Hot Wheels Unleashed by Milestone has taken the world by storm upon its recent release on PlayStation, PC, Xbox and Nintendo Switch. Receiving universal praise, we think that it’s not only the best game by the Milan-based studio yet but also a return to high-production arcade racing games – something the world has been lacking for far too long.
While the game is accessible, with approachable handling and several AI difficulty levels, there are a few elements that aren’t perhaps immediately obvious. Here are the main tricks to get the most out of your Hot Wheels Unleashed experience.
How to get a quick race start
First up, let’s talk about kicking off a race on the starting line. When on the regular start line (see the video above for a visual depiction) hold down accelerate immediately after the ‘3’ disappears to gain boost on the starting line. You’ll know you’ve timed this correctly as your wheels will start to spin.
How close you are to the ‘3’ disappearing will determine how much boost you get, and make sure to keep the trigger held down and be ready to mash the boost button when the word ‘Go!!’ appears.
Drift your way to victory
You’re in a tiny race car, you’re wanting to go as fast as possible, right?
Heading into a corner, you can tap the brake to go into a drift, steering as and where to tighten or loosen your turn. However, not every corner can be drifted around at full pelt. Don’t be afraid to brake for a corner before swinging your back end out into a drift.
There are some pretty nasty tight turns after boost sections or big jumps, so don’t solely treat the brake as a drift button. Use it as a brake too, like in most other racing video games, and your lap times will thank you for not going sideways into a wall.
Strategically use boost
There are two different types of boost cars can have in Hot Wheels Unleashed. The first is the more familiar boost bar, the other is a number of pips.
If your vehicle has the boost bar, hold the boost button to drain as much or as little boost as you like, whereas with the pips, tap boost button to drain a pips-worth (no less), or hold down to continue draining however many full pips of you have.
You gain boost slowly by default, but you can speed up the process by drifting, drafting and driving over the grey boost strips.
An overall rule I’d recommend not sitting on your boost. You’re always gaining it back in some way, shape or form throughout a race, so use it as and when you can. The AI definitely will be.
Plus, make sure you’re keeping some boost on-hand for loops. Sometimes they’re pretty big, and you can stall at the top and fall down. Boost on the way up and you should be golden. Definitely watch out for the triple loop track in the Garage area later on. That one’s a doozy.
You gain boost by drifting, driving over boost top-up strips and slipstreaming. So, sliding around a corner is not only the most fun way around a track, but it also provides boost for the straights. The pads that enhance your boost acquisition are grey emanate electrified blue sparks. No extra speed is gained, unlike the neon green chevrons, but your bar is topped up. If neither is an option, duck in behind a fellow competitor, stay in their draft and watch your boost gauge increase.
Controlling your vehicle in the air
No surprise that Hot Wheels Unleashed has jumps involved. Pretty big ones at times. When you’ve got said boost under your wing, you can rotate your car mid-air using the left stick, and boost yourself back on track if you’ve misjudged a jump and are about to fall into oblivion.
In combination with the left stick, you can use the right stick to adjust your roll when in mid-air. There are a few tracks that expect you to roll 180 degrees to not end up like a turtle on its back, so keep an eye out and react accordingly.
Purple Boost Pads
Alongside the boost recharge and speedy chevron strips on the track, you’ll occasionally come across circular boost pads that provide you with a bit of a kick without using any of your accrued boost.
One thing to keep in mind with these is the activation hitbox is slightly taller. Your wheels don’t need to be touching them for them to be activated. Say you’ve hit a ramp and you’re slightly above it, chances are you’ll still get a boost.
Don’t take the silver magnetic tracks for granted. While you do get some amazing gravity-defying moments when driving around on the ceiling, don’t assume that you’re literally going to stick to the track. Unlike Mario Kart 8 and Trackmania Turbo’s zero-g surfaces, these won’t keep you pinned to the track if you’re coming up over a hill or suddenly heading downwards.
The barriers in Hot Wheels Unleashed can be a bit of a pain. It’s even worse to know that their hitbox appears to be slightly wider than its model, so if you think you can squeeze between the track wall and a barrier – chances are you won’t. Just give them a bit of space.
One of the bigger obstacles you come up against, you can avoid the spider’s web traps if you’re lucky. Stick to the side of the track (provided already-laid webs aren’t in the way), and the spider may overshoot and miss the track entirely.
If you’re approaching and the spider shoots a web towards you early, boost and you’ll sail beneath it. There doesn’t appear to be any specific distance away that’ll trigger the spider sending a web, so these tips might not work every time.
Sometimes you will just get hit. I’ve had it shoot directly down at me when underneath it. However, if you do get caught, don’t waste any boost trying to escape. It’s a timed trap and will let you go irrelevant of how much you button-mash. Save your boost for when the webs break and make a quick getaway.
Finally, don’t worry about dodging webs at the same spider after you’ve been caught once already. You’ll only get trapped by the same one again once you’re on a new lap.
Another obstacle you can try and avoid being hard-done by is the Cobra. Jump into its giant maw, take a hard, dropping left and immediately loop over the top.
If you’re coming up to it as its mouth is opening, you’ll more than likely make the jump. If it’s open and completely still, you might want to slow down a touch as at any moment it will snap closed. It doesn’t stay shut for long, so no need to come to a complete stop. Just be ready to boost across the gap if you’ve lost more momentum than you’re hoping for.
If however you’re amidst a tense race for the win and don’t want to slow down, stick to bang on the middle of the track, as if the mouth closes before you’re through, you might just land on the protruding tongue and not have to reset.
Also appearing around the track are fans, usually set to try and push you off course entirely. However, they can come in useful when drifting around corners, especially tight ones, as you can go in with much more speed and the fans will do a good amount of the work for you! Of course, be sure to drive against the breeze when on a straight, otherwise they will manage to do what they set out to do.
If one, or any of these obstacles completely screw you over (or you’ve hit a track wall so hard you’ve gone flying over the edge), you can hold the reset button. The moment you know you’re not going to make a jump or you’re about to fall to your doom, immediately hold down your top face button.
Resetting to the track doesn’t include any penalty aside from going backwards a little, and there is a second or so of your boost being disabled post-reset. But it’s definitely worth taking the reset immediately rather than wasting a few seconds falling knowing you’re going to need to reset anyway.
Shortcuts are possible
Sometimes, however, you might want to throw yourself off the track, because provided there are no checkpoints in between sections, you could save yourself a lot of time by taking a shortcut. Either dropping off the side of the circuit onto another section of track or cutting up a coned-off section on a table, your leaderboard and lap times could be mind-bogglingly good.
However, this is probably something you’ll master once you know the tracks pretty well. I don’t recommend yeeting yourself off the track the first time you’re driving it…
How to beat the Time Trials
Okay, we’ve talked enough about the specifics you’ll come up against in a race, let’s talk about a specific mode. I don’t need to explain what a ‘time trial’ is, but in Hot Wheels Unleashed you will have two potential times to beat.
One being a simple completion time, the other being the ‘Unleashed’ time. Beating either time on your first lap will end the session. Slowmo, leaderboard, et cetera.
But if you beat neither time, when you cross the line the timer will simply start anew until you beat either one. If you’ve beaten the normal time and want to have a go at the Unleashed time, as per before, the session will only end when crossing the line if you beat the Unleashed time. No needless resetting between times set. Nice!
Unlocking the secrets
When playing through the Hot Wheels City Rumble single-player mode, you will come up against sections marked as ‘Secret.’ Hovering over it you’ll see some flavour text about the unlock conditions, and while it might look cryptic, it’s actually pretty straightforward.
For example, “Amazing Drivers: with a special appearance by Motorsaurus” quite literally means driving the event ‘Amazing Drivers’ in the Motorsaurus car and finishing within the top three. Simple. Some of the Special events are phrased as such, but some are slightly different. Nothing is overly cryptic, but hopefully this little prompt will help you understand how to unlock them all.
Selling and dismantling vehciles
A big part of the game is collecting the cars, and while the grind for Blind Boxes could probably be improved, when it comes to inevitably unboxing duplicates, there is quite literally no point in keeping them.
When in the ‘Collection’ menu, holding either trigger sells or dismantles your car respectively. Selling them for Coins means more cash for either more Blind Boxes or checking out the Limited Offers, or dismantling for Gears means you can upgrade the cars you’re using race to race.
Using gears to upgrade your cars sounds pretty obvious on the tin, which to some extent it is, but keep in mind while your Speed, Acceleration, Braking Power and Handling will increase with an upgrade, your boost might in fact decrease, or even swap between pips and a boost bar. This is something to keep in mind if you’re not wanting only a single pip of boost on a car you want to turn into Legendary status.
Using custom liveries
Hot Wheels Unleashed shipped with a pretty impressive Livery Editor, and you can sink hours into making the best liveries. Look, I made a McLaren MCL35!
But getting a livery you made into the library of ones you can actually use is pretty strange. First, you’ve got to save and share your livery to the community. Then, head to the ‘Shared Liveries’ section on the main menu, download your own livery, and then it will appear in the car selection ‘change livery’ menu. Bit of a convoluted way of doing things, but at least it works. Kind of.
Despite driving miniature cars in context, the cars in Hot Wheels Unleashed handle surprisingly differently – this you probably know. But, don’t take the cosmetic side of cars for granted. Vehicles such as the Buns of Steel are pretty tall, so you will find it toppling over if you slam it into a drift too hard. It doesn’t mean that a lower down car won’t have that issue, as the Audi R8 Spyder I was using in our split-screen video was doing it too, but keep your eyes peeled.
How to defeat the Volcano *Spoiler Alert*
An ending set piece you’ll be coming up against in the City Rumble mode is this the volcano, a steaming helix of complete bullsh*t. Stick to the outside edges of the track here, as steam jets can launch you either onto the track below or straight down the middle and off entirely. Also, as the track tightens and steepens as you approach the summit, avoid boosting as to not launch yourself beyond the track.
Definitely play it cool through this sweltering heat, as you don’t want to scupper your chances of a win or a podium right at the end of the race. Personally, I’d just remove them from the game. Bloody hate them.
So those are our handy little tidbits to help you hopefully win more in Hot Wheels Unleashed. Are you enjoying your time out on these plastic roller coasters? And do you have any more tips and tricks to help out other players? Stick them down in the comments section below!