Hill Climb Racing 2 is the perfect sequel. It successfully carries over the easy to jump into, acrobatic driving challenge of the original game and improves upon every aspect. The graphics are more detailed; the controls are tighter; and the new multiplayer modes and customizations elevate the series from an occasional diversion to a progress-focused, reward-laden cycle that’s hard to put down.
The basic gameplay is roughly the same as the original Hill Climb Racing: players control a vehicle (a jeep to start) piloted by Newton Bill (or his female counterpart, Jill?) as it zips along a hilly, bumpy road. You have only two inputs available—gas and brake—and must use these two pedals in tandem to make your way up giant inclines, down steep hills, over logs, between rocky crevices, and past plenty of other environmental obstacles. None of your vehicles are particularly heavy or dictated by gravity, allowing them to pop wheelies, fly through the air, and flip over with relative ease. Performing tricks like this will reward you with bonus points in the form of coins, but the minute your head touches the ground, your run is over.
Despite the limited controls, there’s a surprising amount of strategy and skill required to both progress quickly—in order to climb hills and prevent running out of fuel—and avoid toppling to your broken-neck death. You’ll often have to correct your trajectory mid-flight off a hilltop or as you barrel over a wobbly bridge, delicately balancing gas and brakes to avoid stalling or somersaulting. Each vehicle you can unlock drives quite differently: the starter jeep is slow but steady, the scooter is light and often airborne, the super jeep is furiously fast and rugged. Mastering one vehicle does not prepare you for the next, and each unlock opens up a new challenge in the form of both learning a car’s characteristics and upgrading its parts to improve its performance.
So far, this could still just be a description of the original Hill Climb Racing. The first major change the sequel has made is its drastically improved handling. Vehicles are still bouncy, barely-grounded rollercoaster cars that go flying at the slightest touch, but the physics in general feel more consistent and conquerable. The first game’s physics were by no means bad, but the second’s are even better.
The next big change is the addition of décor and, by extension, reward chests. You can now deck out Newton Bill with different hats, shirts, pants, and even heads (we really like that one of the “epic” heads is just Bill with a clean shave), as well as each vehicle with your choice of paint and wheels. While aesthetic features like this aren’t a huge draw for everyone, it’s greatly appreciated in a game where you spend 90% of your time staring at the same character and car. It also adds another goal beyond just driving well: earning chests for driving well and completing each collection of decorative items.
Really, though, the ultimate change and the feature that truly propels Hill Climb Racing 2 ahead of its predecessor is the addition of a race mode. In addition to the solo “Adventure” mode which still lets you drive endlessly until you crash or run out of fuel, the newly added “Cups” challenges you to short, finite races against three other players. These are ghost versions of other people, so you never have to wait for a lobby to fill up before diving into a match. As fun as the distance driving mode always was, racing is where the series really shines.
Flying past other cars just in time to steal first place, sacrificing a fuel refill for a shortcut, watching your opponents roll backwards down a hill as you claw your way upward to victory: these exhilarating, short bursts of racing chaos are what Hill Climb Racing was made for. It forces you to try risky strategies of near-crashing in order to eke out a win, but even fatal mistakes are only minor setbacks: most Cups contain two or three rounds, allowing you to catch up in points in later races if a broken neck disqualifies you in one. Your ghost opponents do not affect your vehicle or surroundings, so you’ll still collect coins and fuel even if you’re trailing behind. The racing aspect is so much fun that the Adventure mode now contains ghosts of your past trips to race against, and there’s an asynchronous challenge you can send just to friends.
Through winning Cups and moving up in rank you’ll unlock new environments to tackle and new vehicles to purchase. If there is any regression from the first game, it’s in the number of vehicles currently available: only five cars are unlockable right now, versus the original game’s 29.
Of course, developer Fingersoft updated Hill Climb Racing often over the past three years, adding 13 of those vehicles in post-launch updates, so we have high hopes that the sequel will see plenty of new content during its lifecycle. There are already 11 environments (with multiple racetracks each) and 146 customizations, so there’s still plenty to unlock and explore.
We’ve been having a blast bouncing over hills, zipping past other racers, and testing the limits of our vehicles’ air time before claiming first place—or crashing into a giant log. Dressing up Bill/Jill, unlocking new ranks and locations, and joy-riding through the country alongside our own ghosts are just bonuses on top of an already fantastic experience. Hill Climb Racing 2 takes the wonderfully reckless car-flinging from the first game and mixes it with the joy of beating other players, all while wearing a Viking helmet. That is, apparently, all we ever wanted.