As a speed-focused arcade racer, Hot Wheels Unleashed 2: Turbocharged is a joy thanks to the emphasis on going fast, collecting Hot Wheels cars spanning decades, and crafting your own tracks. However, it doesn’t quite have the variety of tracks to keep it fresh throughout, and the story mode is an innocuous affair, leading to middle-of-the-pack results instead of the checkered flag it was chasing.
While it may not be as technical as most racing sims or as silly as the Mario Kart series, Turbocharged doesn’t lack charm. Hot Wheels Unleashed 2 drops you onto tracks in a backyard, on a golf course, and in other real-world locations that recreate the memories of a kid who could dream up their masterpiece track and then put it together wherever they’d like. Loop-de-loops, golf balls, giant spiders, and tight corners provide a chaotic and enjoyable challenge.
The focus on speed is fun, making races quick, just-one-more-time affairs. You must master your boost in standard races, obstacle races, boss races, and eliminations, which are my favorite, as you need to keep the lead for a set time as cars are eliminated until yours is the sole survivor.
Your boost bar is crucial since you use it to perform jumps and lateral dashes, two features new to the sequel. Players can use the lateral dash to slam into other cars, but it, along with the jump, can also be used mid-flight to right your vehicle back onto the track, fueling the chaotic control during races. You gain boost via drifting, and thankfully, the mechanic is forgiving and pretty easy to, if not master, at least get a handle on quickly. Different cars have different boosts, which can change how you approach a race. One car may only have three bars max, giving you three boosts, while another has an entire bar that lets you save or burn as much as you need.
Figuring out how much and often you can boost around tracks is essential; you may run into a situation where you can’t jump over an obstacle. Limited boost made me enjoy how I had to be just a little strategic in using it. There was more than one instance where I overdid it, finding myself unable to jump over a barrier or boosting right off a course. I never felt cheated, but I had a good laugh and learned from my overexcitement. In those instances, holding a button respawns you with enough boost to try again, though you lose a handful of seconds.
The game includes a story mode, Creature Rampage, but it’s mostly a throwaway Saturday morning cartoon affair. Creature Rampage’s premise is simple: Giant monsters are on the loose, and your job is to shrink them down and subdue them by racing, all while listening to jokes from a wisecracking robot, a professor who seems to do more harm than good with his gadgets, and a fellow racer. The story plays out like a motion comic, with panels moving around furiously. It’s all a bit forgettable, and I honestly couldn’t wait for the cutscenes to be over, but it doesn’t linger long enough to get in the way of the races and earning more coins, upgrades, and pieces to customize tracks.
The roughly eight-hour story mode does a good job of nudging players to use a variety of cars. The Hot Wheels aren’t just there to look cool; a Rip Rod in the drifter category takes corners like a dream, whereas a swift Mini Cooper is better suited for handling specific track terrain. I liked being pushed to use different cars in various situations, and the types really matter. I used a car unsuited for off-roading and couldn’t navigate dirt corners, encouraging me to explore new cars. After that nudge, I began upgrading my cars to have different boosts or handling benefits via the perks system, and before I knew it, I was customizing my cars with new looks.
I would have enjoyed more variety in the track locations during Creature Rampage and other modes as you end up racing through much of the same scenery, hearing the same music, and looking at a game that seems stuck in a past console generation with sometimes bland visuals. It isn’t enough to detract from the fun, but you see a lot of the dinosaur museum and golf course before the game is over.
Seeing this as a virtual play box on top of a racing game is a huge part of the proceedings. The racing is tight, fast, and fun, but the need to earn more coins to buy more cars for your virtual garage is enthralling. Hot Wheels vehicles have several rarity ratings, and as you play, different ones are cycled out in a shop on a timer. So, if you see a van with toast popping out of it, you might impulse buy it before it disappears, like I did. You can also refresh what’s for sale with some coins. I couldn’t stop adding vehicles to my collection; the weirder, the better.
Upping the customization ante is the track editor. It only took me a couple of minutes to get comfortable with the basics before I was making brutal, unrealistic tracks. It’s definitely a feature that takes some time to fully grasp, but it’s so much fun to select, say, the museum track and start laying down obstacle after obstacle in a winding track of doom and despair. Community tracks allow you to save ones you want to revisit. If you’re even a little bit creative or just like throwing stuff together like me, the track editor and car customization offer plenty of fun ways to get more mileage out of the game.
Players can also take on others online in pretty standard fare like a quick race, rounding out the game’s features. Given the creativity present in other portions of the game, the online offerings feel downright vanilla, but it’s still a good time showing off your custom car.
I can’t knock Hot Wheels Unleashed 2: Turbocharged for too much; it’s an enjoyable, arcade-like racer that feels like something you might find in the arcade. It captures what it’s like to be a kid imagining race courses for your toys and offers an almost overwhelming customizable playbox. The quick races and variety in modes never let anything become too dull before you’re on to the next objective, boosting your way to victory. I’m not a Hot Wheels diehard, but the sheer creativity, speed, and customization hooked me.