Hot Wheels Unleashed game review: An amazing arcade racer

by Robby Bisschop
Robby Bisschop
Robby Bisschop
Robby lives and breathes videogames. When he's not playing them, he's talking about them on social media or convincing other people to pick up a controller themselves. He's... read more
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  • Hot Wheels Unleashed is a fun arcade racer through and through
  • It mirrors the enjoyment of playing with the toys as a kid
  • There is tons of content to unlock and will keep you busy for hours

There are two types of racing games: the ones that aim to emulate real driving and want to comes as close to being a simulation as possible and the arcade racing games which let go of all rules and just aim for 100% fun. Hot Wheels Unleashed is definitely the latter and possibly one of the best the genre has to offer.

We all know the Hot Wheels brand, whether we’ve played with them ourselves in our childhood or not. The tiny metal cars are iconic toys, as are the bright orange road pieces that you could use to build ridiculous tracks. This game proudly brings them both into an amazingly fun videogame experience.

Pure unadultered fun

Fun. It’s such a simple and short word, yet it’s so important. Hot Wheels Unleashed earns the adjective with flying colors. You’ll be racing down angled slopes, driving over boost pads to pick up extra speed before a looping, and then shifting into a magnetic strip that has you racing upside down.

Who doesn’t love loopings?

The entire game is just such a thrilling experience with many different elements adding to the enjoyment. Don’t expect to just stick to the railing and boost your way out of trouble the entire time. If you want to have a shot at that coveted gold medal, you’ll need to align your jumps, dodge obstacles, and even avoid traps like giant spiders shooting webs at you.

A sticky situation

In fact, most of the challenge doesn’t come from the opposition but from trying to stay on the road. You’ll need to pick up speed to prevent you from falling down when the road gets curvy, and there are plenty of jumps where you’ll need to correct your trajectory mid-air so you’ll land on the track again.

Fail to do so and you’ll have to respawn your car, losing precious time and probably whatever lead you had on the cars behind you.

The good news is that players who spend the time to learn the tracks inside & out will find some very useful shortcuts here and there. They’re tricky to perform, but when you’re aiming for the gold, every second counts.

Healthy mix of difficulty

Confession time: I usually play games on easy. I like to enjoy myself and I’m often on a deadline to review games around the embargo date and making it harder on myself just doesn’t feel like it would add any fun.

When I played Hot Wheels Unleashed for an hour or so, however, I quickly changed the difficulty setting to Medium. Easy is fine for young players, but if you want a bit of a challenge at least and if you crave feeling like you earned that spot on the podium, you’ll need to amp it up a little.

And if even the Hard AI doesn’t provide enough challenge for you, you can always invite over some skilled friends or try your luck in the online competitions.

Local split-screen multiplayer!

When an arcade racing game doesn’t include a local split-screen option, it automatically loses a few points in my book. So you’ll be happy to hear that Hot Wheels Unleashed provides! There’s nothing as fun as having friends over for drinks and games and hanging out on the couch and I’m pretty sure this one will stay installed on my Xbox Series X for just that occasion.

Single player campaign provides hours of fun

Ex marks the spot.

Solo players will not have a dull moment either. Hot Wheels Unleashed features a lengthy single-player campaign in which you move across a map and unlock new races, time trials, and boss levels as you go. There is tons of content here, but looks can be deceiving: you’ll be playing the same levels over and over again.

While there are indeed only 6 locations in the game, there are a ton of track variations to spice things up. That doesn’t mean you won’t be replaying the same combinations however, the game doesn’t shy away from repetition. In fact, you’ll even be revisiting specific races with specific cars to unlock some of the secrets.

Unlocking this one was peanuts

And that’s perhaps where the secret ingredient of Hot Wheels Unleashed lies: there’s always something on the brink of unlocking. Every race will give you either Gold or Gears, the former can be used for buying cars or loot boxes containing random cars, the latter can be used to upgrade your vehicle (Normal > Rare > Legendary).

You will even get items to decorate your basement with posters, collectibles, different patterns for the walls or floors. It’s a neat idea to let us customize this because it’s the same area used in the game when racing. I just haven’t figured out yet how to fill the empty display units.

Eat. Sleep. Game. Repeat.

My only complaint: the races don’t pay out enough and progression just happens a little slower than I would have liked. It makes finding a hidden loot box all the more satisfying though. But be prepared: finding all cars and leveling them to legendary will be quite the grind, but more on that later.

Share your creativity

It’s not just the basement you get to decorate, you can make your very own levels with a custom track builder. There are a lot of tools here at your disposal but to me, it was a bit overwhelming. Especially because the tracks can bend and curve however you like.

I’m totally bent out of shape

I had issues with the simplest of things like finding the finish block, but I guess that’s just my lack of experience with track builders like these. It’s a feature I explore for reviews, but wouldn’t be caught spending a lot of time with on my own clock. That being said, it adds hours upon hours of possible game time by downloading the creations of people with more know-how and I’ll be sure to check those out.

what I do love, is playing around with the aesthetics of all kinds of things. You can also create your own liveries for every car and even with the simplest of modifications, you can achieve cool results. Just look at this Rip Rod that I painted in the Joker’s famous purple & green colors.

The Joker

One last thing you can express yourself with is the photomode. Any game that includes this has a step up from the competition in my book. At any point in time, you can freeze the action and angle your camera just right to snap some cool pics to share on social media.

Picture Perfect

The game looks fantastic, with the cars actually looking like their real toy counterparts thanks to the great use of lighting and textures. The level textures did experience some loading issues, however, even on Xbox Series X, but only in the short fly-over before the actual race, so nothing really bothersome.

Grinding your teeth

Well, that’s a mouthful

So far, I’ve done nothing but sing its praises, but there are a few things that bothered me while playing Hot Wheels Unleashed, most of all …the music. While the soundtrack isn’t terrible per se, it isn’t very memorable or noteworthy either.

Most of the music that plays in the background is of the type you’d expect an indie game with a limited budget to buy from stock footage, repeated loops, nothing catchy, and not adding anything to the thrilling experience that the rest of the sound design offers through screeching tires and boosts.

Worst of all, when you do boost with most of the cars, it deforms the music in what the English language so kindly describes as “off” or “out of tune” but where my own dutch use of “vals” falls more in line with “I hate it, please make it stop.”

Don’t let the Twitter clips fool you, I edited my own music into the video to make it more exciting. But it just goes to show how much great audio can add to the sensation of a game.

Another small regret is that the game doesn’t support Quick Resume on Xbox Series X|S. This feature has been a blessing for me, as I usually play multiple games at the same time, and not having this option for a game that would be perfect for a daily quick race is a shame. I’ll definitely keep the game in my daily rotation, but this is a slight bump in how easily accessible it is.

Achievements and Completion

Beating the single-player campaign takes around 14-15 hours, provided you win every race on the first attempt. If you’re going for the full 100% completion, however, you’ll be in for the long stretch.

There are plenty of cars to unlock and you’ll need some luck with the loot box system or pay with hard-earned gold in the daily deals. As I already said earlier though, getting a sufficient amount of cash will require some grinding.

*Empties wallet*

The Achievement list is a grind as well, here’s a list of the ones you’ll be working on for hours:

  • Box Collector (90G) – Open a total of 100 blind boxes
  • It’s over 9000 (10G) – Upgrade the rarity of 15 rare vehicles
  • Unbridled luxury (30G) – Get a total of 100,000 Coins
  • What do I do with so many? (30G) – Get a total of 25,000 Gears.
  • Faster than light (15G) – Use the Boost for a total of 60 minutes.
  • Master of drift (15G) – Drift for a total of 500,000 centimetres (196,850 inches).

So yeah, we’re talking dozens of hours to grind out the full 1000G here. If you’re the type of gamer who needs a 100% completed check on your games: know what you’re getting yourself into.

And yes, before you ask, there are a few online multiplayer achievements (We all hate those)

Final thoughts on Hot Wheels Unleashed

Incredibly fun racing experience
Tons of unlockables to keep you going for hours
The multiplayer and custom tracks adds long-lasting value
The audio could have been better
Only 6 locations available
No quick resume on Xbox Series X or S

Final Score: 4.5/5

Hot Wheels Unleashed is pretty much the perfect arcade racing experience: It’s fun, it’s fast and it’s got plenty of content to last. Sure, there could have been a few more locations to spice things up, and collecting everything is a bit of a grind, but between the meaty single-player campaign and endless custom user-generated tracks, you’ll be boosting for hours on end with a smile on your face.

Hot Wheels Unleashed costs $49.99 and is available on Windows PC, Xbox One and Xbox Series X|S, Playstation 4 and Playstation 5, and Nintendo Switch. Developed and Published by Milestone.

*Disclaimer: Reviewed on Xbox Series X. Review copy provided by Koch Media Benelux.

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