Cars 2 takes you back to Mario-land, and that’s good

I’ve never cared much for the Cars movie franchise, but even I can admit that this namesake game delivers a top-notch experience.

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Cars 2

Platforms: PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, Wii, PSP, DS

Genre: Racing; Publisher: Disney Interactive

ESRB Rating: E for Everyone

Grade: 3.5 stars (out of 5)

I’ve never cared much for the Cars movie franchise, but even I can admit that this namesake game delivers a top-notch experience.

Cars 2 can’t be termed a true movie tie-in success, however, because it bears little resemblance to the movie. Instead, you’ll find a kart-racing game, featuring a host of car types and tracks.

Most will end up playing the battle races or Disrupter (once you unlock it), because they are highly addictive and probably the best executed of all the race types.

These races are a spitting image of Mario Kart, which speaks to how beloved that franchise is. We gamers miss it so much we’ll love just about anything that resembles it. After all, deploying shooting oil slicks, homing missiles and other clever weapons on well-designed tracks never gets old.

Once you experience all that Cars 2 offers, you’ll be disappointed to find no online component. Not having one is a misstep; you’re left with offline splitscreen play as your only multiplayer option.

You could say Cars 2 caters to younger players, but that would diminish the game’s value. Only the lack of an online multiplayer option holds it back from being great.

Shadows of the Damned

Platforms: Xbox 360, PlayStation 3

Genre: Adventure; Publisher: EA Games

ESRB Rating: M for Mature

Grade: 3.5 stars

Only in the twisted experiences of video games must you shoot a talking mounted goat’s head to survive. But that’s just one of the thrills you encounter in Shadows of the Damned.

On the surface this plays just like a standard third-person shooter, but taking such a literal view undervalues the creativity on display throughout this 10-plus hour campaign.

You play as Garcia Hotspur, a demon hunter who must travel to Hell (or at least his manifestation of it) to save the love of his life. Clever use of light versus dark, a la The Darkness and Alan Wake, allows Hotspur to battle nasty-looking fiends. Oh, and you certainly cannot be expected to whip up on demons without some terrific weaponry.

Beginning with standard pistols and shotguns, upgrades are regularly doled out until you create grisly death machines with catchy titles like Teether, The Dentist and Skullfest 9000. Pair powerful guns with deceptive and formidable boss fights and what you get is an addictive game.

The level design is gorgeous and creepy all at once, and shows influences from the excellent film Pan’s Labyrinth. Everything you do, everywhere you go and all your interactions serve as part of the larger narrative; nothing feels tacked on. The dialogue and content tread heavily into the “mature” realm, so prepare yourself for equal parts cheesy and mildly offensive.

You will want to replay the game using your upgraded weaponry to try new combinations, but sadly that is not an option. You must start each session from scratch, which kills the game’s long-term value. So for now, Shadows of the Damned is the best weekend rental game available.

Email Chris Campbell at game_on_games@mac.com

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