As a little kid who grew up playing with Hot Wheels cars, there’s no doubt to me that Hot Wheels Unleashed is little kids’ dream manifest. After all, what collector doesn’t want to see their collection of famous and fantastical cars come to life and actually race against other cars?
Hot Wheels Unleashed is an arcade racer. In it, you race against AI or real people with cars from the Hot Wheels line of toys. As an arcade racer, there are no cockpit views, shifting, shifting or anything even related to sim—instead, it’s a pick and play experience that requires a bit of skill to master. Anyone who has played Mario Kart will be familiar with Hot Wheels Unleashed, at least as far as car handling is concerned. There are no power-ups, however—it’s just you versus the clock or your opponents on curving and looping tracks that look like they were built to the specifications of a kid with unlimited Hot Wheels track parts.
As far as a racing game goes, Hot Wheels Unleashed is fun, but simple: try to outrace your opponents, boost where appropriate, and drifting helps fill your boost meter. There are no power-ups on the tracks, but there are track sections that speed you up, or fill your boost meter. There are jumps, loops (that will make you fall if you don’t have adequate speed), and even obstacles on the tracks to avoid. Hitting the side walls of a track will slow you down, so keeping centered is best for maximum speed. Of course, the car you drive makes a difference, and there are a ton of cars to collect.
Hot Wheels Unleashed features one of the things that make Hot Wheels fun in real life: car collecting. At launch, there are 66 unique vehicles, all with their own stats and unique appearance. There are even cars from popular franchises like Back to the Future, Knight Rider, Batman and more. While there are limited chances to be able to buy cars directly, most cars you’ll acquire will be through blind boxes. Cars have rarities as well, with more rare cars having better stats. You can also upgrade your favorite cars to improve stats, and even improve their rarity.
There are a few ways to play Hot Wheels Unleashed. You can play against other players online in private or public matches, play quick play versus AI, or play through the Hot Wheels City Rumble mode. The Hot Wheels City Rumble is where the meat of the single player gameplay is, and features races, time trials, and even “boss race” encounters, all of which net you gold coins which you can spend on cars, or gears which you can use to upgrade cars. I spent most of my time in Hot Wheels Unleashed playing through the city rumble mode, mostly because it was the quickest way for me to grind out money to get the cars I wanted.
If you get tired of playing Hot Wheels Unleashed you can always take a stab at creating your own tracks. Hot Wheels Unleashed features a robust track editor that allows you to make creations your little kid self could only dream about. The track editor took a little bit of getting used to, but once you get the hang of it, you can make some pretty creative tracks. There are six locations you can build your tracks in, one of them being your customizable basement—which also serves as you player home base.
While being able to build your own tracks is nice, the tracks that are available to race on tend to feel a little generic—especially since they’re all made from the same interchangeable track parts. In some racing games you can groan when a particularly notorious track pops up, but in Hot Wheels Unleashed any distinctive qualities between each track is lost in the shuffle of plastic track curves and loops.
Hot Wheels Unleashed ticks all of the boxes for a Hot Wheels game, but it still somehow feels lacking. I don’t know if its lack of content or cars, or both. There are lots of plans for future DLC, so if your favorite Hot Wheel car or franchise didn’t make the cut, it likely will in the near future.
While it has simple racing mechanics, Hot Wheels Unleashed is fun enough, and plays like a kart racer. Most of the joy I got out of Hot Wheels Unleashed, however, was seeing the toy cars come to life in almost lifelike fidelity and in a way possible previously only in my childhood imagination. Add track building to that, and Hot Wheels Unleashed is an obvious choice to any Hot Wheels fan. Casual racing fans will appreciate Hot Wheels Unleashed, too, but may get bored from its lack of modes and distinctive tracks. Also, I don’t want to encourage DLC, but some sort of real life Hot Wheel car to game integration ala Amiibo or Skylanders would have been neat.
A PlayStation 5 key was given to us for the purpose of this review.
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