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Review by: Jason Purdy
Published: December 14, 1999
Every male in the history of modern civilization played with Hot Wheels cars when they were young, and the lucky ones had the playsets with the multicolored tracks to boot. These had pieces that looped and spun around on themselves like roller coasters, and the inevitable fantasy we all fell into was that we were inside those cars, zipping around on our own tracks. The team at EA decided to tap into that daydream by creating over a dozen of the wildest Hot Wheels tracks we ever could have imagined, placing them in bizarre locations like abandoned mine shafts and tropical islands. Then came the coup de grace–full control of the miniature cars we had simply pushed along the tracks before, allowing us to run them against a host of competing vehicles in a sometimes vicious race for the finish line.
To add to the fun, they included another element that will be immediately familiar to all of us who used to send our Hot Wheels hurtling from tabletops and the occasional balcony to see if they would land on their wheels. You see, a very large component of any Hot Wheels Turbo Racing (HWTR) competition is the performance of various stunts. Each track is covered with powerups and ramps that send you soaring, and once in the air you can make your car rotate horizontally to do helicopter stunts, flip end over end for somersaults or backflips, or spin along its axis in a barrel boll. Each trick gives you turbo boosts that provide the extra burst of speed needed to stay ahead of the competition. These tricks can be strung together for even more turbos. As an example, doing five barrel rolls in a row without touching the ground earns you a “Spiral Madness” and gives you between five and eight extra turbos. If that’s not enough, you can combine two or more different types of tricks, such as a helicopter spin followed by two barrel rolls, and get combo points that often fill your turbo meter to the top.
Unfortunately, what sounds like a great idea in theory does not translate into a good game. While HWTR has some genuine potential, most of it is never realized. A majority of the tracks and cars are locked away at the beginning and need to be unlocked by competing in the Hot Wheels Cup and winning a certain number of races. If you do well in the first cup, others are opened up for you to compete in, which in turn unlock even more cars and races. It all sounds pretty standard so far, but there are a couple of tiny details that bog the entire thing down. First of all, each racetrack is fairly large when compared to your average title. This in itself isn’t a big problem; the problem is that each race in the cup mode consists of six laps around the track. This means that your average race can take anywhere from seven to nine minutes. Thankfully, most of the races are fairly easy to get through, so you won’t find yourself repeating them often.
However, most of the tracks contain a number of traps and pitfalls that can utterly demolish your car in an eye blink, setting you far behind the competition and often ending your chances of winning. While I don’t mind realistic traps in a course, most of the ones in HWTR are simply ludicrous. For example, the racing course set in the mine shaft occasionally crosses over some wagon tracks, and wagons that travel along those same tracks can smash through your car. My objection to this is that there is no warning for when a wagon is coming along. It just appears out of nowhere and destroys you without giving you any way to avoid it. I don’t have a problem with difficult racetracks, but when a game frivolously destroys you in such a way, it gets frustrating.
I should also point out that the graphics in Hot Wheels Turbo Racing look like something you would expect from a first generation PSX title. When you consider that racing games are coming out that look as good as the last offering in the Need For Speed series or the upcoming Gran Turismo 2, the graphics in HWTR are almost amateurish. The rendering engine is one of the worst I have ever seen and is plagued with more clipping errors than the first Tomb Raider. You are constantly given glimpses through walls of the tracks and cars on the other side, and while there’s nothing wrong with being a little clairvoyant at times, it shouldn’t be a result of bad programming. The appearance of the cars themselves, on the other hand, are a high point. They are all based on real life Hot Wheels models and very closely resemble the toys we played with as kids. It is almost a shame that our beloved toys were tossed into such an unattractive playground.
If this title had shipped with all of the available cars and tracks unlocked from the very beginning or if the cup modes hadn’t been so utterly tedious, I probably wouldn’t have found HWTR to be so torturous of an experience. Unfortunately, if you want to play with any of the cool cars, you have to slog your way through one endless race after another, having your eyes burned by the hideously garish colors that adorn most of the tracks. To describe this title as tedious is a grievous understatement. Some of the later tracks are very imaginative and well designed, but after unlocking them, you’ll be too tired to ever want to see them again. Likewise, once you get the faster and more agile cars, some very impressive stunts become possible, but you won’t have much desire to perform them. The multiplayer mode attempts to add a little bit of replayability, but fails. Once one player gets a lead, he will find himself collecting the lions share of powerups, which let him do more stunts, earn more turbos and get farther ahead. It’s a terrible cycle that inevitably leaves one player in the dust hoping that the leader will wipe out enough times to let him or her catch up.
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