There’s no shortage of great racers on the market, but while titles like Gran Turismo and Forza Motorsport look to emulate actual driving and gorgeous vistas of real locations, there’s still a big demand for arcade racers. Just look at the continued success of Mario Kart. Well, this Hot Wheels Unleashed 2 review is here to tell you there’s another excellent arcade racer on the block, as I’ve been blown away by the enjoyable on-track action, the depth of content, and the glorious visuals.
Developer Milestone has the keys to the Hot Wheels license, and following on from the original Hot Wheels Unleashed that arrived back in 2021, it’s back with Hot Wheels Unleashed 2 Turbocharged. This is a smart sequel that expands on and improves the solid foundations of the original, and is destined for a spot on our best racing games list.
The cliffnotes version is: Hot Wheels Unleashed 2 offers thrilling arcade-style action, throwing tiny toy cars around courses and loops based on the iconic Hot Wheels toys, while also featuring a large library of toy cars pulled from the real world. There are also licensed crossover vehicles too, such as the Back to the Future Delorean, and a muscle car with Snoopy sat on top. Both the courses and cars are packed with character, which only adds to the on-track excellence.
While playing Hot Wheels Unleashed 2, one thing that permeates almost every second of gameplay and every inch of the screen is a real celebration of fun. Hot Wheels is a kids toy at the end of the day, and much like the sense of humor of the Lego games, Hot Wheels Unleashed 2 is dedicated to being an entertaining game for kids – however it’s one that also respects any adult just looking to enjoy some technicolor escapism, like myself.
If you played the original, there are some sizable additions to Unleashed 2, including a surprisingly deep story mode. This light-hearted narrative is a string of single-player courses, bookended by illustrated storyboards and some spirited voice acting that brings to mind a Saturday morning cartoon. The characters and story elements are serviceable, but it’s all clearly designed for a young audience, and despite my best efforts, I can’t bring myself to actually care about the plot. It’s nice it’s here, but it’s clearly meant for the little ones.
Diving into the story mode, there’s a nice mixture of challenges. Traditional multiplayer races are a blast, and it’s always fun to just explore these absolutely gorgeous levels as a miniature car in a world where a living room feels like the size of a stadium. The AI is pretty forgiving, but you can tweak the in-game settings if you need a bit of a challenge. Luckily there is also a pretty good difficulty curve, with a slow increase in the types of challenges, alongside more aggressive opponents.
Other missions often test the arcade racer’s mechanics, such as the fantastic drifting and the new jump ability. Time Attack missions let you blast round a track repeatedly until you can pull off a lap quicker than the target time – you can also unlock more rewards if you manage to pull off the harder ‘Unleashed’ target time. I really enjoy hurtling round levels without the distraction of other cars to really stretch my skills, and the mixture of challenges helps to keep things fresh.
Cars are also now split into different vehicle types, and certain challenges only allow you to pick a specific type. There’s a real difference between them, and it’s a blast to hop between classes to challenge your skills. Some are more adept at drifting, while others are just meant for speed. This all works great alongside a new skills system, as you can upgrade your cars with new skills and additional speed or handling, really letting you fine-tune your experience. If you want to stick to your Snoopy-mobile for most of the game (like myself) this system also ensures that your favorite car can always be competitive.
Moving around the story mode’s levels you get to (slightly) choose your path, and move between different districts as you battle through the different levels and challenges. Then finally, each district is guarded by a boss battle. Sadly, these just do not have the same appeal as other challenges. Huge opponents like an octopus or a scorpion guard a track, and to defeat them you must hit counters littered around the track to deal damage.
The actual bosses themselves are just plastic figures stooping over the lap marker, which fits the real-world plastic toy theme, but it’s just sadly a bit lifeless. Then, driving around the empty track just to try and hit these moving damage counters is boring. A timer builds up between the damage markers so there’s a bit of peril, but it’s the same thing over and over, even when the counters and their placement try to better test your skills. Boss battles are simply fine, but they could’ve been so much more.
Altogether the story mode is a sizable and welcome addition, which is clearly designed to on-ramp younger gamers and familiarize them with the controls and mechanics. For returning players and adults with a good grasp on the controls, there’s a challenge buried in here, especially when trying to hit the ‘Unleashed’ goals, and it’s a great way to unlock some rewards you can spend in the other modes.
Multiplayer is also a hit, as the light-hearted tone and forgiving physics all work together to deliver a racer all about family fun, but one that you can also master with some effort. The tracks all have some fun twists like different shortcuts and boosts on the lanes to push you through a loop or make a huge jump, and it helps to keep you engaged. Performance in split-screen multiplayer holds up really well, and with a few different modes sprinkled in, this is sure to be a hit with families over the holidays this year, with enough content to last several sessions.
A returning feature is the level-creator, and this time it’s got a few new bells and whistles. Luckily this is another element that builds from a fantastic starting point, and the sheer amount of customization and options available is overwhelming. This mode really makes you feel like a kid in a toy box, and thankfully developer Milestone is able to balance UI elements well, so your controller rarely gets in the way of the fun.
This is another great showcase for just how stunning the levels are, and the thrill of creating a tiny track in the beautiful larger levels like the Dinosaur Museum just never gets old. Creating and sharing levels online is a breeze, and this feels like the element that is set to keep the game alive for years to come. I can’t wait to see what the community creates, and I also expect Milestone to add more content down the line, as it did with the first Hot Wheels Unleashed.
One thing that stands out about this sequel is the sheer depth. Alongside the aforementioned skill system, you can use in-game currency to buy over 130 cars (with more to come), and you can make changes to the paint job or slap some stickers on there, to make the mad car of your dreams. There is just so much to do, and you can even create a player profile and customize your banner and background, alongside showing off your favorite car. There’s so much content to unlock, and earning currency from each mode racks up pretty quickly – this is nowhere near the aggressive and unforgiving economy of similar games like Lego 2K Drive. Plus, there are no microtransactions!
Finally, let’s talk about performance. I’m playing the game on PS5, and Hot Wheels Unleashed 2 Turbocharged is a graphical powerhouse, smartly blending the bright colors of the Hot Wheels franchise with painstakingly curated levels. The miniature cars look almost photorealistic, and one of the best parts of unlocking them is simply spinning them around in the garage to stare in fascination at the details.
Performance when playing holds up really well, and even when blasting around at full speed, the PS5 keeps things at a tight frame rate and doesn’t dip. Lighting effects add life to the levels, and the cars and obstacles all remain clear at top speeds, easily communicating the level, the layout, and where you need to go next. It’s a beautiful game, and one that is using a nice stylised approach to make these toys feel like your imagination has jumped out of your mind and into the TV.
Hot Wheels Unleashed 2 Turbocharged is a gorgeous arcade racer all about fun that smartly expands on the best elements of its predecessor, instead of throwing a wrench in the works. The story mode is sure to delight younger players, and despite some boring moments, is a great way to teach the game’s mechanics. Then the multiplayer racing, customization elements, huge pool of licenced Hot Wheels cars, and incredibly deep level creator ensure that fans have content far into the future. I didn’t expect to be saying that Hot Wheels Unleashed 2 is one of the best games I’ve played this year, but I’m pleasantly surprised to be doing do.
With a total focus on fun, amazing visuals, and lots of welcome additions and improvements over its predecessor, Hot Wheels Unleashed 2 is one of the surprise packages of 2023. While the story mode lacks in some areas, and younger gamers are definitely the target audience, there’s still a lot to appreciate and enjoy regardless of your age.