Publisher: Destination Software
Developer: Raylight Studios
N Amer - 06/29/2007
Hot Wheels Ultimate Racing Review
Blasting past the 10-foot-tall claws of a scorpion, the driver – enjoying life in his futuristic, off-market sports car – fires a turbo boost just before approaching a ramp. For two very quick seconds, he soars through the air as if his vehicle were meant to take flight. Landing safely, though not without a resounding thud too strong for his shock absorber to handle, the driver whips into three winding corners, hugging the street like a kid hanging onto a teddy bear. He comes out of the corners, fires another turbo and blows away all spectators as his vehicle defies gravity and speeds through a 360-degree loop.
This is what life was like at breakfast. At lunch he battled fiery hoops, crushing boulders, and a large vehicle-flattening machine that could strike fear in any car guy. (Jay Leno better keep his classics far away from this competition.)
At dinner he slammed through a multi-tiered sea world – a place where you don’t have to double cross the mob to swim with the fishies. Drive above and below H2O in a pressurized tank that keeps water from filtering in. It was an intensely fast experience, but that was only the beginning.
At midnight he was pulling slow-motion moves to more thoroughly steer his vehicle while flying through the air. By 6 a.m. his joy ride nearly came to a screeching halt when, after being faced with one too many ramps, a bad fall almost cost him the race. He was devastated and relieved at the same time – thrilled that he had won, but furious at himself for not preventing the fall.
You could grab a Woody doll, put on your best Toy Story impersonation and scream, “You are a toy!” But this driver wouldn’t care. He likes his world, and once you enter, it won’t be hard to figure out why.
Gamers who are old enough to remember Extreme-G, the ill-fated Acclaim franchise, may think they’re too old to bother playing a new Hot Wheels game. Though some have been pretty good, I can’t entirely disagree with that assumption, especially after playing the latest game for PSP – Hot Wheels: Ultimate Racing. This racer, with its Extreme-G-style thrills and F-Zero GX-crushing gameplay is everything a player – young or old – looks for in a racing game. It makes all previous Hot Wheels titles appear to be nothing more than a child’s plaything.
Two occurrences will strike the player while racing the first two courses: the controls are great and the speed is super-intense. Aside from Wipeout and Burnout, which produce different effects for exhilaration, the PSP doesn’t usually get the mind-blowing, jaw-on-the-floor gameplay brought to PlayStation 2. That’s precisely why you’ll be stunned by every twist and turn the game throws at you. It’s not that it hasn’t been done elsewhere – it has. But it is almost never done on a handheld platform, and it is only rarely executed with this much polish and efficiency.
The PSP’s pseudo-thumbstick is not as approachable as the Dual-Shock 2’s analog sticks. But after about 30 minutes of gripping corners (or running into them) and flying across ramps, the game becomes very easy to control. Steering is extremely tight, allowing for some of the most ridiculous – and most satisfying – last-second maneuvers. The physics are solid but without destruction. Vehicles come with a good amount of realism, pushing each other into walls and other hazards.
However, like the toy cars the game is based on, they do not show signs of damage, either physically or aesthetically. They get right back on the track and may continue the race. And though we love to see explosions and body damage, it’s doubtful that any amount of destruction would have made this game better. Chances are it would have taken away from the overall speed of the game, which is generally a non-stop experience.
This is a PSP Game!?
Most game reviews have a brief section that talks about a gameplay issue that relates to the visuals, such as clipping or frame-rate problems. If you try really hard you might just spot a bit of clipping in Hot Wheels: Ultimate Racing. But you won’t see the frame rate suffer. Not when the game is filled with flames, oversized insects, or screen-filling objects that serve no purpose other than to prevent your vehicle from successfully jumping between two platforms. Gamers should be able to expect this from every title, but that’s not usually the case. What’s more amazing is that, as courses are unlocked, as upgrades are awarded, and as your speed increases, the frame rate and exhilarating sensations only get better.
One thing that surprised me in a less positive light, especially when considering the rest of the game’s content, is how dark some of the courses are. The game is big on lava worlds, which are – according to the action/adventure genre – supposed to be filled with dark hues of red and orange. Since the PSP has limited picture-tweaking features, you can’t lighten the screen to entirely eliminate the darkness. The opposite wouldn’t have been better – make the game too bright and you’ll drive us crazy. But while this was something I could tolerate, I’m not sure an impatient eight-year-old will feel the same way
Other than that, the only thing to consider before speeding down to the nearest retailer is that the game is a little short. The replayability compensates for the lack of courses. Note that I did not say course variety. Ultimate Racing’s courses are vastly different from each other. But there are only six “Ultimate Challenge” competitions, with only 2-4 races per competition. Tracks are repeated in almost every tier, so you won’t end up with a unique batch every time.
However, going back to the replay value, this is where the game excels. You won’t dread a second or third race with the same course – you’ll look forward to it.
Review Scoring Details for Hot Wheels Ultimate Racing
Intensely fast, jaw-dropping gameplay in the palm of your hand. Hot Wheels: Ultimate Racing is the ultimate Hot Wheels title.
Unbelievable. Hot Wheels: Ultimate Racing is a stunning game with tons of thrills that’ll blow your mind. (The dark picture might not, but that’s a whole other story…)
Not spectacularly good or bad, Ultimate Racing’s techno soundtrack is one you might feel like you’ve heard before – and not care either way.
Most players aren’t likely to lose a race until they’ve reached the fourth or fifth challenge.
Hot Wheels license meets Extreme-G gameplay. It’s not an original idea by any means, but I love it.
Ad-hoc play for up to four Hot Wheels enthusiasts.
Hot Wheels: Ultimate Racing belongs in any gamer’s library that already houses Wipeout and Burnout. Both of those games are the best in their leagues, and Hot Wheels is the best in its area of the genre. Even with a short challenge mode, Ultimate Racing is a great buy.
Intensely fast, jaw-dropping gameplay in the palm of your hand
Reviewer: Louis Bedigian
Review Date: 07/16/2007