The Heat Is On

HIGH An actual story mode and some solid arcade racing.

LOW Why can’t I just buy a specific car whenever I want?

WTF Checking Amazon for a Hot Wheels model of a Toyota Supra. 

Back in 2021, I reviewed Hot Wheels Unleashed and enjoyed it. I was a bit cold on some minor things — namely the way it dished out car unlocks and a lackluster “story” mode — but even with those flaws, the act of racing as the titular die-cast cars across different toy-inspired courses showed promise. Unleashed set a solid foundation, and as an arcade racing fan, I couldn’t wait to see what its successor would do to iron out the rough spots. 

Fast forward two years and developer Milestone drops Hot Wheels Unleashed 2: Turbocharged. This sequel is an arcade racer played from a third-person perspective, in which players control a wide-range of vehicles from Mattel’s Hot Wheels toy line and compete in different races and events. Options range from standard cars based on real-world manufacturers like Dodge or Chevrolet, all the way to some truly bizarre designs that resemble toasters, dragons and rocket ships. New to the mix are motorcycles and off-road vehicles, like ATVs and rally cars. 

The variety in the garage at launch is impressive and distinct, as vehicles are now broken up into six different categories — Rocket, Balanced, Swift, Drifter, Off-Road, and Heavy Duty. Each has different strengths in various races, such as the “rocket” class being effective in straight lines while the “heavy duty” vehicles can overtake other cars easily and won’t be troubled by roadblocks. 

Like the previous Hot Wheels, the attention to detail in the cars is incredible. Committing to the idea that these are toy cars, every vehicle is modeled exactly like their die-cast counterparts. For example, there are no drivers in the cars, while stickers, smudges and different material types are all rendered with care. Going into the photo mode highlights these touches, and I appreciated how the undercarriage of every car kept the copyright text that’s etched into every one of the real-world toys.

Keeping with the toy theme, players will race in different environments that seem giant, thanks to the fact that these are supposed to be tiny cars. Locations range from an arcade that’s filled to the brim with games like air hockey and a nice bar, to a family’s backyard littered with children’s toys. While much of this is consistent with the last installment, one of the biggest changes is the way cars are acquired.

While the in-game story still offers a rotating selection of cars that can be bought with in-game currency (coins), the loot boxes of the first game are gone completely. This is a great change, as nothing bummed me out more than getting loot crates that awarded duplicates of cars I already had. Although I would’ve preferred a more static and stable store to pick out any car I wanted, I have to admit that there’s a special feeling in browsing the store and stumbling upon a beautifully-rendered 2023 Nissan Z. Also, I’m glad to say that the cars are also affordable and coins are generously dished out after completing races, so grind is nonexistent. 

There are also some great gameplay tweaks and additions that make this a much better package than the last. The main mode is a story called Creature Rampage, now with actual cutscenes and context for why players are racing. It’s a simple tale about young racers and a scientist trying to stop classic Hot Wheels playset monsters from taking over a city, but I appreciated how much it added to the experience. Sure, the cutscenes are just animated stills and some of the dialogue is corny, but I liked how it felt like a Saturday morning cartoon or toy commercial, and it fits the vibe here.  

New race and event types have also been added, like a drift challenge that sees players trying to achieve a set score while drifting around corners. Also new are the elimination races, which required me to move up in position during a race to avoid getting eliminated. The variety here is a nice touch, and it’s all complemented by excellent driving mechanics — every vehicle type feels distinct enough to have its strengths and weaknesses in every event and track. Also included is an upgrade system that allows players to add attributes such as improved handling, better boost and even resistance to track hazards. 

Hot Wheels Unleashed 2: Turbocharged is the right way to follow up on a good idea. Expanding on the great things the first one did, this sequel adds more vehicles, more events and a story to make it one of the most unique arcade racers on the market. For those who haven’t had enough of toy-based racing this year, they should look no further than this one. 

Rating: 8.5 out of 10

Disclosures: This game is published and developed by Milestone. It is available on PS4/5, XBO/S/X, Switch and PC. This copy was obtained via publisher and was reviewed on PS5. Approximately 10 hours were spent in single-player and the game was not completed (still playing). No time was spent in the game’s multiplayer. 

Parents: According to the ESRB, this game is rated E. The official description reads: This is a racing game in which players drive toy vehicles through classic Hot Wheels tracks. Players can drift and boost their way around opponents, looping various tracks and whimsical obstacles. 

Colorblind Modes: Colorblind modes are not present in the options menu.

Deaf and Hard of Hearing Gamers: Cutscene subtitle size cannot be adjusted. During my time with it, I did not find that any audio cues were necessary for successful play. This game is fully accessible.

Remappable Controls: The controls can be remapped and there is a diagram.

Cj Salcedo
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