MMO Family: A parent's look at World of Cars Online

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How could you not fall in love with a Disney/Pixar movie? I'm not sure that's even possible. Cars revved up belly laughs in the theater back in 2006, earning two Oscar nominations and raking in more than a dozen other industry awards. Kids were captivated by the feisty little car characters, and grownups chuckled at voicing from such high-octane stars as Owen Wilson, Paul Newman and even Cheech Marin.

The MMO version of the franchise, which officially launched last month, pulls away from the starting line without this full tank of charisma. World of Cars Online hits on all cylinders yet somehow fails to throttle up into the type of completely engaging world we've come to expect from a Disney/Pixar creation. It's a 2-D, minigame-centric experience with lots (and we do mean lots) of point-and-click racing. Still, if you've got a young boy around the house who's hankering to burn a little online rubber, World of Cars is an inexpensive, kid-friendly way to do it.
World of Cars Online
Developer Disney Interactive Media Group
Publisher The Walt Disney Company
Launched August 2010

What systems does it run on? World of Cars Online is a browser-based game playable on both PC and Macs. On a PC, you'll need Windows 7, Windows Vista, XP or 2000; the latest version of Adobe Flash (10 or higher); a Pentium 3 800 MHz (or faster) processor; 256 MB of RAM; and a 350KB/s or faster internet connection. For Macs, you'll need OS X Tiger (10.4.6); the latest version of Adobe Flash (10 or higher); a PowerPC G4 or newer; 256 MB of RAM; and a 350KB/s or faster internet connection.

How much does it cost? WoC's basic features (creating a character, racing, exploring and chatting) are free, but the more interesting activities -- advanced levels in minigames, car customization options, a garage and yard, the option to pursue a professional racing career -- are only available via an inexpensive monthly subscription. In a nod to NASCAR terminology, membership is referred to as becoming a "Sponsored Race Car"; it costs $5.95 per month. As sponsored cars unlock new in-game sponsors and rankings and earn coins, they can purchase more customization items to trick out their rides and gain access to more tracks and in-game sponsors.

What's the game all about? Point-and-click racing and minigames are the heart of World of Cars Online experience. After creating a customized car character, players explore the game world, race against other players, play minigames, complete simple quests given by characters from the movie and earn virtual coins to spend on car modifications or customizing their own yards.

What does the game look and feel like? This is basic stuff. Despite the fact that all the parts and pieces are there, World of Cars Online misses capturing the charm of its movie inspiration -- but it makes up for it with sheer boy-centric details. Honking at other players the virtual equivalent of a handshake here, and you can purchase/earn other noises, from the basic FLURP (we're betting you can guess what that sounds like) to the more backfire-tastic Gastro Blastro.

Who's the target audience? This game is aimed squarely at elementary school boys. "The Cars movie is one of those films that is loved by all ages and genders," explains Product Director Rachel DiPaola. "For the virtual world, we have designed the world to be easily accessible yet adequately challenging for kids 6–12 years old. We think fans of the movie will definitely enjoy the world, but also kids who love cars and racing."

Who plays? DiPaola reports that World of Cars' primary player base is comprised of 8- to 10-year-old boys. You'll see a smattering of girl cars in game, too, but for the most part, it's a boy's world out there.

What playstyles does the game most suit? World of Cars Online is short, sweet and casual. There are no big storylines, skill curves or quest chains. If you've got a rowdy young kid who wants to burn off a little virtual energy, World of Cars Online is a fast-paced way to do it.

How does the game address kids' internet safety? World of Cars Online chat is limited to SpeedChat (a predefined menu of greetings, questions, statements, emotes, actions and greeting cards) or, for members, SpeedChat Plus (open chat using only words from the Disney SpeedChat Plus dictionary). SpeedChat Plus must be activated via a valid email address. Parental control settings allow you to set kids' chat levels and what they can post to the message boards.

"Although the filter is continuously updated," explains the game's website, "comments that could be offensive to some players may occasionally get through." To cover that eventuality, in-game staffers monitor activity and chat, handle reports of misconduct and offer personalized support. Players who engage in inappropriate behavior can be ignored or banned.

What kid-friendly features help guide children through the content? Disney keeps the reading abilities of younger players in mind by trying to move the action along without words. This approach holds both advantages and dangers -- non-readers don't feel shut out by ever-present text that goes right over their heads, but players can sometimes feel a little adrift without a deeper way of directing the overall action.

What's the social atmosphere? Chat seems friendly enough, but there's not a lot of it. Most cars would seemingly rather race, honk, backfire and FLURP or otherwise get on with the action.

What else can players do outside the game? With Cars the movie driving the brand, there are plenty of ways to get excited about the overall experience. "In addition to World of Cars Online, there are both console and handheld video games, as well as toys, books, apparel and other merchandise," DiPaolo reports. There's a community page featuring fan art submissions, tips and tricks, polls, a blog and downloadable wallpapers. Look for race codes on the back of tickets inside specially-marked Mattel car toys, which can be used to unlock special car customizations."With the Cars 2 movie scheduled to release on June 24, 2011," DiPaolo adds, "there will be even more ways for kids to interact with their favorite characters."

Still looking for more details? Read our article on all the different ways you can evaluate kids' games, or visit MMO Family's Parents Guide to Kids & Family Gaming.

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This article was originally published on Massively.