Quoth the Hot Wheels aficionado: Gimme fuel, gimme fire; gimme that which I desire, ooh! Now, do Hot Wheels actually require fuel? I have no idea. Not in real life—that’s for certain—but these video-game ones have flames shooting out of them. They also don’t have drivers… Are the cars alive? Is this a Herbie situation? Can I be Herbie in this game (as Herbie is the best fictional car of all time)? I know I can be KITT and the Batmobile, which is more than awesome. …what the heck am I talking about again?
Hot Wheels Unleashed is the latest offering—after quite a substantial break—in the Hot Wheels selection of video games. However, rather than scaling up the fictional cars to real-life measurements, Unleashed takes a more 1:1 approach. Each car you control is a Hot Wheels toy on an orange plastic track; races weave throughout bedrooms, skate parks, and building sites—each location more dangerous than the last. Though races are mostly relegated to the aforementioned orange tracks, there are points where races will take you “off road”; onto concrete, into vents, and through the sky. Also, there is no time-out function should you leave the track, meaning you could just go off on your own adventure and explore…I mean, you’d lose the race, but it’s still an option. It’s also nice for people—definitely not me—who can’t figure out the drift mechanics in this game and wind up slip-slidin’ all over the place. Again, definitely not something I dealt with every race, deciding to just blaze ahead full speed and slam into every second wall with the hollow smack one expect from throwing a Hot Wheels at a barrier.
Speaking of the sound of a toy taking a digital beating, the cars in Unleashed feel like, well, toys. It’s weird; in a cool way. The cars control as in any racing game, but they feel lighter. The anti-climactic clinking of cars striking each other is a constant, fun reminder that this whole game is playing with toys. It has no effect on the gameplay, but it’s a gimmick that I thoroughly enjoyed. Think of it like that scene in Ant-Man when they’re fighting on the train track—reality worth a giggle. This notion is carried further in certain tracks which include Hot Wheels hazards. I mean, it’s hard to take a race that seriously when a giant plastic spider is shooting webs at you…even if it has the prescient aim of a god.
One particularly fun element of Unleashed is the ability to customise your cars. Choose their paint job, choose what material each portion is made of: it’s cool. The menu to find this option is a little obtuse, but it’s fun nonetheless. Now, when it comes to acquiring cars to customise…that can be a different story. Running on a blind box system for the most part, even your earliest endeavours can result in doubles. Can you scrap cars for funds and parts for stat upgrades (you can upgrade your car’s stats a limited amount of times, by the way)? Yes. Does it still suck when your second blind box results in the same car you just got? Yes. Doubly so. You are able to buy specific cars via a rotating shop catalogue, but those are multiples more expensive than opening a blind box. Still, if your lucky, you could pull a good car early on and then not need any others—apart from collecting purposes.
Oh, I should probably also mention that there’s a campaign mode in Unleashed. You make your way through nodes on a map, unlocking further levels by beating races. To the game’s credit, each race simply requires you to make the top three to progress. There are bonuses for coming first, but it’s nice that you don’t have to be the best in every single instance. Certain boss battles do require you to take first, but there are only five of those in total, so it’s not too bad (it’s even easier if you lower the difficulty). Completing certain nodes also unlocks secrets, which generally contain free cars—always appreciated. The personal low point for me, however, is the inclusion of time attack races. No opponents, just you and the clock. Can you pass by beating only one of the two time goals in these races? Yes. Is that still difficult? For me it was. Some races had me crossing the finish line with less than a second ticked over the goal…so that sucked. At the very least the race simply continues until you pass the goal, meaning that you can roll right into your next attempt and don’t have to restart every time you fail. So, that’s nice.
Now, is Hot Wheels Unleashed fun? Yes. Would I recommend it? If you like racing games or the Hot Wheels brand. To me, Unleashed is one of those games that you’ll sporadically jump back into if the mood strikes you or if you know people who also own it. Playing through the campaign is a fun way to explore the tracks—even with those damned time attacks—and unlock cars, but you can burn out rather quickly. Even if you can breeze through it by playing on the easy difficulty, I made it to about the twentieth race (out of fifty-two) before I felt like I knew and had experienced most of what the game had to offer. Still, with some time and distance, I’ll jump back into Unleashed when the mood strikes me. I mean, how else am I supposed to unlock the TMNT Party Wagon?