For all intents and purposes, Hot Wheels: Race Off is a simplified Trials game. Rather than bikes you’re driving Hot Wheels cars, and rather than just chasing the end of the track you’re competing against an opponent, but those differences are mainly just skin deep. Sharing the same creators, it’s largely the same experience as MMX Hill Climb — but with the fun of plastic tracks and a familiar brand.
Interestingly though, one thing the game does take to heart from its inspiration is its difficulty. This is by no means a walk in the park, and while the crashes and tragedies are intriguing, you’re going to see them a lot in your first hour of play. But Hot Wheels Race Off doesn’t quite manage to entangle you in the same way as that classic Trials experience. And that means the push to keep going is sometimes overwhelmed by the frustration of watching your best laid plans end in an upside down explosion or a bland running out of fuel.
The game sees you driving a toy car down a toy track. There are jumps, there are lumps and there are loops. And to get through them you’ve only got two controls. Tap one pedal to accelerate, tap the other to brake or reverse. When you’re in the air you can tap the brake to tilt one way and the accelerator to tilt the other way. And you’ll need to, because the leaps you’re performing are going to end in catastrophic crashes if you don’t.
You’ve also got a fuel gauge that you need to keep an eye on. If it runs out, you won’t be able to finish a level. There are fuel cans spread out over the levels, but if you mess up too much then you’re going to struggle to grab them before the game ends your run ignominiously.
As you drive through the game you’ll earn coins, and you need to spend these to make your vehicle better. And you’re going to need to be spending regularly. It’s unlikely that you’re going to finish even the first level without upgrading your attributes a good few times.
There’s a twist here in that you’re racing against the best run of some real-life players. Some of them won’t get all the way through the level, and others will get to the end long before you do, meaning if you want to top the leaderboard you’re going to have to go back with a souped up car and try all over again.
Just getting to the end of a track opens up the next though, so if you don’t want to chase the best time you can focus on the next track that you’ve unlocked. The tracks are well designed, and the game looks surprisingly slick, with your races weaving through a city that seems to be made up of enticing and far away loops and jumps.
There’s fun to be had here, but it’s fun that’s tempered a little too harshly with frustration. You’ll be grinding your teeth over and over as you try and get up that slope that keeps foiling you. It’s sort of like smashing your face into orange plastic over and over. But then you’ll get the upgrades that you need, and things will start flowing and you’ll smash through the tracks with a smile on your face. Until the next peak that hurts you, then you’ll go back to the same grind.
I’ll be honest, I’ve never played with any Hot Wheels toys, but I’m pretty sure that if the physical game was this annoying then it wouldn’t have done as well as it has. This digital version is interesting, but it’s not much more than that.