There’s a new Hot Wheels game on the way from Milestone, the studio responsible for the MotoGP official games, Ride and Sebastian Loeb Rally Evo. Called Hot Wheels Unleashed, the game is headed for last and current-gen platforms on September 30. There’s a slick pre-rendered trailer you can check out, that shows recognizable Hot Wheels creations like the Twin Mill and Bone Shaker racing on a miniature track in a life-size garage.
The game was only just announced and the trailer doesn’t show gameplay, so there really isn’t much to go on at the moment. What I will say is this, though: Do not sleep on Hot Wheels games. They can be extremely rad, when done right.
If you need an example, look no further than Hot Wheels Turbo Racing. Released in 1999 for the PlayStation and Nintendo 64, Hot Wheels Turbo Racing would’ve seemed like a cheap licensed budget title based on a toy brand, as there were oh so many piling on consoles at the time. In actuality, it was one of the finest unsung arcade racers of its day.
This was a game packed with secrets, thanks to sprawling, diverse track design that sent Mattel’s diecasts to futuristic factories, snowy mountaintops, majestic canyons and spooky forests. Turbo Racing dared to go beyond playrooms and living room floors, and it was better for it.
There was also an element of discovery to the game, which wasn’t particularly unusual at the time thanks to contemporaries like Beetle Adventure Racing — another Electronic Arts-published title. Courses were loaded with shortcuts, weapon pickups, status buffs and — the most coveted of all — secret car unlocks. It was almost as much of an adventure game as it was a racing game. Plus, you could flip and spin your car in midair by moving the analog stick, which sounds quaint now but felt really great at the time.
But you cannot sing the praises of Hot Wheels Turbo Racing without acknowledging its unlikeliest strength: the music. The full-motion video cinematic sets things off on a promising note, with Metallica’s Fuel — a fine opener. But that’s just the start.
On Turbo Racing’s soundtrack, you’ll find Mix Master Mike, Primus, The Mermen, The Reverend Horton Heat and Link-freaking-Wray, to name a few. It’s a tremendously inspired list of 13 songs that span big beat electronica to surf rock and psychobilly — a collection of songs you would never, ever expect to encounter in a Hot Wheels-branded game ostensibly made for children. I really don’t know if I could pick a favorite — it changes depending on the day, anyway — so today we’re going to give it to Meat Beat Manifesto’s “Eclectic People.”
A good soundtrack can transform any game, but especially a racing game — the same way the right tunes can make a mundane drive better. Growing up, I played the N64 version of Turbo Racing, which unfortunately shortened the songs to looping 40-second clips so they could fit within the memory constraints of the system’s cartridges. This is the same reason why licensed songs in Tony Hawk games on the N64 were similarly abridged. It was a casualty of the limited technology of the time, though the most memorable aspects of the songs were usually preserved, so they still left an impression. This is how a cartoony game about driving toy cars becomes a gateway drug to incredible music.
Now, I don’t expect Hot Wheels Unleashed to be the spiritual successor to Turbo Racing, nor do I expect anything I liked about that 22-year-old game to apply to the new one. I, myself, am not a kid anymore, so no matter how good Unleashed is, it could never hit me the same way Turbo did.
Still, I bring the old game up because it’s proof, in the same way that many of Pixar’s best films are, that things that are cool to adults can also sometimes be cool to children, and vice versa. Not everything must be watered down. And if you’re making a thing for kids and you do it right, it might just end up being something they carry with them for the rest of their lives.