Hot Wheels Unleashed is a satisfying racing game with loads of cars, exciting tracks, and smooth, fast-paced gameplay. This arcade racer is a delight to play, even if slow progression and a few patchable technical problems occasionally hold the game back. With fast, skillful racing, the game does an excellent job of bringing toy cars to life in a way that plastic track pieces and emphatic revving noises never could when we were kids.
As a racer, Hot Wheels Unleashed is on the arcade end of things rather than sim. Intense 12-car races dominate the game with an intoxicating combination of exciting mechanics, blistering-fast racing, and an undeniably satisfying nostalgia that comes with racing Hot Wheels cars through loops, household hazards, and more throughout massive, massive tests. Players must rely on steady drifting, chargeable boosts, and careful control of their vehicle to emerge victoriously. The controls are tight and responsive — just as they should be in a game reliant on incredible speed — so you’ll be steering toward victory in no time at all.
Hot Wheels Unleashed is also a particularly skillful and deliberate game where nearly any mistake can cost you dearly. Little things like tight corner drifts and timing a boost just right are harder than they sound — I frequently found myself mistiming boosts and tackling ramps at the wrong trajectory, which often resulted in my careening off of the map in embarrassing fashion. It took me a while to get the hang of things and move with finesse, but once I did get comfortable with them, winning felt amazing.
The game additionally boasts a rather impressive amount of content. Dozens of vehicles, tracks, and more are yours to unlock and conquer. Throw in extensive DLC plans and a robust (and intuitive!) track builder with an online sharing system, and you quickly come to realize that Hot Wheels Unleashed will have a steady stream of fresh content for the foreseeable future. Whether all of that content is worthwhile is yet to be determined; in the main game, collecting cars can be a little frustrating, and some of the stages are too repetitive. But otherwise, Hot Wheels Unleashed is overflowing with different ways to have fast-paced fun.
The single-player offering mainly comprises 101 standard missions, which toss the player into a variety of different scenarios ranging from quick races to time trials to boss races. It’s not much, but it should keep you occupied for a few hours, especially while you are building up your car collection. You can also spend plenty of time in the track builder, which looks a little confusing at first but ends up being a pretty intuitive experience that has you testing out, laying out, and bending plastic track pieces just like when you were a kid building a real-life Hot Wheels track.
Speaking of cars, however, the car unlock system can be a bit of a grind at times, especially early on where you likely will not have many great cars to your name. By simply playing the game and completing races, you earn small quantities of the game’s primary currency, gold coins. You can spend gold coins to expand your collection through blind boxes, which give you a random car out of 66 Hot Wheels cars currently in the game, or by buying specific cars directly through a selection of rotating offers. The unlocks can be painfully slow at first; a new car costs at least 500 gold coins, while completing an event and collecting an award will only net you about 30 to 80 gold coins. This setup makes grabbing new cars a bit arduous, which becomes even more of an issue if you want to upgrade your existing cars.
Cars can be upgraded with gears, which can be collected as awards for finishing events or by dismantling cars that they own. Upgrades boost the usual suspects of car stat categories: acceleration, speed, handling, and brakes. They go a long way in helping you chase down pesky challenges and single-player missions, but most of the time, I end up blowing up many of my new cars so that I can pour the gears into upgrades for one particularly adept car. Given more time, I expect my collection to grow and grow, but limited car availability and stinginess with resources make early progression quite a drag.
Before wrapping this review up, I also should note that we have been promised at length that there is a substantial patch on the way for Nintendo Switch players of Hot Wheels Unleashed. It will be launching on October 4. As is, the game is more than playable, but it still chugs a good deal every now and again. In its current state, the game occasionally staggers under the weight of frame rate drops and fuzzy textures, but I am usually too distracted by mesmerizing loops and photo finishes to notice. It can be rough at times. If this upcoming patch is anywhere close to what we’ve been told to expect, it will improve the game significantly for Switch players. Of course, we cannot comment on how effective this patch is until we get to try it for ourselves.
Hot Wheels Unleashed is the Hot Wheels racing game that we have been waiting on for a while. It delivers outside of a few hiccups. Players with concerns about performance will likely want to hold off until the upcoming patch releases on Switch. Players will also have to sit through some slow progression to really start unlocking cool cars, but they will have some very fun racing to keep them busy in between blind boxes and upgrades. If you are looking for a fun, methodical racer and you can appreciate toy cars and massive tracks, Hot Wheels Unleashed should be right up toward the top of your list.
A Nintendo Switch review code for Hot Wheels Unleashed was provided by the publisher.