Released to coincide with the movie, Cars: The Video Game takes place after the movie, detailing Lightning McQueen's mission to win the Piston Cup and beat Chick Hicks once and for all.
Cars: The Video Game features the following tropes:
- Adaptation Expansion: Radiator Springs, Ornament Valley and Tailfin Pass have all been expanded on with new landmarks:
- Radiator Springs now has a forest, a maze of rocky mountains by the theatre and Sarge now has a boot camp on the outskirts.
- Ornament Valley goes from a single, empty road to featuring a gas station, an abandoned railway, and the new Rustbucket Stadium.
- Tailfin Pass now has an abandoned mine and a variety of side-roads not seen in the movie.
- Advancing Wall of Doom: One level in Tractor Tipping has both you and Frank on a fixed path, meaning you have to tip the Tractors as you run from Frank.
- And the Adventure Continues: After defeating Chick Hicks and winning the Piston Cup, Lightning, Mater, and Sally decide to celebrate by leaving Radiator Springs to go on a journey, in Lightning's words, "Wherever the road takes us.".
- And Your Reward Is Clothes: The player can use their accumulated points to buy various paint jobs for each playable car.
- Announcer Chatter: During the Piston Cup races, the offscreen announcer comments on what's going on, specifically if Lightning is in the lead or has fallen back. Also expect something to say from the car you're playing as throughout the game.
- Ascended Extra: The tuner cars (DJ, Boost, Wingo and Snot Rod) who unintentionally got Lightning lost in Radiator Springs have a race dedicated to them, Wingo is a playable character and they have their own mission where they steal Lightning's gear. They also play a big role in the story mode of the PSP version, serving as the main antagonists and bosses throughout.
- Awesome, but Impractical: Backwards Driving (not to be confused with braking and reversing) looks cool and is a nice way to taunt your opponents, but it doesn't provide any in-race benefits and only serves to reverse your controls.
- Bag of Spilling: Lightning has to relearn how to powerslide and backwards drive. Justified as Mack mentions Lightning's been out of shape for some time before the new racing season.
- Berserk Button: Following his Character Development from the movie, Lightning now has one: don't mess with his friends. When DJ, Boost, Wingo and Snot Rod rob Mack in the middle of the highway, McQueen immediately chases them down for revenge.
- Bread, Eggs, Breaded Eggs: Done when Lightning challenges Chick to another challenge following the Smasherville Speedway event:
Chick: How 'bout tomorrow night? How 'bout right here? How 'bout tomorrow night right here?!
- Broken Bridge: Ornament Valley and Tailfin Pass are initially blocked off by walls of sand and safety barriers until you complete certain races in the story mode (Sheriff's Chase for the former, and Sally's Wheel Well Sprint for the latter). Tailfin Pass takes it even further by blocking off the abandoned mine and all roads connected to it until you win the Delinquent Road Hazards race.
- Canon Foreigner: Fletcher, Gerald, El Guapo, Papo, Vince, Sonny, Lenny, Barry, Count Spatula, Ginormous and The Crippler haven't appeared in any of the Cars movies, though most of them would return for Cars: Mater-National Championship.
- Chekhov's Gun: At the start of the story, Lightning has a dream about competing in a grand prix set in Radiator Springs. Near the end of the game, Lightning challenges Chick to said Grand Prix.
- Collection Sidequest: There are 20 of Lizzie's letters scattered throughout the 3 hub areas, though they aren't necessary to progress through the story.
- Continuity Nod: One of Mater's quotes upon being passed references the scene in the movie where Lightning leaves Radiator Springs:
Mater (movie): I didn't get to say goodbye to him...
Mater (game): Wow, and I didn't even get to say goodbye.
- The Computer Is a Cheating Bastard: For some reason, during the third Piston Cup race at Sun Valley International Raceway, the AI aggression and rubber-banding shoots through the roof, causing the top four, including Chick Hicks to shoot half the track ahead of you right at the beginning, catching up with them is difficult, and even then should you do so, a combination of the other racers deliberately ramming you into the walls, blocking your advances, and just plain coming out of nowhere to overtake you makes winning this race a matter of luck, and whether or not the AI feels like letting you win.
- Dream Intro: The game begins with Lightning participating in the Radiator Springs Grand Prix... which is really a dream he is having. By the time the event is over, Sally wakes him up.
- Early Installment Weirdness: This game has some rather notable differences from the two games that reused its formula:
- Lightning uses his original Piston Cup paint job rather than the "casual" paint he wore at the end of the first movie.
- Monster Truck races are handled differently: there's only one monster-truck specific track rather than several, Monster Trucks can be used in most (though not all) regular tracks but are relegated to their exclusive tracks in later games and Count Spatula is a playable character (he's an NPC in the other two games) while Monster Mater and Sulley are completely absent.
- This game uses the movie's voice cast while the following games use substitutes.
- The playable roster features some odd decisions; only nine characters are fully playable in the arcade modenote with Monster McQueen and Count Spatula being usable in most (but not all) of the road races while Darrel Cartrip and The King are restricted to Piston Cup races, there are a lot of characters that can't be used by the player such as Sarge, Fillmore and all the Canon Foreigners barring Count Spatula, and Luigi, DJ and Boost can't be played as in the Arcade mode even though they're actually fully playable in certain minigames (leaving Wingo in the odd position of being the only playable tuner car of the four). Later games would go out of their way to avert this: Mater-National has a larger roster with more established characters (though there are still plenty of NPC racers) and no minigame-exclusive characters, and Race-O-Rama followed that up by making almost every character in that game fully playable.
- Easter Egg: While Lightning is in parking and you hold the steering stick to the left or right and slowly start to move him, he'll do a donut as long as you hold the gas button down.
- Easy-Mode Mockery: Playing story mode on Compact locks the player out of several races and events, such as North Desert Dash, Sarge's Boot Camp and all three Chapter 5 GPs.
- Girls' Night Out Episode: Sally's Sunshine Circuit, which has the player take control of Sally as she takes part in a race with Flo, Mia, and Tia.
- Idiosyncratic Difficulty Levels: The story mode has two difficulty levels:
- Full Size, which features five chapters and features every event the game has;
- Compact, which features three and is designed for younger players, cutting out several of the harder races and reducing the AI's difficulty even more.
- Idle Animation: If Lightning doesn't drive for a bit, he will eventually doze off.
- It's a Wonderful Failure: Failing certain minigames results in a short animation:
- Getting caught by Frank, running out of time or blocking a tractor in Tractor Tipping: Frank chases Lightning and Mater out of his field.
- Losing the current chase target in Sheriff's Hot Pursuit: Sheriff sadly returns to his sign and contemplates getting another tune-up from Doc.
- Late-Arrival Spoiler: It's mentioned near the start of the game that Chick Hicks won the Piston Cup and Lightning sacrificed his victory to help The King finish.
- Minigame Game: The Nintendo DS version of the game features 13 different minigames.
- Retired Badass: Both Doc and The King are retired from racing, but it doesn't slow them down at all.
- The Stinger: After the credits, Lightning points out he didn't put his Piston Cup up in his trailer, but in a safe place; the next scene shows it in the window of the Medical Clinic, next to Doc's three Piston Cups.
- Took a Level in Badass: The entire Radiator Springs crew are capable of keeping up with McQueen in the races.
- What the Hell, Hero?: If Lightning bumps into an NPC, they'll shout something like this.