Hot Wheels Unleashed 2 - Turbocharged review: Wonky Racers

Hot Wheels Unleashed was a surprising success. Can Turbocharged produce the same energy?


Hot Wheels Unleashed was an odd game, a scrappy racer that used its iconic license to its fullest. It wasn’t the most amazing racing game, but its brand authenticity and overall sense of polish led to a warm reception. Frankly though, while the aesthetic was fun the actual mechanics, physics, and weird difficulty balancing made it a miss for this writer. The sequel, Turbocharged, arrives with more or less the same foundation, but with several intended improvements bolted on.

Yep, it's a sequel. It does sequel things

Screenshot showing cars double jumping in hot wheels unleashed 2
Source: Milestone

The result is a game that certainly feels better. There’s a real drifting mechanic this time, and banging into a wall on a sharp turn doesn’t instantly make my car flop around like a dying fish. The respawn button is still here though, which is still a red flag billowing at full mast. The developers also added a couple gimmicks like jumping and “dashing” or an F-Zero-like attack maneuver. But at the end of the day, Turbocharged feels almost like the same game with some bits and pieces moved around.

More money, same problems

A car in hot wheels unleashed 2 racing alongside a group of golf balls
Source: Milestone

Hot Wheels Unleashed 2 has the same major issue the first game had, in that it betrays its kid-friendly, toylike charms with bizarrely punitive pacing and aggressive rubber-banding. Taking turns is still an exercise that feels like it stops just short of being a more hardcore racing sim, and making any mistake feels like a guarantee for failure. Meanwhile, you get to choose between pretty much racing by yourself on easy or fighting for your life on medium.

A weird story mode really ramps up the intended appeal to younger players, with a very Saturday morning cartoon vibe with goofy characters, a silly premise, and bright colors. But the carefree fun times are peppered with things like painfully long “boss” stages that require you to hit targets like a distant cousin of Superman 64. If you miss one target on the wrong part of the track, get ready to start the whole race over!

Similar gimmick modes start out fun and novel, then eventually succumb to the same snags. One mode has you chasing waypoints through the environments normally limited to window-dressing outside the tracks. You mostly avoid the actual tracks here, but the demands made for things like sharp turns are beyond the means of these poor vehicles which makes chasing timed rewards too stressful.

Identity crisis on infinite plastic race tracks

Bird's-eye view of Dinosaur Museum location in hot wheels unleashed 2
Source: Milestone

Considering I was playing a Hot Wheels game for kids, and considering how loosey-goosey the fundamental racing felt, it was always disconcerting how sweaty the moment to moment gameplay felt. Why did I have to feel so “on” all the time, while driving around a dinosaur-themed track in a car that was literally a toilet on wheels? The vibes feel so confused here.

Ultimately, while there are tons of neat unlockables, fun customization modes, and a thrilling sense of speed and haphazardness, Hot Wheels Unleashed as a series feels confused about what its goal is. There’s fun to be had for sure, especially if you take the time to master drifting and gel with the super grindy unlockables systems. But I can’t imagine playing this with a child over something like Mario Kart or Team Sonic Racing, two games that simply feel more cohesive and logical.

Honestly, unless you’re a big fan of Hot Wheels themselves, and derive a lot of joy from unlocking the different digitized versions of real-world toys, you can do better. Cruisin’ Blast came out the same year the first Unleashed did, and that game captured the essence of banging toy cars together in over the top racing environments perfectly. In comparison, Turbocharged is more scattershot, trying to be a Jack of All Trades and only hitting the bullseye with the IP’s aesthetic.

Hot Wheels Unleashed 2: Turbocharged is available on October 19, 2023 for the Nintendo Switch, Playstation 4/5, Xbox One and Series X/S, and PC. A code for the PC version was provided by the publisher for review.

Contributing Editor

Lucas plays a lot of videogames. Sometimes he enjoys one. His favorites include Dragon Quest, SaGa, and Mystery Dungeon. He's far too rattled with ADHD to care about world-building lore but will get lost for days in essays about themes and characters. Holds a journalism degree, which makes conversations about Oxford Commas awkward to say the least. Not a trophy hunter but platinumed Sifu out of sheer spite and got 100 percent in Rondo of Blood because it rules. You can find him on Twitter @HokutoNoLucas being curmudgeonly about Square Enix discourse and occasionally saying positive things about Konami.

  • Lots of unlockables
  • Nails the Hot Wheels aesthetic
  • New mechanics are improvements
  • Similar fundamental problems to the first game's
  • Weirdly punitive in contrast with tone/audience
  • Lots of grinding to progress
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