First return to start. Hot Wheels Unleashed is an arcade racing game that is reminiscent of Mario Kart at first glance: colorful cars race around a colorful track and drift around corners to get boosts. Great Absence is an arsenal of weapons. You don’t win races with a blue shield or by throwing bananas on the road. There’s also no annoying rubber band, so if you’re late, you’re late. To win is to learn to drive better. In any case, it is a plus.
It is therefore only a matter of running on the plastic tracks which have been fitted out in all kinds of rooms. The scale of these gigantic spaces reinforces the feeling of driving with toys. The (faithful) design of the various Hot Wheels cars also screams toys. It’s probably a recognition party for miniature car fans (there has been a real annual Hotwheels Collectors Show in Los Angeles for 34 years now). For non-fans, it’s nice to see how much attention to detail all of the carts and their materials have been emulated, but you’ll likely miss the nostalgic connection the developers have been looking for.
Cars have stats for speed, acceleration, braking, and handling, which can be seen in handling. Each car’s stats can be improved with gears collected by winning races or recycling unwanted cars. It also means that in practice you quickly end up with a favorite car that you max out. Whether you need to collect more cars then depends on your own collecting rage and how much importance you place on the appearance of your Hot Wheels.
Then the race itself. First of all, a pro tip: set the difficulty to at least medium. The default “easy” is ridiculously easy. Even blindfolded and drunk, it’s hard to lose. So unless you want to skip all the challenges of a game this is the first step to having fun with Hot Wheels Unleashed.
There is a nice feeling of speed, in part due to the low camera angle. The key to success is knowing the circuits and using the boost button, which temporarily speeds you up a bit. The latter is also the biggest difference between “easy” and “medium” difficulty levels: with “easy”, computer-controlled opponents barely use the boost. How often you can boost depends in part on your car (some have a certain number of boost moments, others have a boost gauge) and how often you drift. Drift recharges your boosters, allowing you to accelerate more often. It is therefore important to drift around all the corners and, as often as possible, to boost or hit the boost points on the track to reach the finish as quickly as possible.
Because the circuits contain all kinds of obstacles and jumps, it is important to know them well. That way you know you might need to save the boost for the next jump or loop and learn where to take into account the toy obstacles that make a turn a little harder.
If you think in all of this that nothing new is being described here, then that’s okay. This is where the big problem with Hot Wheels Unleashed lies: it’s nothing new. Plus, the “campaign” doesn’t do anything you’ve never seen before. You see the map of a city with nodes. These nodes represent races or time trials. If you meet the objectives, more nodes will become available. There is simply no relationship between the city map and the tracks or places you run. These locations (eg lounge or recreation room) are recycled over and over again with a number of alternative circuits.
There is also a track designer where you can create your own race tracks. You can then share them online and run online. There are lots of parts and some interesting toy obstacles (the first one to unlock is a plastic spider that shoots slow spider webs over part of the track) to make building fun, but don’t expect possibilities at the level of a seated Mario Maker or Little Big Planet. The result is always a little the same.
There is also a track designer where you can create your own race tracks. You can then share them online and run online.
This makes Hot Wheels Unleashed a good runner in somewhat boring environments. The locations themselves are flat and generic. The progression through collecting cars doesn’t seem very convincing. The only thing that might keep you glued to the screen is your love for Hot Wheels cars.
In fact, Hot Wheels Unleashed looks a bit like a nice mobile game that you play in between, while you wait for the train and unlock a few more cars. But on a real big screen game console, everything gets a bit stuck
Hot Wheels Unleashed is available now on PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X and S, Nintendo Switch, and Microsoft Windows. We played on Xbox Series X
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