As a bear who grew up in the '90s, I loves me some Hot Wheels but does this latest racer hold up? I wish it did but it's not that fun.
When I first started playing Hot Wheels Unleashed, I was immediately disappointed with its generic and simple core gameplay and loosey-goosey feel. However, after playing it for a handful of hours, I actually started to enjoy myself a bit more. I still don't think it's a good racing game, though, but at least there's a little fun to be had with it. Anyway, my first impression of the gameplay being simple remained unchallenged as I plugged away at beating race after race but these races actually pack in some clever moments that made me say to myself, "I guess this ain't so bad." The basic controls have you accelerate, tap brake and steer to drift, and boost whenever you have some juice to do so. You can also flip your vehicle around when you're airborne after a jump but I'll get into why that sucks later.
For now, let me just say that I enjoyed the few environments within Hot Wheels Unleashed as it's cool to see the backgrounds in the corner of your eye whether you're racing through a science classroom or way up high around a skyscraper. That being said, the tracks themselves get stale to look at almost immediately because they're made of the same bendy plastic pieces that you likely remember from your childhood. They could have done a bit more to spruce them up like paint cool designs on them or whatever but all you get is the odd hazard like a spider that spits webs at you or some barricades that slow you down if you smack into them.
One thing that Hot Wheels Unleashed does well is offer a solid amount of content. If you're going it alone, there's a node-based campaign to master where you'll unlock cars via random boxes as well as currency that you can use to buy more cars or upgrade your current ones. There's also a track editor but I found it kind of tedious, especially because it's hard to make an interesting one that's actually completable. If you want to play multiplayer, there's local splitscreen for you and a friend plus online multiplayer for up to 12 players. I don't know how but I won every single race that I played online. Anyway, that's a solid collection of content.
With all of that being said, Hot Wheels Unleashed is so simple that it almost constantly made me wish there were weapons and power-ups. That would have made the gameplay much more exciting. As it is, the odd interesting moments are too few and far between to offer anything substantially engaging. I liked the part where the track flipped upside-down and I had to rotate my car mid-air, though.
I promised I would talk about why ramps suck so here I go. For starters, you usually can't see where the track picks up again after a jump so you don't know how to aim your vehicle properly until lap 2 after you memorize the track layout. Even when you know what's coming, you might accidentally boost too much beforehand thus making your car fly off the edge of the continued track ahead. This makes you have to manually hold the respawn button which sets you back way too far. Meanwhile, a good arcade racer gently guides you after a ramp and automatically respawns you at a reasonable point. That's not to say Hot Wheels Unleashed is tough, though. In fact, easy mode is way too easy but normal mode can often be a huge kick in the pants. Why is there this much disparity among difficulty settings?
Hot Wheels Unleashed is an okay racing game at best. If you want a much more enjoyable arcade-style racer with your favourite childhood toys then check out Beach Buggy Racing 2: Island Adventure which has its very own Hot Wheels Booster Pack DLC.
- + Easy to pick-up-and play with a variety of modes to enjoy solo or via multiplayer
- + Cool environments despite generic tracks
- + Fun cars to unlock / has a track editor
- - Gameplay is incredibly simplistic and could use weapons or something for variety
- - Ramps can be incredibly irritating
- - Problematic difficulty settings