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Hot Wheels Unleashed 2: Turbocharged review: The hottest of wheels

Hot Wheels Unleashed 2: Turbocharged review: The hottest of wheels

It's all fun and games

The Hot Wheels franchise is back and this time it’s Turbocharged. That’s what it says on the screen anyway. It’s just a fancy way of saying it’s a sequel because it doesn’t feel overly different from the first game, which is far from a negative. The previous game did a great job of putting you behind the wheel of a toy car that speeds its way along a plastic orange track.

Thankfully the core of the game hasn’t changed a great deal, and where it’s been refreshed, it’s a welcome change. There are still larger-than-life environments and bizarre cars of all shapes and sizes. Everything is just much more polished this time around, literally in some cases. The vehicles sparkle and shine thanks to the graphics upgrade of new-gen systems. There’s a careful balance of making things look realistic, sharp, and colourful, while still retaining the look of a toy. Everything looks straight out of the box, without a dint or a scratch.

Hot Wheels Unleashed 2: Turbocharged /

Hot Wheels look gorgeous if such can be said about toy cars. The reflections are bright and crisp, colours pop like the vehicles have rolled out of a valet stop and there’s a sense of tactility which can be seen when messing around with the sublime photo mode. This is perhaps the first racing game in some time where I’ve replayed my races, purely to grab moments as photos.

‘Moments’ is a good word for this game. Each race, no matter the ruleset, tends to produce moments. Be it launching through a basketball hoop or speeding underneath a falling dinosaur jaw, sometimes just the act of hitting a drift on a boost pad leaves a thrilling moment.

It all starts in story mode, or as it’s called here, Hot Wheels Creature Rampage. It’s very similar to last time around - an overhead map full of activities, segmented into zones based on environments and bookended with a ‘boss battle’. The story takes you through racing on the jazzy carpets of arcades, drifting through gas station forecourts, or through the dinosaur exhibition of a museum.

For the sequel, the development team has seen fit to squeeze an actual story in here, about two racers battling mythological and/or giant monsters. It’s sadly instantly forgettable, though pleasantly drawn in a comic book style, designed for kids. The character of this franchise though, comes from the cars and the tracks, not necessarily a hero team who feel like Team Rocket rejects.

Once the racing gets going, my gosh is it satisfying? Yes. The answer is yes. Every car, bike, truck, ATV feels different, yet they all feel drivable, even if one of their stats is a bit lacking. So what if the car is Snoopy on his doghouse, it’s drivable and ridiculous, which sums up the game as a whole.

Hot Wheels Unleashed 2: Turbocharged /

It’s been a thing of fascination for decades constantly fuelling pop culture, this idea that we’ve been transported into a game or shrunk down to the size of ants to explore the real world from below. Hot Wheels Unleashed 2 captures that feeling to perfection. Guiding a car through a home kitchen, under stools, out the back door, and into the garden; tearing around the lawn as the dirt kicks up from the wheels, before zooming back indoors to skid between coffee table legs. It’s exhilarating.

Throughout the story, and in the quick race option, there are several race modes; standard racing to place on the podium, time trials, eliminations, and drift spectaculars. But for this iteration we also have waypoint racing which drops you into an environment and spawns checkpoints as you race, forcing you to make split-second decisions on direction, when to boost or drift, and, when to jump.

Because jumping is also new. It’s not used quite enough throughout the races, but a quick tap of a button blasts the turbo underneath your car to send you upwards. It’s fun for the first few times you leap through a flaming hoop, but honestly, I could take it or leave it. There is also a ‘lateral dash’ which blasts you sideways to ram your opponents off the track. It’s a nice addition that adds a new way of racing for those precious inches of track.

To be honest, there are a few new additions that feel great on paper but didn’t quite work for me in practice. You can now upgrade your cars using tokens you earn from beating challenges, winning races, or levelling up your driver. The upgrade path moves your car from ‘stock’, to ‘powered’ and then ‘ultimate’. Each improvement gives a significant boost to each stat of the car while unlocking perks that might improve acceleration, but reduce the power of your boost, for example.

It’s an interesting mechanic, but with over a hundred cars to choose from, there never really feels like a need to upgrade them. The handiest perks are those that negate the traps found in tracks.

Hot Wheels Unleashed 2: Turbocharged /

One of my earliest cars that I’d purchased was already a bit of a beast, but I decided to upgrade it. Taking the car through to ‘ultimate’ felt like a wise choice but as soon as I took it out onto the track, it felt horrible to drive. It removed the ‘character’ of the vehicle, making it too fast or jittery in the corners. It’s a viable method for improving those odd dud cars, but when cars are easy to acquire, what’s the point?

There are always new cars to use. More than 130. These are unlocked by buying them with credits in the shop. Gone are the loot box-style blind boxes from last time. Now the shop offers a handful of vehicles that rotate every hour. I was only playing through the story and I managed to buy every car in each rotation, so suddenly I had over 50 cars available. Eventually, my upgrade tokens sat unused because I’d choose to run the new Hot Rod or the Back to the Future Delorean that I won from spinning the prize wheel - the only way to get the rarest of cars.

While I didn’t get to try any online racing, the split-screen format worked well and all of the single-player race types are here, plus a few more for good measure. It is worth noting that Hot Wheels Unleashed 2: Turbocharged does feature cross-play, but not with Nintendo Switch, which is a mild disappointment. Also unavailable to browse, though I did have a fiddle with, are the sticker editors and livery editors which are deep and comprehensive, making me think we’re going to see some amazing creations once the servers go live.

Hot Wheels Unleashed 2: Turbocharged /

The same goes for the track editor which, in the previous iteration, was satisfying, though I found myself feeling pretty useless at creating anything that rivals the brilliance of the developer's efforts. The track variation, along with the sheer number of cars kept me entertained. Underneath all of the franchise elements, the film tie-ins and quirky track traps is a wonderfully solid racer that feels just as good as games like Mario Kart 8 or Crash Team Racing.

Of course, games have to innovate and move forward, which is why we have the upgrade system here, it’s why new movement mechanics were also introduced; and while these are nice additions, the game didn’t need them because it was already brilliant. When I’m sat there, just finished a race, grinning like the Cheshire Cat just got a long drink of cold cream, that’s enough for me.

And damn near every race did that; the close calls with difficult AI, the times I skimmed through each trap by the skin of my teeth, that extra-long drift into a straight where I thumped the boost. Every race made me feel excited or like I’d achieved a glimmer of brilliance. Because every race created ‘moments’.

Pros: Superb track design, lots of vehicle choices, plenty of race types, gorgeous visuals and sound design.

Cons: New updates feel a little pointless, limited cross-platform options, hit and miss storyline.

For Fans of: Mario Kart 8, Crash Team Racing, Nickelodeon Kart Racers.

8/10 Excellent

Hot Wheels Unleashed 2: Turbocharged is available now on PS5 (version tested), PC, XBOX, and Nintendo Switch. A review code was provided by the publisher. Read a guide to our review scores here.

Featured Image Credit: Milestone

Topics: Xbox, PlayStation, Nintendo Switch, PC