There are already plenty of racing games on Wii, but Cars stands out with its sandbox-type level design. Unfortunately, the steering is broken.
Cars is an unusual little game. For a licensed game based on a movie, it's very ambitious. As Lightning McQueen, the "fish out of water" race car stranded in the redneck town of Radiator Springs, you drive around an open world to look for hidden items and missions. Some of the missions are mini-games, but most are races on a mixture of pavement and off-road trails. It's worth noting that the game dumps you into Radiator Springs with no explanation of prior events, so the story definitely assumes you have seen the movie.
Within ten minutes of playing the game, you'll find one of its biggest problems. The off-road races which are so prevalent around Radiator Springs just don't work very well. For one thing, Lightning is a NASCAR-type racer and doesn't handle well on the dirt. More importantly, it's often difficult to tell where the track is, because it blends in with the rest of the landscape. You can try to keep an eye on the radar, which shows an outline of the course, but it's not always accurate for turns and bends in the path.
The other major problem in Cars is that the controls never feel right. They are so strange that I'm still not sure if I can fully diagnose the problem. I think it's a combination of a much too large dead zone, in which tilting the Wii Remote has no effect, and overly sensitive steering once you move past the dead zone. The result is that the cars (all of them, though you will usually be controlling Lightning) sometimes feel unresponsive and other times feel so sensitive that you can't even make them go straight. Powersliding around huge turns or tilting up on two wheels to fly around a sharp corner, both important mechanics in the races, are very difficult to perform consistently because of the wonky steering controls. Naturally, there are no options to adjust the controls.
Missing a turn or slamming into a wall is no big deal in the early parts of the game, because the opponent racers are so slow and stupid. That means the races are more boring than frustrating, especially since the laps tend to be ridiculously long, stretching total race times out to six minutes or more. That's six minutes racing against opponents who may never see you after the starting line…trying not to fall asleep is the only challenge here.
However, as you get to the second and third chapters (which are just new sets of missions), the computer AI starts to get very competitive and even difficult. This would be great news for the average gamer, except that the difficulty of seeing the off-road tracks and the loosey-goosey steering are still holding you back. That's when the game starts to get very hard and very frustrating, and this is coming from a guy who plays F-Zero.
When you've earned enough trophy points in other events, you get a chance to race in the Piston Cup events. These are straight-up, NASCAR-type races on paved loops with lots of other cars packed in tightly. Even though you are just making left-hand turns, the challenge of sneaking by other cars and not losing speed on the turns translates into a surprisingly tense experience. However, the races are still very long by video game standards, and by the third Piston Cup event, the computer AI and controls are again conspiring to make the game extremely difficult.
Cars features a truly huge game world with dozens of racing events and mini-games, so there is plenty to do. The presentation is also nice, with good-looking character models and lots of voice acting from the movie's stars, including Owen Wilson, Paul Newman, and yes, Larry the Cable Guy. There is plenty of bonus content, such as high-quality video clips from the movie. All of these things would make the game easy to recommend except that the racing gameplay at its core is simply too frustrating, the controls too inconsistent, and the races far too long. I found myself cursing at the game on multiple occasions – and this is supposed to be targeted at kids? I know they're not weaksauce gamers, but they're not exactly the patient type, either. Considering that the tilting control scheme is the only Wii-specific feature, you may find that the GameCube version (also playable on Wii!) is easier to handle. For now, Excite Truck is still by far the best racing game on Wii.