Hot Wheels Unleashed Review: Going Hard on Nostalgia
RRP $ 49.99
“Hot Wheels Unleashed starts very fast, but ends up as a flat kart racer.”
Great track design
Innovative track builder
Simple racing mechanics
Loot boxes to unlock new cars
Pointless game modes
No change in gameplay
The kart racing genre is packed with standout titles, each with their own twists and turns. Mario Kart is the undeniable king, but tons of other franchises – Sonic and Crash Bandicoot, to name a few – have their own somewhat unique karting games. Hot Wheels Unleashed then rushes into the fray of this competition and screams, “Look how realistic our cars are!” Before promptly being blown away like a piece of paper on a racetrack.
That’s because Hot Wheels Unleashed, a fun kart racer, quickly shows off his flatness when you first play. Behind its extremely impressive graphics, Hot Wheels Unleashed is about as naked as it gets, offering an extremely simplified kart racing experience that had so much potential to be more and a bevy of ultimately boring content.
A brilliant start
The experience starts strong and goes from zero to sixty. When you start it for the first time, Hot Wheels Unleashed gives you three “blind boxes”, a tastelessly named loot box. Players are instantly given three cars to use in races, and the first glance at their stunningly rendered plastic and aluminum is all it takes to get someone hooked.
Before it’s fun or inventive, Hot Wheels Unleashed is a nice game to check out. Everything from the cars themselves to the tracks players drive is breathtakingly detailed. You can even look under the cars and find Mattel’s name (copyrighted of course) and “Made In Malaysia” on the plastic. The game’s vinyl tracks look spectacular and the sunlight that shines from them and the cars is eye catching. These are, of course, the visuals you would expect on a PS5 or PC. If you’re playing the game on a last-generation console, the visual shock and awe may not be as expressive.
Regardless, I got sucked into the vibe of Hot Wheels Unleashed for the first two hours that I played it. The game is just fun to watch, and its racing mechanics are equally impressive, although that feeling quickly fades.
Racing in Hot Wheels Unleashed is awfully easy. There are no power ups on the tracks, the only quirk of the game being how it handles boosting. By drifting or simply driving along, your car builds up thrust, which you can then use to detach yourself from a car driver or to catch up with the leader.
However, not all boosts are created equal. Cars in Hot Wheels Unleashed are extremely varied, each with their own stats for speed, acceleration, braking, handling, and of course, boost. Some cars have individual boost charges while others have a counter that can be spent at any time. Of course, this system means you will be directed to every car that has impressive stats. You can also upgrade any car with gears, either of the game’s two currencies, but it is incredibly expensive to upgrade a vehicle from an ordinary tier to a legendary tier.
Before it’s fun or inventive, Hot Wheels Unleashed is a nice game to check out.
All in all, there is an unspoken genius in the track design of Hot Wheels Unleashed. Some races are wonderfully unique and open, with one thing left on my mind that forced me to run a 180 degree corkscrew to land my car after driving on an inverted maglev. Another section from another race made me pull off the track for a single turn, instructing me where to go from a handful of traffic cones. Except you can drive outside of those cones in-game, so I’d pull a tight drift and completely bypass the usual corner in favor of my much faster shortcut.
So it’s a shame that Hot Wheels Unleashed never makes full use of any of these concepts. If you try to skip a distance with a certain imagination, you will be sent back to the last checkpoint. Gravity and tricks almost never come into play, save for a few standout tracks. With more frequent use, these ideas could have made Hot Wheels Unleashed stand out from the rest. However, instead of accepting this weirdness, the game tries to be a no-nonsense racer and eventually becomes total boredom.
Slowly to the goal
The more I played Hot Wheels Unleashed, the more problems I saw with the game. Aside from a clear bias towards pushing players to specific cars instead of what they wanted, the game’s main single player mode was quickly getting old. The mode called Hot Wheels City Rumble lets players go from race to race, which normally wouldn’t get tiring in a game like Mario Kart.
However, the races of Hot Wheels Unleashed have little that sets them apart. Yes, the tracks are pretty varied, only a handful have been repeated during my playing time, but at some point the races start to mix into a big jumble of vinyl and neon. Thankfully, there’s a pretty good reason to stick with these races. If you win a race, players will be rewarded with gears, cosmetics, and coins that can be used to buy more blind boxes.
Driving a hot dog car is one of the best new additions to Hot Wheels Unleashed
However, these cosmetics are not for your cars; They are for one of the most redundant pieces of content in the game. Every player has a basement that can be adjusted to their hearts’ content, and it’s pretty much a man’s cave for a Hot Wheels-obsessed millionaire. Players can customize this area to their liking with unlocked sofas, chairs, computers, walls, floors, and more. The attraction is that you can then race around in this area. However, it’s hard to see the trophies in boxes or paintings hanging on the wall when your camera is two inches off the floor.
However, instead of accepting this weirdness, the game tries to be a no-nonsense racer and eventually becomes total boredom.
The only innovative feature of Hot Wheels Unleashed is the Track Builder. Right from the start, players can take full advantage of every single unique route in the game. It allows players to capitalize on the ideas that were abandoned by the game’s developers, which I can only hope will happen in the end.
Aside from its stunning looks, Hot Wheels Unleashed is a toothless kart racer who relies too heavily on the nostalgic glasses and the Hot Wheels brand to wear instead of the solid ideas that are barely implemented in the end. What players get with Hot Wheels Unleashed is the same experience I had with many of my Hot Wheels as a kid; I was entertained for a couple of hours, then I got bored and threw it in a box.
That’s not to say I didn’t enjoy the game. Those few hours were full of spectacle because it’s just impossible not to get caught up in the sounds and sights of the game. At some point, however, it takes more than driving a hot dog car over a vinyl strip to interest me.
Is there a better alternative?
Mario Kart 8 Deluxe is the king of kart racers and will likely remain so until Nintendo decides to make another Mario Kart title.
How long it will take?
Defeating Hot Wheels Unleashed’s City Rumble mode will likely take 15-20 hours. Trying to collect every car in the game could bring that to over 30, by my estimate.
Should you buy it?
No. Hot Wheels Unleashed is all glitter with no substance and becomes dull too quickly to justify its price.