Hot Wheels Unleashed is a game that’s designed with kids in mind, though adults can certainly enjoy the game just as much, if not more from the sheer nostalgia of it. Before I get into my praise of the game though, I first want to address some of the issues with it that I ran into.
First, the game struggles at times to strike a balance between approachability for a younger audience and one that offers a fun challenge for an older audience. One example of this is with the difficulty settings.
Easy is so easy you’re pretty much racing by yourself, which is great for kids looking to practice and hone their racing skills. However, some game modes like the game’s Time Trials remain frustratingly difficult, even on Easy.
The game offers no leniency with these Time Trials, which makes sense when targeting an older audience but not so much when targeting gamers of all ages. I recall being less than a second away from the goal during one of these Time Trials – 0.5 seconds, so close that I felt certain it should have counted – but it didn’t count.
The clock zeroed out, the race kept going, and it was clear I’d have to try it again. I felt really discouraged by this, and that discouragement quickly evolved into frustration as the Time Trials naturally get harder and stricter as you progress through the campaign.
So much so in fact, that I found myself avoiding Time Trials at all costs. You can do this too with the campaign as there are branching directions you can take. I really enjoyed this as it gave me the freedom to avoid these Time Trials as much as possible while still being able to experience the rest of the game’s campaign.
The other issue I had with Hot Wheels Unleashed is that some of the racing elements themselves feel a bit odd. Drifting can at times feel awkward, and the tracks, while extremely cool, can become disorienting to follow in certain areas. In particular, the ones with tiny cones on the floor.
In one instance, I encountered cones that nearly matched the color of the floor rather than being a bright yellow, red, or orange as you’d expect to see. And you do see brightly colored cones in many other levels, so I’m wondering if it was a bug that made the cones display as dark grey or if it was intentional.
Either way, track features like that can pull you out of the fun racing experience as you squint at the screen trying to figure out where you need to go next. Final issue was the soundtrack. Not much to say on this other than the soundtrack is lackluster and boring and so much more could have been done with it.
And that's about it for me in regards to the game's negatives. While I feel like these issues are substantial enough to warrant mentioning first, I want to say that I did ultimately enjoy my time with Hot Wheels Unleashed.
The game immediately reminded me of one I played as a kid, Hot Wheels Stunt Track Driver. In particular, flipping the car all the way around and the detailed environments that you race in.
Hot Wheels Unleashed Review | Tiny, But Mighty
In Hot Wheels Unleashed, you can easily become mesmerized by everything rendered in the background. Furthermore, the track you’re racing on has a distinct feeling of separation from the room around it which helps immerse you in the idea that you’re racing a tiny little Hot Wheels car.
One of my favorite levels was in a science lab as part of the College Campus set of tracks, though there’s also a gorgeous level that gives you a view of a beautiful city skyline in the Skyscraper track set that I loved as well.
In total, there are 40 different tracks for you to race on in the game which span 6 different environments. The environments open up as you play through the campaign, so you’re not just exploring the same environments over and over again across the span of 40 tracks.
You can also build a level to your liking by customizing your Basement and building your own track there. You earn things for this track like special track pieces while playing through the campaign, and you also earn Gold Coins.
In Hot Wheels Unleashed, Gold Coins are used to purchase things in the game, most notably new Hot Wheels for you to race with. All of these Gold Coins are earned organically by playing the game.
Even better, there are no microtransactions in the game whatsoever, which is fantastic because again, this game is kid-friendly. You don’t want to give kids the option to whip out their parent’s credit cards and start buying up virtual Hot Wheels.
The process of racking up Gold Coins can take quite a bit of time (for better, sometimes for worse depending on your level of patience), but ultimately I feel like it’s a fair system that does what it’s supposed to do... reward you for playing.
The system of Gold Coins to buy new cars extends the gameplay as it’ll take you a while to collect all of the cars in the game. And it’s fun to do so because they’re Hot Wheels, collecting them is part of the fun.
To appeal to completionists and collectors, there are 66 cars available in the game at launch, with more cars set to be added in the future. You can customize these cars to your liking via car liveries, and each car comes with its own stats.
Stats for each car include: Speed, Breaking Power, Acceleration, Handling, Boost Fuel.
All of these elements are key when it comes to winning races, and it’s fun to select cars that complement your style of racing. Different cars are also better suited for different modes. For example, you’re probably going to want a car with a lot of Speed and Boost Fuel for Time Trials.
It’ll take a bit of trial and error to figure out which cars work best for what, and you may decide to stick with one or two favorites rather than cycling through your inventory of cars. No matter what you do, you’ll constantly feel joy racing these cars. It also helps that some of the car designs are absolutely hilarious in the best possible way.
Ultimately though, the variations in car performance make it worth it to collect the cars not just from a design standpoint, but from a practical one as well. To wrap things up, I think Hot Wheels Unleashed is a fun game that’s worth a purchase for Hot Wheel-loving kids and adults alike.
Even those just looking for some childhood nostalgia will enjoy Hot Wheels Unleashed and its similarities with older Hot Wheels games like Hot Wheels Stunt Track Driver. Plus, you can drive cars with names like Street Wiener, Roller Toaster, Buns of Steel, and Tur-Bone Charged.
What’s not to love?
- Cars look fantastic, and there are plenty on offer with different stats and rarities that make collecting all of them a ton of fun
- Great for kids and adults alike
- No microtransactions, only in-game currency that you earn organically by playing
- Track environments are stunning, especially College Campus and Skyscraper
- Gameplay is fun, there are plenty of loops and twists and turns to keep you coming back for more
- Difficulty settings aren’t properly balanced
- Some disorienting tracks that can be hard to follow
- Soundtrack is pretty lackluster
- Time Trials… just, Time Trials (for me personally, though many may find them enjoyable)
A copy of this game was provided by the publisher for review