Hot Wheels Unleashed review: a massively customizable surprise

Title: Hot Wheels Unleashed
Developer: Milestone Srl
Editors: Milestone Srl
Platforms: Nintendo Switch (review), PS5, PS4, Xbox Series X | S, Xbox One, PC
Release date: September 30, 2021

Since it was first announced, I was excited to Hot Wheels Unleashed. I was never a huge Hot Wheels fan growing up, but I always ended up with a bunch of them as a kid and had a few that I played with. In fact, most of my encounters with Hot wheels were not pleasant. As a former Gamestop employee with too many years under my belt, most of my experiences with Hot wheels sold them to men in midlife crisis.

But if the trailers were to be believed, the game looked like everything I wanted Hot Wheels to be as a kid; cars that I could completely repaint (which I loved to do) and then drive on massive plastic tracks. And the plastic tracks would fit together and stay where I wanted them to be instead of suddenly falling, taking my design with it the first time a car hit it with enough inertia. It seems like pretend play comes to life.

I’m very happy to report that unlike many modern game trailers, Milestone and Mattel weren’t just selling snake oil. This game is an absolute blast. This is exactly what I wanted these things to be as a kid. I felt like a kid driving my car under sofas and low tables and, at times, coming out of the mouth of a huge dinosaur toy.

One thing that really caught me off guard was the amount of customization the game allowed. I knew I was going to be able to build tracks but had no idea what else I could do. Yes the track editor is exactly what I wanted it to be with the ability to put track pieces together and have fun motorized parts like lane changers and spiders and mechanized robots. But I thought that was it.

What I discovered is that I am able to take any vehicle – from a Ford Mustang to a car that’s a real Stegosaurus – and paint on it. I can paint some parts and add up to, and I’m not exaggerating, 1000 layers of stickers. So much like a Need of speed game, if you spend time with it, you can find something beautiful. Or, you can be an idiot like me and use that as a chance to turn the merry hamburger and fries truck into a demonic “silky green” delivery vehicle.

Hot Wheels Unleashed review: a massively customizable surprise

As I got to know the game better it became my game. When I first started I customized as much as possible before I even ran and one thing that confused me was is that they gave me an entire four-room basement to fully customize. I could paint the walls, adjust the floor, color the furniture, choose the wall decor and what kind of art, everything. I could do it myself but I didn’t know why. So, just for fun, I made it as obnoxiously bright as possible. Eventually I left my 90s nightmare dayglo and went for a run, only to find that the very first race brought me and my bumper car (which I drive by choice thank you) back to my basement where i drove around the place i just finished customizing.

But once you’re done with the bells and whistles, how does the game itself go? How is the actual driving and racing going?

That’s what you’ve come to expect from Hot Wheels: fun. The game controls a little more realistic than Mario kart in some parts and remarkably bizarre in others. You’ll find yourself accelerating and pulling behind vehicles, drifting around corners like a tiny Initial D. But you’ll also find yourself flying off the edge of the ramps, floating through the air with full control over the angle of your vehicle, sometimes having to turn your vehicle 180 degrees to catch an upside down magnetic stripe.

And while it features a lot of Hot Wheels cars inspired by real vehicles like the Camaros and Dodge Rams, it also features some fun cars like the dinosaur vehicles, bumper cars, and hamburger trucks mentioned earlier. There are also a multitude of others like tanks, buses and yes, a toaster. And while I was worried that these vehicles wouldn’t stand a chance against the standards, I’m happy to report that these cars are just as good as the real ones. It’s like feeling Mario kart 8 with the BMW DLC in this regard. Like, a Charger is fine, but when my futuristic bus that I dubbed “The Rude Boy” – with its black and white checkerboard surfaces, “SKA” spray painted on one side and “PICK IT UP” on the other – comes with a turbo booster, there isn’t much Vin Diesel will be able to do about it.

There is still a fault. I don’t know who this game is for. In fact, my wife asked this question first when I described this to her. Unless you are playing against Easy AI, this game is actually quite difficult.

The drift is much more realistic and it is very easy to completely miss the track on the parts where you are driving on the ground. Racing against other cars is really fun and is doable if you can understand the mechanics of drifting and breaking; but, if you’re a finalist and want to get all the stars on the time trials, good luck. I, a person who is very fond of racing games and kart racers, tried for almost an hour to get stars on the very first time trial track.

And while you might be an internet goober whose first instinct is to “fuck yourself”, I want to remind you of two things. First, it’s not too late to be a better person. And secondly, this game is really marketed to children. Everyone I know who bought it did it for their children. I hid this game from my kids so it could magically appear on my 7 year old’s Switch Mini in a few days for their birthday. And I don’t necessarily know if my child will be able to grasp it. They could, or they could just have fun creating their own tracks; but, unlocking stuff and earning coins to get new vehicles can be intimidating for them.

Fortunately, the game is beautiful and fun. While it may take many attempts to achieve something, it is an absolute joy to struggle with. Now, if you’ll excuse me, me and my little bumper car are going down to the basement to defy gravity.

Hot Wheels Unleashed review: a massively customizable surprise

Rating: 8/10

While it’s an oddly difficult racing game to market heavily to young children, Hot Wheels Unleashed sort of fits in capturing everything we used to pretend Hot Wheels was when we played with it. them when we were kids. The scenes look real and the sense of perspective is amazing. Fully customizable vehicles with one of the best track editors I’ve ever seen make this game a fun toy box to play with.

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