Fans of racing games have many different gameplay types, whether it be a classic kart racer, a more simulation experience like Forza Motorsport and Gran Turismo 7, or maybe it’s something in between. It’s a racer with some simplified mechanics but enough charm and wackiness to do its own thing.
Hot Wheels Unleashed 2: Turbochargeddoes just that. It may not be the deepest speedster on the gaming race track, but it builds upon a solid first showing with more content and new ideas to give you a definite sense of scale and speed through each environment.
Drivers, Get Ready
Hot Wheels Unleashed 2 is a simple racing game. Reach the podium, get the fastest time, survive an Elimination race, and unlock new vehicles. All of that is just the right kind of simplicity. Hot Wheels is a decades-old brand from Mattel that has endured generations of kids and adults; why mess too much with that formula?
Each track comprises hundreds of connected Hot Wheels track pieces, just like in real life. In both Hot Wheels Unleashed 2 and its predecessor, you control a real-world Hot Wheels toy shrunk down to toy size. This is a ton of fun to experience and gives a sense of scale each time you zip through a backyard, museum, diner, or several other locations. Some of these become repetitive over time in the offline mode, especially during the 8-10-hour campaign.
One of the ways you experience these areas is through one of the most significant additions to the game: its expanded story mode. It’s campy as heck but in a Saturday morning cartoon kind of way. It’s presented through a story about giant beasts you need to defeat by shrinking down and winning dozens of races. It doesn’t have to make a lot of sense; it just needs to lean into the fun, and that’s precisely what it does.
The gameplay itself feels fast and intense. Hot Wheels Unleashed 2 does a great job of bringing speed to a tiny toy. Speed boosters, loop-de-loops, drifting, your car’s boost meter, and more all lend to the joy of playing race after race.
As with many kart racers since the 90s, how and when to use your boost is crucial in winning a race. This resource and mid-race management is even more critical if you bump up to the Hard difficulty (which I did occasionally). It’s an added load of strategy I enjoyed in each race. No lap is the same, and no opponent is too easy. Even on lower difficulties, you can’t become complacent as the cars sitting turn or two behind you can catch up if you make a mistake. Thankfully, there’s no rubber banding here, just tight and speedy races.
The most crucial aspect of any racing game is how it feels and plays. Hot Wheels Unleashed 2 nails this in most instances. Most of the time, I was happy to tackle the next objective or race. Unfortunately, I felt like things were getting a little tired every once in a while. That eases up a bit with a difficulty change and online play, as the focus is shifted more to the moment-to-moment action rather than your surroundings or what kind of race you’ve entered.
Whether playing single-player or online, the joy of Hot Wheels Unleashed 2 came from collecting and customizing my new Hot Wheels and ever-expanding collection. Each one is unlocked through a store that cycles every so often. These can be opened and added to your virtual shelf with in-game points. I never felt like I was missing out or didn’t have a vehicle to compete in an upcoming race, a trap that the developers could have quickly fallen into.
There are 130 vehicles at launch. They range from ATVs, classic muscle cars, monster trucks, motorcycles, and rocket-boosting cars. Some are statistically better for drifting, while others are built for the speed of off-road races, so choose wisely!
Every car is a real toy you can find in the real world, a fantastic and fun idea. The detail in each one is also quite impressive. Small touches like scratches, types of plastic, and sheen or matte finishes all add to the charm of Hot Wheels Unleashed 2.
There’s also a great livery editor where you can customize every car to your liking, quickly editing the colours, stickers, and materials. The same can be said for the track editor. Usually, this is not my cup of tea, but they have done a great job of making these steps easy and fun. Snapping together pieces, adding obstacles and speed boosts, choosing my location, lighting, and loop-de-loops are all cool.
Hot Wheels Unleashed 2 is not going to hook you on its depth. But it doesn’t have to. It shines in its speedy gameplay and many customizable options off the track.
Growing up, I was never a giant Hot Wheels collector or fan, but in Hot Wheels Unleashed 2, you don’t have to be. Just the loop of unlocking and customizing your vehicles and tracks is a ton of fun. Despite some repetitiveness, the game is still a good time.
I look forward to seeing what others have created online and, even more so, what the next title in the series can bring.
[The publisher provided a copy of the game for review purposes.]
Reviewed on: Xbox Series
Review: Hot Wheels Unleashed 2: Turbocharged
Hot Wheels Unleashed 2 won't blow you away with its depth. But it might with its customization options, speed, and sense of scale.