Gaming review: Hot Wheels Unleashed is an unexpected delight
An unabashed celebration of die cast toy cars
We're sad to report that we've finally reached the age where it's no longer socially acceptable to play with die cast cars. It's all about 'conversations' at 'dinner parties'. And we know from bitter experience it's particularly frowned upon if you ramp a Rip Rod off the gravy boat.
Hot Wheels Unleashed, out now on Xbox, PlayStation, PC and Nintendo Switch, might be the answer to our prayers, though. Stored safely in our game console, far away from the judgement of our more sensible peers, this game is designed specifically as a celebration of die cast cars.
Rather than imagining the fantastical garage of Hot Wheels vehicles as life-sized rides, this game instead uses all the graphical horsepower of the newest generation of consoles to recreate the most convincing toy cars you've ever seen. Everything from the thickness of the paint, through the coarse metallic flake, to the plastic sheen of the wheels is pitch perfect. In its own way, this cheery, family-friendly racer is one of the most beautiful games we've ever seen. It's like accidentally falling in love with a CBeebies presenter.
Hot Wheels Unleashed also completely understands the nostalgic joy and child-like thrill of collecting toy cars. The entire game is structured in such a way that you gradually build a collection of 60 or so models, via 'blind boxes' that award you a mystery vehicle or limited time offers in the shop. And while the game is ostensibly designed for kids, Hot Wheels Unleashed knows its real audience is adults who steadfastly refuse to grow up. That's why you can also unlock KITT from Knight Rider, the Ninja Turtles van and the DeLorean Time Machine.
Elsewhere a fully featured circuit editor also allows you to use about eight Christmases' worth of plastic track pieces to create your own gravity-defying Hot Wheels course, with loops, banked turns and, if you like, a finish line that launches your toy cars off the side of a skyscraper. If you read in the news next week that someone was killed by a tiny Audi R8 Spyder at terminal velocity, you can blame this game.
This ode to childhood fun would all be worth nothing if the game didn't play well, but while its combination of swooping plastic track and quirky, drifty handling feels strange and unique, it does result in entertaining arcade races. The only occasionally irritating thing is that the real-life experience of your car flying off the track at a jump and skittering under the sofa is absolutely replicated here.
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