Racing games, broadly speaking, have been quite popular as of late. But they’ve mostly been racing sims. And the racing genre was never just sims. There used to be a massive world of clever, vibrant, exciting arcade racers that prioritized flow, flash and fun over realism. Lately, it seems like the only things filling that niche have been the Forza Horizon games and their imitators. That’s why the first Hot Wheels Unleashed was an oasis in an arcade racer desert. And just two years later, the biggest, most welcome surprise in racing games has a sequel that’s bigger and better than before: Hot Wheels Unleashed 2: Turbocharged.
Mostly unchanged from before are the luscious graphics. Few games are as vibrant and saturated as Hot Wheels. And it’s not a cartoon-y game. All the toy cars are virtually recreated as lovingly as real automobiles in Gran Turismo, down to the leftover casting lines and slightly askew paint applications and orange peel. But those imperfections are what make them so lifelike. And the way the world reflects upon them adds to the illusion. Each environment is full of detail and the most idyllic lighting possible, with important touches like the plastic graining in the track pieces. Definitely play this on the best display you have. And the whole thing runs at a super solid 60 frames per second on current game consoles.
You get to see more of the cars and the environments this time out, too. The car list is expanded to more than 130 at launch, which is greater than the less than 70 initially offered in the previous game. It includes plenty of fantasy Hot Wheels from past and present, as well as real-life ones such as the Liberty Walk Nissan Silvia S15 drift car. And they all can be given fully custom paint schemes. They can even be upgraded further than before with unique buffs to improve handling, speed and boost beyond simple overall increases. Different types of cars have advantages in their control or speed (for instance, off-road vehicles do better in dirt and carpet), and motorcycles make their debut with vehicles such as the Ducati DesertX and BMW RnineT.
As for the environments, completely new ones that feel larger than before have replaced the old ones. It’s a bit unfortunate to see the old environments left out, but these new ones feel more diverse. Plus, one of the new game modes leaves the environments generally open, with the only goal to reach a series of checkpoints, allowing you to explore the worlds and feel like you’re really driving a tiny car in an arcade, house, diner and more. If the previous game is anything to go by, there will be more environments and cars coming in future DLCs. And as before, there’s a powerful, if slightly wonky custom track making tool that will keep user-created courses coming for a long time.
Other new game modes join the checkpoint rallies. There are elimination races in which you must avoid the back of the pack during each timed round, lest you lose the event. Plus, there are drift events and “boss fights” against different track additions that involve taking out specific targets on the track in set periods of time. This helps break up the previous game’s more limited selection of events that mainly consisted of races and time trials.
The actual driving is as good as ever, feeling extremely fast with tight drifting mechanics. It all feels frenetic and just on the edge of getting out of control. Adding some depth are sideswipe mechanics that allow you bump cars out of the way or off the track and the ability to jump. The latter of these will be critical to master, along with changing the car’s orientation in some jumps to stay on track. The difficulty level is one point that feels slightly off. If you’re experienced with arcade racers, particularly Turbocharged’s predecessor, both “easy” and “medium” will feel a little too easy, and then “hard” is a much bigger step up in difficulty than one would expect. It’s still ideal for an experienced, if not expert racer, but something between medium and hard wouldn’t be bad. Still, it’s a minor gripe.
The meat of the game is the story mode, which has a similar format to before. There are many events that have to be cleared to unlock more, with base and challenge targets to hit. But now they’re connected by corny Saturday-morning-cartoon style cutscenes. It’s goofy, but it’s a nice touch to make the story mode feel more robust and cohesive. And there are loads of events to stay busy with. Online multiplayer also returns, which will be supported by the many default track layouts and the custom ones players add.
Simply put, Hot Wheels Unleashed 2: Turbocharged is exactly what it needed to be. It’s beautiful, fast and fun. It’s a badly needed break from sims and Forza Horizon clones. I hope that not only does it help revive the arcade racing genre, but that it continues to live on with more DLCs and hopefully a third installment in the years to come. Definitely pick up a copy for yourself (available on PlayStation 4 and 5 systems, Xbox One and Series systems, Nintendo Switch and PC).