off. This game will leave you feeling hollow, miserable and longing for the days when it all MEANT something. If you're a small child add two points. Or, if you really REALLY like talking cars, six.

5/10

Looney Tunes: Acme Arsenal

2

There's something a bit wrong about Bugs Bunny with a gun. It's like seeing Aled Jones shoot up.

Ahh, now this is the way kids' games used to be - poorly designed, lazily animated, utterly unoriginal and painful to play. But these days we've got the Wii, which means games are often also physically painful to play. This one falls into that category.

Looney Tunes: Acme Arsenal is based on the olden days cartoon characters kids stopped caring about the first time Yu-Gi-Oh was broadcast. It's a third-person action adventure made by people who, we'd wager, have played a lot of Ratchet and Clank.

They've had a stab at copying R&C's weapons system but they've missed and stabbed the player instead. The guns are dull and tiresome to use. The targeting system is rubbish, constantly assuming you'd rather shoot an inanimate object than the homicidal enemy coming towards you.

So you'll probably resort to melee combat. Unless you're playing the Wii version, as we did, in which case you'll probably resort to throwing the game out the window and having a cry. The Wii controls are abominable. You're supposed to shake the remote and press various buttons to perform different moves. However, it's all so unresponsive you end up shaking and pressing everything in a bid to make your character do anything useful at all. It can't be good for your arms and certainly doesn't feel like it.

When you're not engaged in rubbish combat you'll find yourself endlessly jumping over gaps, solving tedious puzzles and bashing open crates. Visually the game is flat and lifeless, the graphics seemingly inspired by the dullest of the Looney Tunes cartoons. The characters make annoying noises all the time and their hit-and-miss one-liners are repeated too often. All in all Acme Arsenal is a chore to play, even if you're...

3/10

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