I’m sure most of us have played with Mattel’s Hot Wheels going up as a child or are still playing and collecting them to this day. So, it’s not surprising that someone decided that creating an arcade racing game around the popular die-cast toy series would be a good idea, not that we haven’t had other games made around Hot Wheels in the past. After countless hours with Hot Wheels Unleashed, this is a game that not only has my childhood going bonkers, but it’s also a fun and challenging racing game.
Game Name: Hot Wheels Unleashed Platform(s): Xbox Series X (reviewed), Xbox One, PS4, PS5, Switch, PC Publisher(s): Milestone S.r.l.
Developer(s): Milestone S.r.l.
Release Date: September 30th, 2021
Unlike other arcade racers, Hot Wheels Unleashed is themed around the series of toys and playsets that have been released throughout the years. The entire playing area takes place in the city known as Hot Wheels Rumble City. It’s there you’ll select from several activities such as races, time attacks, as well as unlocking secrets. And just like the main overview of the game, the individual races are also themed around Hot Wheel toys that place you into 6 locations, with different variations of the tracks. There’s enough here to keep most people happy. However, I grew tired of racing the game track for the umpteen time as the variations weren’t enough for me. There are also boss races, which I initially thought were like those from the late excellent Ridge Racer; instead, they’re just more challenging versions of races with more gimmicks, and the AI seems to have it out for you.
As the name applies, you’ll be racing those ironic Hot Wheel toys, and there’s plenty to be had there. There are over 60 of them in the game, all from various points of Hot Wheel history. I started geeking out as I owned a few of them, while others were cars I always wanted but never got because my parents hated the fact that every time they turned around, they stepped on them and vowed never to buy me another Hot Wheel toy. Of course, now they’re worth hundreds, if not thousands, that I won’t waste the money on. Each car has unique characteristics; speed, braking power, acceleration, handling, and (nitro) boost. With over 60 cars in the game and the ability to upgrade them, the line between unique starts to blur. It only really comes down to which car looks best to you, or wacky, for that matter. I’ve gone back with souped-up cars like the Motosaurus and destroyed the competition. Honestly, it doesn’t matter in the end.
Another spin that Hot Wheels Unleashed incorporates is how you earn various items that are helpful outside of racing. There are two different currencies; gears and money. Gears can be used to upgrade your mini-racers, while gold can be used to purchase new cars from limited offers and blind boxes. Instead of earning cars as prizes for winning races, you’ll increase your collection by trying your luck with the blind boxes, which can either provide you with a super awesome car or a dud. While limited offers are cars that you can purchase that are rotated out every four hours and are expensive. Outside of that, there are other items that you’ll earn that can be used in the basement, which is your personal room that you’ll customize throughout the game and the track creator.
I need to point out that there are NO microtransactions in this game. I’ve seen some confusion about this on Twitter, Reddit, and various other online outlets. There are no microtransactions, and this is not a gatcha game. All the cars earned are done via in-game methods. There’s zero monetization in this game whatsoever. At no point where you need to spend actual money to purchase a car or any other item within this game. As such, this is NOT a Gatcha game. Got it? I hope so.
Adding on to the customization in Hot Wheels Unleashed, there’s plenty here. I already mentioned the basement, which I don’t want to ruin for you. Let’s say that if you were designing your get-away room or space, this is what the basement is. It’s a nice addition to the game, and while I spent some time in there, it’s ultimately up to you if you’ll spend time there. Whether you do or not has no impact on the game. All of the cars you acquire can also be upgraded to an extent. You don’t have any control over what is upgraded, and instead, you have preset upgrades that will give your cars a slight boost. These upgrades vary from car to car as well. That said, I managed to upgrade a car I picked up early on, and I used it to finish the campaign, so perhaps the upgrade system is a bit too much?
Visually, the game is pleasant on the eyes. The car models are fantastic, definitely better than they were in the preview. While they look good as they zip around the tracks, they look even better standing still. For those familiar with Hot Wheels, you know that the cars all look different due to the materials used, which carries over into the game. Just go back and look at the Motosaurs image I posted above. See the metallic sparks shining across the car? That’s fantastic stuff, and Hot Wheels fans will appreciate the work that has gone into making these cars as close as possible to their physical counterparts. The sounds, on the other hand, are average. They get the job done, but I felt that they could have been better. The music is a prime example, as the tunes aren’t memorable, and there are only three or four of them in the entire game. It isn’t good when you’re on a longer race, and all the songs have rotated at least once.
Then there’s the track creator, which I’m sorry to say I didn’t spend much time on. It doesn’t look easy to use, but then again, I’ve never been one for track creators. Still, I will be trying my hand once I’ve earned everything there is to earn. I’ll be sure to update the review once I do, but I’m not docking anything because of that.
Multiplayer is better than expected, and I love that we are able to separate the super vehicles from the common ones, making sure races are somewhat equal. You can assign voting for which track gets picked and also enable/disable collisions. Sadly, this is also peer-to-peer, so if someone is hosting a game and is running on a bad connection, you’ll know it. It was fun of the several sessions I played in, but I did have one bad experience as my signal was terrible. I imagine once the game is available to everyone, the sessions will be better.
While I do enjoy Hot Wheels Unleashed, a few things bothered me and do need some attention. The physics, for example, isn’t user-friendly at all. There have been times when I’ve hit a corner too hard and ended up on my back or launched into the air and lost the race. Hit a jump too far and ended off the track, got smacked by an AI-controller racer, and was put into a state that looked like my car was having a seizure. Lastly, the AI-controller racers suffer from the classic rubberbanding. You could be in the first position in the entire race, then mess up once, and suddenly you’re in 4th place or worse.
Then there are the gimmicks in the stages, which I enjoyed, but when they ultimately cost me a race due to no fault of mine, that’s a problem. A heavy amount of RNG occurs during races that can quickly drop you from the first position to dead last if you’re not careful. There’s also the issue of certain boosts found on tracks that cause you to lose the ability to turn, and some of those are placed right before a turn! These issues have turned a race that I was enjoying into an exercise in frustration, and I merely wanted to get it over and done with at that point. I hope these issues get addressed in future patches.
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All in all, Hot Wheels Unleashed is a fun arcade racer that has a lot going for it, and unlike other arcade racers, it has enough going for it to keep you coming back. Even after the campaign is completed, there’s still lots to do, such as finding all the secrets, getting the best time on all the tracks, the basement, and the track creator. Even if this wasn’t a Hot Wheels game, this title is a solid arcade racer, and I’d recommended it to anyone who’s looking for a racing game that isn’t too serious.