[Rapid Review] Hot Wheels Unleashed 2: Turbocharged
Posted on October 18, 2023 by Edan(@@Virtualboi92) in Reviews, Switch
Release date: October 19, 2023
Developer Milestone knows racing games. You may not be familiar with their name, but you’ve definitely at least seen one of their titles before. From the SBK Superbike series of the 00s, through to the thoroughly enjoyable Ride games of the 2010s, Milestone are as synonymous with tires on asphalt as they are with hot dinners. Despite this, 2019’s Hot Wheels Unleashed ultimately ended up a slightly messy affair – plenty of content, but the core experience was lacking in refinement. Fast forward to 2023, and Milestone is back with Hot Wheels Unleashed 2: Turbocharged – an unwieldy name, but is it an equally unwieldy sequel?
In terms of the racing experience, Turbocharged isn’t re-writing the rulebook by any means – it does, however, significantly improve on the first game’s mechanics and feel. One of the biggest criticisms I had of the original Hot Wheels Unleashed was that the game was absolutely loaded with cars, tracks and events, but that the actual driving felt – well, not great. Milestone has really improved things for this sequel, with handling in particular feeling more responsive and intentional. Ripping into corners, building up boost and rocketing out of a turn at cartoonishly high speed is a thrill that never really gets old whenever it’s done right, and Turbocharged absolutely does it right.
Credit where it’s due, Milestone really gets the appeal of small toy cars. Their attention to detail in digitizing the world’s most popular die-cast collectible is astonishing, even within the Switch’s smaller power profile. Hot Wheels are meant to be ogled at just as much as they’re intended to be “driven”, and there’s a more-ish appeal to building out a collection of miniature motors that any self-respecting gamer would be hard-pressed to resist. It’s a shame that in Turbocharged’s case, the act of growing that suite of vehicles is a little haphazard. You rely on in-game currency that, to be fair, is plentiful. Once you’ve built up enough, you head over to a shop that refreshes its inventory on rotation. Comparing the cars available in the store to the ones you already own is nigh-on impossible. Sure there’ll be a couple of standout vehicles that are obviously superior to your own, but as your garage grows, so too does the hesitance whenever you purchase more cars.
Accruing that currency is done through tackling events across most of the game’s modes – the central one being a story mode that features actual characters, actual cutscenes and actual voice acting. Allow me to temper expectations here – all of those elements are frankly terrible, however it’s light, unintimidating, and clearly meant for children. The actual focus of the story mode is similar to the first game in that you work your way through a map-based overworld and tackle individual races that get gradually more difficult as you go. There’s straight up races, elimination events, boss battles (that play like regular races), and point to point sprints that take place in sprawling environments. Again, there’s nothing truly awe-inspiring or trend-bucking here, but what’s present is done reliably well and it crucially nails that “just one more go” compulsion that carries you from event to event.
In terms of track design, Turbocharged is broadly similar to its predecessor, for better and for worse. There are a number of what are essentially biomes in the game (back garden, petrol station, garage, dinosaur museum, etc). Within those environments, Milestone’s designers have created a smorgasbord of courses using plastic orange Hot Wheels track pieces. These courses are suspended in the air and loop through sections of the environment in impressive fashion – with that said, you do get the impression that once you’ve seen a couple of these courses, you’ve seen them all. In addition, each track’s similarity to the next one means that it can be difficult to build up your muscle memory for each course. One very neat inclusion is the game’s track builder, which lets you use all of the same track pieces and environments that the devs used in building the game in the first place – for the creative among you, there’s hours of fun to be had here.
Technically, I’m extremely impressed with how this Unreal Engine powered game has made the jump to Nintendo’s hybrid system. Unreal games can be a little much for the machine at times, but Milestone has put commendable levels of work into optimizing for Switch. Turbocharged runs at 30fps, and I only ever noticed brief stutters whenever I drove over pads that gave me boost, in single player at least. Split Screen multiplayer is another story entirely, and the game does tend to hitch more often in this mode. It isn’t unplayable by any means, but it’s definitely worth mentioning. Visually, the game looks really great – I oohed and ahhed more than once as I unlocked new cars and gawked at them in my garage on the OLED Switch. It never feels like you’re just looking at small versions of big cars – plenty of little details convincingly replicate actual Hot Wheels miniatures, like scuffed paint and bulging plastic windshields.
Hot Wheels Unleashed 2: Turbocharged doesn’t stray outside the lines established by its predecessor, but it makes all the necessary nips and tucks needed to justify itself as a worthwhile sequel. Improved controls, excellent visuals, and a more-ish campaign will keep you occupied for hours. It would have been nice to see something completely fresh added into the mix like a surprise new mode (or vehicle destruction, pretty please) – but it’s impossible to scoff at what’s here. The Hot Wheels license is clearly in the hands of a team that appreciates its esteem, charm and collectible nature – bravo, Milestone.
Hot Wheels Unleashed 2: Turbocharged copy provided by the publisher for the purposes of this review.