After a surprisingly successful first attempt, Milestone is now trying to build a franchise. So has it succeeded?
Italian developer Milestone has gradually built a name for itself in realistic racers, preferably on two wheels, with the Ride and MotoGP series. In 2021, Hot Wheels Unleashed was released, which was a really solid arcade racer on four wheels - and now the inevitable sequel has arrived. I actually like Milestone better when they let go of the realistic and somewhat genderless racers they spit out all the time and instead give it a go with an arcade racer.
Hot Wheels Unleashed 2: Turbocharged is a kart racer with these little Hot Wheels cars that you race on some pretty inventive and crazy tracks, made with the same Hot Wheels elements you can buy in the shops. The tracks are located in five different worlds: a miniature golf course, a dinosaur history museum, a petrol station, an arcade, and a backyard. The courses are filled with loops, sharp turns, upside-down sections and sometimes you even get off the course itself. There are quite a few different tracks across these five worlds, but there could have been a few more to add variety.
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Just like in other kart racers, powerslides are a big part of the gameplay and are often the fastest way to get through the sharp corners - and at the same time, your boost meter fills up while powersliding. As a new feature, you can jump and do a "Lateral Dash", where you can push your opponents sideways. While jumping is quite useful, the Lateral Dash doesn't make much of a difference, so you end up hardly ever using it. Around the tracks, there are different panels that, for example, fill up your boost meter, others that give you extra speed instantly, and some that create resistance in the car, causing you to lose speed.
Hot Wheels Unleashed 2: Turbocharged contains 130 different cars at release and, as a new feature, motorcycles and ATVs are also included. They seem a bit oddly large compared to the cars, but that's probably what Hot Wheels motorcycles and ATVs look like. You get access to new cars and motorbikes on an ongoing basis, which typically need to be purchased with the gold coins you get after each race. There are cars from real-world manufacturers such as Mercedes, Aston Martin, Koenigsegg, Bugatti, Ford and Chevrolet, as well as various imaginative Hot Wheels cars. If you're a Hot Wheels fan, there are plenty of cars to hunt for and some of them are quite rare. If it goes as well as the first game, we can expect lots of new cars and other vehicles to be added in the near future.
The single player part of the game is called Hot Wheels Creature Rampage and this year there is actually a small story that is mostly targeted at younger players. It is presented via some pretty well-drawn sequences and ties the almost 100 different races together nicely. You're presented with a number of different race types, ranging from the standard first across the finish line race to Time Attack, Elimination, Waypoint and five boss battles where you have to defeat a boss on the course. Finally, there is also multiplayer both online and in split-screen where you can play Grab the Gears and Clash Derby, which are exclusively multiplayer game modes. So there is a nice selection of game modes.
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Hot Wheels Unleashed 2: Turbocharged is the kind of game where the slightest mistake is severely penalised - and it can be quite frustrating. There is so much elasticity between the player and the computer-controlled opponents that the slightest mistake can send you from first place to twelfth place in a split second. The elasticity also means that it's easy to fight your way back to the front again, but the outcome of a race sometimes feels like a roll of the dice. Another example is that in Time Attack, if you don't position yourself correctly before a jump, there's a high risk that you'll miss the subsequent ramp you have to land on, and then you have no chance of finishing within the time limit, so you might as well restart. A perfect run can be ruined by a mistake and I don't like that kind of hit or miss game design. It seems too random.
Hot Wheels Unleashed 2: Turbocharged is a game that constantly rewards the player. There are plenty of built-in goals to achieve and after each race you unlock gold coins, upgrade kits, elements for the game's track editor and backgrounds, icons and designs for your gamer card, and many other things. As mentioned, there is a built-in lane editor where you can create your own lanes to share with other players. As is often the case, the course editor is a little clumsy to use with a controller, but it works and it's possible to create some decent courses fairly easily. You can also design your own stickers for your cars.
Visually, Hot Wheels Unleashed 2: Turbocharged is quite nice - the cars especially so. No attempt has been made to make them realistic, as they look like the little toy cars you can buy and you can clearly see that they are made of plastic. It's like playing with digital versions of the beloved Hot Wheels cars and it's a great design choice that the cars don't look like real cars, but instead like little plastic cars. The soundtrack is as you'd expect from a game of this type, with nice engine sounds and an upbeat soundtrack that you'll probably end up turning down a bit.
Overall, Hot Wheels Unleashed 2: Turbocharged is a decent kart racer. The gameplay works well, you can easily do long powerslides, the many vehicles feel and sound different and the tracks are quite well designed. However, there's something about the game design that I don't like, and it may not shake things up much compared to other similar games. It's a typical sequel in that it's similar to its predecessor in many ways, with more cars, small changes and a few additions here and there, but I would have liked to see a little more innovation.
You don't have to be a Hot Wheels fan to get something out of this game, as it's a solid kart racer in its own right. There are plenty of cars, plenty of tracks, all set in the same five worlds, but if you're the creative (and patient) type, there's plenty of opportunity to do exactly what Hot Wheels is all about, building your own tracks and sending your little cars around them.
7 / 10
Lots of cars and motorbikes. Vehicles have a cool plastic look. Good and precise steering. Great variety in race types.
Too reminiscent of its predecessor. Too few environments. Frustrating game design.