Published on October 16th, 2023 | by James Davie
Hot Wheels Unleashed 2: Turbocharged Review
Summary: Turbocharged is weighed down by overfamiliarity, unambitious race modes, on-track frustrations...
Back in 2021 we were given a nostalgic turbo-charged blast from the past with the original Hot Wheels: Unleashed, streaking its burning rubber onto consoles with acclaim and injecting the arcade racing genre with high-octane thrills all cradled inside playful environments. Hot Wheels: Unleashed allowed us to travel back to our puerile 90s-soaked pasts toying with Hot Wheels playsets, marveling at the various ways colourful plastic toy cars could entertain us for hours on end, only this time in a virtual arcade-racing videogame that was a dazzling pleasure to play. Now it’s time to get those toy car engines revving again with Hot Wheels Unleashed 2: Turbocharged, but is the speed of this latest outing an adrenaline rush, or does it careen head-on into the scenery?
For the uninitiated, Turbocharged is about breakneck speed, cool stunts, and levels situated on Hot Wheels playsets that are as imaginative and awesome to experience as the real deal, where you blast your turbo, drift around corners as plumes of smoke emits from your car’s backside, and caressing boost pads for high-speed volts over ramps. There’s a playful yet scintillating energy to the action that manages to strike a pristine balance between the joyful mayhem of playing with toy cars, and engaging in exciting arcade-racing dynamism.
Much of what made the original 2021 game so authentically Hot Wheels has remained intact in Turbocharged. Levels take place in a plethora of playful and inspired locations such as amusements arcades, canyons, backyards, bedrooms and uhh……gas stations?
In addition, Turbocharged includes an overwhelming amount of miniature toy cars to collect, each with their own attributes and coolness vibes. Vehicles run the gamete from ATVs and motorbikes to sports and drift machines, to towering monster trucks and tanks, which you can collect in abundance from the Garage option via the shop, as well as spinning wheels to obtain prizes, editing liveries and creating or changing stickers.
Turbocharged has gone all out and buck wild with its representation of the Hot Wheels experience, and it’s indubitably rad to see such unwavering faithfulness to the embodiment of what Hot Wheels truly represents. The options on display are colourful and bold, giving them a very friendly and vibrant appeal that many similar games in the genre lack.
Adding to this representation are the upgrades you can apply to each machine to make them more formidable. There are three upgrade tiers called Stock, Powered and Ultimate, each of them containing a small tree of upgrades, which seem to increase one attribute to your car whilst reducing the effectiveness of another. For example the Improved Braking perk increases your braking power, but at the cost of a boost charge gain. Yes, Hot Wheels should play on an even field to stop players from totally dominating, but an upgrade system is meant to empower your vehicles, not provide tradeoffs that stymie you slightly in other areas.
On-track action is as zippy and stuffed with adrenaline-rushing highspeed as you can expect given its predecessor. Boost pads are dotted liberally throughout each stage to give you a rip-roaring jolt forwards, green arrow-pointed barriers invite you to drift on the precipice of control as you scrape the peripheries of the track while trying desperately not to tumble off it, and there are many barriers for you to hop over and monstrous traps you need to avoid like a giant spider that spits out webs to put a halt to your surging momentum, encouraging you to race with a dab of caution every now and then. Some roadblocks like a giant crocodile who has its teeth biting down on the track, need to be given an immediate tooth extraction through the means of a turbo boost.
On the subject of caution, be very careful pairing boost with drift, your Hot Wheels machine is a delicate toy, so they can easily roll to their sides and upside down it can seem like a sweeping breeze could blow them out of proportion, but thankfully the hissing fans on the outskirts of bends won’t blast you away, though conversely, leaping from a great height can send your car bumbling, spinning and twisting uncontrollably upon landing, forcing copious trial and error restarts, especially when the challenges of Turbocharged’s career mode ramps up steeply towards the end.
Though it’s understandable that developers Milestone clearly wants the Hot Wheels collection of cars to feel like fragile toys and as close to the playsets as possible, as a racing game there are too many instances where you can succumb to minor mistakes mirroring the wholly annoying and painful instances of stubbing a toe. Turbocharged much like the first game, features tracks that mix the setting’s environment with the speedy and twisty Hot Wheels tracks, meaning you’ll be transitioning from flat open surfaces to narrow and tight tracks, and if you aren’t careful, you’ll smash into the front edge of the barrier where the flat surface transitions to the track, resulting in irritating moments where you need to reset your car and continue, likely losing position in the process. Such instances where you need to re-enter the fray after a minor hiccup can be too frequent, ruining the flow of races and at times confusing you when it’s the pathway forward on the track is obscured.
Race types are mildly varied with Quick Races, Time Trials, Drift Masters, Eliminations and Waypoints are the all that’s on offer in Turbocharged, each of them peppering the career mode and will keep you busy. Out of the lot, Waypoint is the most troublesome. They seem straightforward, blast your way to each checkpoint and make your way through them all to successfully complete them. However, they can be very easy to miss if you bolt full-speed towards them, and they can be placed in totally random location, you may even pass other inactive checkpoints on the way; suffices to say they’re boring and though they’re good showcases for the true speed of Hot Wheels, they can be too frustrating and eventually you’ll be finishing them with gasping relief, rather than fist-pumping rejoice.
The other modes are enjoyable but standard racing game fare. Drift Master challenges are liberating high-score chasing time trials, letting you rip around tracks as you leave smoky trails from finessing around corners. Like with Waypoint, Drift Master can be unwieldy if you’re overeager with acceleration, so a settled is again the optimum strategy. Time Attacks meanwhile, are all about getting to the finish line as fast as possible and are inoffensive, the same can be said about the quick races-they’re designed for the basic Turbocharged adrenaline rush and that means they are fine and dandy, unless you find your car pirouetting out of control on a stuck out object, or you attempt to bound upwards but don’t have the required energy to do so.
The main career option dubbed “Creature Rampage,” is presented through cheesy animated cutscenes related to a squad who’re attempting to eradicate threats all the while telling terrible jokes and taking selfies. The light-heartedness of these cutscenes gives it Saturday morning cartoon vibes which is delightful, but they’re too sparing to leave a lasting impression.
The career takes place over a board-style map, where upon completing events, you unlock new paths forward. Each race has a main goal you need to attain in order to make progress, but there is an additional “Unleashed Goal,” that can net you further rewards such as money and upgrade tools if you satisfy them.
Eventually, all roads lead you to a giant boss encounter, of which there are five spread across five districts. These bosses include a stingy Scorpion, a prehistoric Pterodactyl, and an imposing yeti. All of these encounters play out on a regular Hot Wheels set and your task is to bash a handful of targets that’ll weaken the boss, but you gotta be careful about a giant meter atop the screen, because if that meter fills, you’ll enrage the beast and need to restart the encounter. These bosses provide a dramatic finale to each district, ensuring that you blaze through every last target in as swift and exacting fashion as possible towards vanquishing these almighty foes.
It wouldn’t be Hot Wheels without creating and sharing your track designs, and thankfully Turbocharged has you covered in that area. The track builder is a nifty way for you to use preset backdrops and make tracks as devilish or as fancy as your heart desires, but if creation isn’t your thing there’s not a lot the track builder offers, it’s just a pleasant bonus if you want to whip up a spirally circuit of your own.
The audio-visual aspects of Turbocharged help it pop beautifully. Every level feels distinct and packed with their own auras. The arcade feels like an electric dreamscape, while the backyard is wide-open and feels large to explore. Peculiarly the wider levels don’t look as crisp as the narrower race tracks, but design wise, there’s an evident ambition to feature the big and small, so there’s plenty of flavour to the event types you participate in.
The soundtrack is quirky and bouncy, meshing comfortably with the vibes of Turbocharged in a pleasing and catchy way. The techno-like beats and the excitable tempo of the music invites you to jump into the action and race with glee. The only drawback is the music is reminiscent of the first game, and there’s not enough to distinguish the two soundtracks.
The return of Hot Wheels has brought with it mixed results. The racing action is undeniably exciting and pulse-quickening, which correlates wonderfully with the nostalgia of using the real-life playsets, and the are plenty of models to collect that you’ll feel spoilt for choice. However, Turbocharged is weighed down by overfamiliarity, unambitious race modes, on-track frustrations, and a sense not enough has been done to evolve this sequel. On a base-level, Turbocharged is a pleasure to play, but Milestone should try to stop toying around with this franchise, it’s got the va-va-voom to be something special, but unfortunately Turbocharged isn’t quite it.