As a boy who grew up in America, chances are Hot Wheels cars were a staple of your childhood. The joyous fusion of plastic and die-cast metal fused together to look like cars you’d normally see driving down the street; or a horrible combination of mythical beast and extreme muscle car.
Hot Wheels Cleverly captures the wildest imaginations and puts them alongside sports car enthusiasts in perfect tandem. Hot Wheels Unleashed is the latest attempt at making an arcade racing game doable with the all-too-familiar line of toys.
Made by the Italian game company Milestone, creators of the most famous runners Stroll and MotoGP, Hot Wheels Unleashed provides a fairly competent rider at the heart of the package. Unfortunately, this foundation holds a somewhat cobbled-together home of ideas that aren’t as fleshed out as I would have liked.
Hot Wheels Unleashed
Platforms: Windows PC, Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X|S (revised)
Release date: September 30, 2021
Players: 1-2 (online)
For starters, there are only six different types of rooms you can choose from as your background, so once the novel idea of having a giant track in a single space gets old, it pretty much distracts you from all that that you are looking at. Most of the time I felt like I was playing a Micro machines game more than one Hot Wheels Game.
Despite the large rooms, only the basement is customizable, and the tracks certainly never lend much to the environment they’re in – they just exist there. I feel like putting the pieces in the background for scale hurts the presentation more than it helps.
Let me elaborate on this: the cars themselves are absolutely fantastic. It’s downright ridiculous how well modeled these cars are. Everything looks exactly as you remember, as if you were holding the car in your hand and pushing yourself along the plastic track.
Cars can be customized to look anything you want from a color scheme. So if you’re pulling a car that has an ugly base color, you can either customize it yourself or choose from a healthy selection of player-made customizations available just by pressing a button and applying it.
If there is anything Hot Wheels Unleashed absolutely nails, that’s the look of the Hot Wheels themselves, as well as the tracks or their dangers. Coming out of the T-Rex’s mouth or running through the volcano escape set is pretty darn cool to see the first few times.
As beautiful as the cars are, it’s almost understandable that they don’t take damage when crashing or colliding. But that level of detail would have done a lot more to increase immersion.
Once you get past the visuals, you’re left with a fairly generic runner who has tricky physics; which are just enough to cause you more frustration than fun as the trails get progressively more difficult.
Track packs with disasters like the Scorpion or Spider have hazards; like webs that will freeze you in place for a moment requiring a boost to escape, or scorpion venom that drains your boost and prevents you from building up the meter while being poisoned.
Neither of these is even remotely as frustrating as getting a little too much air on a jump and not being able to reduce your speed so you don’t fly out of bounds. Realistic, perhaps, but in this type of setting you already suspend disbelief given that you race on tracks that are upside down while relying on magnetized lightning to shield you from the clutches of unforgiving gravity.
Instead of having a way to control yourself in flight, you can instead choose to do generic camera tricks such as flips or barrel rolls; which not only disorients, but adds absolutely nothing to the style of play. Adding a reason to do tricks would have made this process much more appealing.
Even though I feel like the single-player campaign is ultimately the star of the show for Hot Wheels Unleashed, the races quickly become repetitive. Even boss runs barely feel much different from normal runs. Raising the difficulty makes things a bit more interesting, but ultimately you’re going to get stuck hoping you pull a legendary car out of the blind loot boxes.
Speaking of which, the car collection is the real star of the show here. Spend coins to unlock blind boxes or save coins to buy from a retail store that shows every car in the small package; just as if you were to take it off the shelf in the store.
The store is updated every few hours, so it’s hopefully easy to stumble upon what you’re looking for in the end – but if you want a certain vehicle such as the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles‘ Party Wagon or the Back to the future Time Machine (because clearly they couldn’t get the rights for the DeLorean brand) – you will probably refresh the store for a while.
Luckily, the loot box system is only earned by playing the game, rather than dropping $100 for an in-game Credits and Gears pack. Gears are used to upgrade rarity cars from common to legendary. This provides a slight stat increase and boost modification (which is determined by the game, as you cannot customize it).
There’s a full on-track builder included if you’re super creative; but the majority of what you’ll find online are super basic loops or straight run sections that were only ever designed for the purpose of getting the pass to pass the trails. I guess that’s the part that will probably appeal to younger players.
Even though the UI is a bit messy, and it’s way more complicated than it should be just to create. You can also unlock items to update the basement, although I have no idea why. But hey, it’s there if you want it. That’s a lot of what this online game feels like too.
There are 12 player lobbies online, but in my playtime I have rarely found more than 3 players actually running. It was just people sitting idle to farm more coins and progress in achievements. Disappointing, especially considering that Quick Races are the only online option.
Also disappointing: The horribly generic soundtrack that sounds like dollar store toy imitations of well-known songs; such as Thriller (Michael Jackson) or Treasure (Bruno March). There’s also not a single word spoken anywhere, except for a weird “checkpoint” voice.
At a price of US$50, Hot Wheels Unleashed is a decent choice for young children and parents who want something that isn’t painfully terrible to experience, as most games aimed at kids are. Hot Wheels enthusiasts and collectors will probably have more fun trying to get all 60 cars available, but it’s still a tough sell at US$50.
$25-$30 would have been a considerably better impulse buy price, given the repetitive gameplay. It’s not a great game, but it’s not bad either.
Hot Wheels Unleashed is an almost painfully “end” game, in the same way that WWE Battlegrounds has been. Good ideas that were never fully fleshed out and ultimately make the whole package feel rushed and unfinished.
Unfortunately, while Hot Wheels might be the top toy brand being far more loved than Matchbox or their other competitors, he never achieved real success in the gaming world despite putting his name to a
pile of shovels good amount of games.
I am still convinced that the best use of Hot Wheels was the DLC pack in Forza Horizon 3, but that success only came because it was integrated into an already excellent racing game. It’s a passable runner at best, but it’s really not far off Forza.
Hot Wheels Unleashed was reviewed on the Xbox Series X using a review code provided by Milestone. You can find additional information on Niche Gamer’s Review/Ethics Policy here.