Review: Hot Wheels Turbo Racing (N64)

In this review, we find out if we have mad skills as we play the N64 game Hot Wheels Turbo Racing. We find out if this racing game is worth a play.

This game was released in 1999. It is one of many Hot Wheels racing games released on various platforms, but for us, it is the first game in the series we’ve played.

While there is no real storyline to this game, the game is based off of the famous toy cars.

At the start of the game, players have a number of ways to race in this game. They can play in a single race exhibition race, take on the airtime challenges, or go straight for the championship cup.

In the exhibition race, players will take on a standard field of 5 opponents. Players can choose between a number of tracks that have already been unlocked. From there, a car can be selected to begin the race. While cars can be selected from the main menu, ideally, you want to go into the actual car selection sub-menu. In this menu, players can not only get a chance to look at the history and make of the car, but also various stats. These stats include durability, handling, speed, and stunt capabilities.

There is also an options menu which allows players to choose the difficulty, music being played, and a host of other things.

You can also “sign in”. This allows players to save their progress and even use a name to their liking. When you are happy, you can start the race.

In the races themselves, you’ll quickly notice that you are driving on rather colourful courses. Large parts of the tracks are inspired by the Hotwheels plastic interconnected tracks. Still, part of the challenge is the fact that other parts of the track can be dirt, ice, and whatever other hazards lay in wait for you. For those of you who played a number of SNES games, this game does have features that resemble what is found in Uniracers. In fact, you could almost call it a spiritual successor of sorts.

One of the big features of this game is stunt tricks. If you perform a stunt, you’ll get to recharge your “Turbo” meter. Sometimes, you can perform stunts without even realizing it. Every time you find yourself with a little air time, that’s the opportunity to perform stunts.

There are basic tricks you can perform. This includes Stolen Air, Big Air, and Ramp Kick. These stunts adds one turbo to your turbo meter. To perform them, you may not have to do anything at all other than launch your car in the air. Sometimes, they may not count, but sometimes, they do. To make them count more frequently, use your control stick and move your car around in the air. This can include side to side or up and down motions. As long as you land on your wheels, stunts will likely count.

From there, stunts can get more complex. Generally, these stunts are reserved for larger jumps as opposed to simple bumps in the road. You can perform tricks that include back flips, front flips, and spin tricks. As long as you complete one full rotation and land on your wheels, it counts as a trick. These tricks will net your two turbo’s each.

If you perform double flips, spins, etc., then you’ll find yourself earning a sizable 3 turbos. Each successful rotation in a direction will earn you an additional boost.

It is also possible to perform complex moves. One example is a flip and a twist. This counts as a Hot Tomato. The downside to complex stunts is the fact that you can’t, say, perform a twist and a flip. Each rotation has to be separate. Because of the difficulty of adding momentum to both tricks equally, it is generally a less efficient way of earning turbos.

In total, players can build their turbo meter to a maximum of 9 turbos. As you can no doubt figure, turbo’s play a huge roll in the game. Using them will help you win races. Of course, there is using turbo’s and using turbo’s well. If you are already travelling at the cars maximum speed, then a turbo will do nothing to increase your speed. The game seems to cap out at 160MPH, so if you are travelling that fast already, a turbo winds up being pointless. It’s usually best when recovering from turns and moving through the second half of loops and corkscrews. Every time your car is doing anything other than travelling in a straight line, there is a chance you are losing speed. So, firing the occasional turbo will help you inch further ahead or catch you up.

Also along the way are various item pickups. As a general rule, items will only last for a certain period of time before wearing out. The exception is the bonus turbo which drops an additional turbo into your turbo meter.

One item you can pick up is the hammer. The hammer powerup will allow you to blow up other cars simply by touching them. As one of the intro screens suggests, crashing other vehicles can slow your opponents down. Using the hammer is a very efficient way of doing this.

An additional item is the stunt power up. With this power up, you’ll get maximum rotation ability while in the air. This permits you to execute the toughest of stunts. Successful completion of the stunts can easily rack up turbo’s.

Other power up items can increase your turning capabilities or even get your car to drive faster too. So, using these items will help along the way.

Another mode of play is the hangtime challenge. This mode operates a lot like the exhibition race, only you are racing alone. You have a limited amount of time to perform stunts on the track of your choice. The added feature that sets this mode apart from others is the fact hat you also earn points for every stunt you successfully execute. Go for the highest score possible before time is up.

Of course, the main meat and potatoes for this game is the cup challenges. In this mode, you enter into a championship game against your opponents. You compete in a series of races and try and go for the highest ranking possible. Winning races is critical for earning the maximum number of championship points. Complete the cup with the most points to win.

The first cup is the Hotwheels cup. This cup features 6 races. You square off with 5 general opponents as you go for Hot Wheels supremacy. If you beat this cup, you’ll unlock a host of cars as well as 2 secret courses and the secret cup.

Secret Cup pits you against 5 general opponents. You race in both the secret courses. Get the most points between the two races to win. Beating this cup allows you to unlock more cars as well as the Twinmill challenge.

The Twinmill Challenge is the final cup in the game. It takes place on the hardest secret course in the game. It’s a one race, winner takes all cup. What is unique about this cup, however, is that you only have two opponents in this race. While that may make things sound more simple, the problem is that you are squaring off against the two best cars in the game. While you are able to play as one of those cars as well, this will only allow you to be on par with them. You still have to beat them both in a long and gruelling race which is no cakewalk to say the least. Beat this cup and earn a few additional cars as well as the satisfaction of having beaten the game.

One final feature of this game of note is locating secret cars. Hidden amongst the various routs in the courses are hidden box-like cars with question marks. If you touch this power-up, you’ll earn the track’s secret car. There is no other way of earning this particular car. Some of these cars are very difficult to obtain which means that you are going to be challenged to get a complete collection of cars in this game.

One thing I do like about this game is the tracks. There is a nice variety of them here in the first place. To make things better, each track has a number of alternate routs and unique features. This includes the large switchback in Helicrash, the UFO’s in Dawn Encounter, and the various traps found in the Sludgeworks track to name a few. This is, of course, before adding in the bonus cars hidden throughout the race.

One thing I wasn’t a huge fan of is the lack of moderation on what the game is able to spit out. There is a lot of content to be had in this game including cars. Especially with the cars, this wasn’t maximized in any way. What I would have liked to see was just a couple of cars and a few track at the beginning. Then, after a series of cups, more and more stuff gets unlocked.

In this game, once you beat the secret cup, almost everything is unlocked. As a result, although you have dozens of cars to choose from, chances are, you’ll be playing with only about 2 or 3 of them to beat the game. Once you’ve unlocked the Twinmill cars, there’s almost no point in playing the other cars, leaving them to collect figurative dust in the showroom. So, more cups and a longer campaign that unlocks things gradually would’ve done this game a world of difference on this point.

Ironically, this is not to say this game is one of those “splash and dash” type games necessarily. I was initially going to criticize this game for being a short one as well. This isn’t a criticism for me because I looked at the time it took me to complete all three cups. It actually takes a fair amount of time to do this. Because of this, the game is actually quite a time sink, but it’s a bit hard to notice given the large amount of action you face in the game. Had the campaign spread things out more liberally, the length could’ve been on par with games like Gran Turismo 2 easily. Still, there are plenty of hours of enjoyment to be had in this game.

The way cars handle work quite well. This game doesn’t suffer from the turn on a dime physics that reduces reaction time to nothing. It also doesn’t force you to ride the rails all the time either with unresponsive controls either. Despite the toy nature of the game, this game manages to get general handling and responsiveness right.

Generally speaking, while the content could have been delivered more piecemeal for maximum content appreciation, there isn’t much to criticize this game for. The concepts are simple to understand, yet take a fair amount of practice to master. The tracks are nicely done and the features of this game do work well. The length, while hard to notice, is actually quite sufficient. So, a very solid game if you ask me.

The graphics are pretty solid in this game. When you think about when this game was released, they are pretty good. The explosions where the wheels go flying off are nicely done. I thought the sheen in the various oil patches reflecting everywhere works pretty well. The breakables also add a nice touch. Even the various environments are quite varied, giving each track a nice look to them. Examples include the emergency lights in Helicrash, the green glow of goo in the Sludgeworks track, the hurricane in the mine track, and the various pieces of large equipment moving around in the secret base level. I could go on and on, but the variety is certainly there. The draw distance is well done, and the cars do look pretty good too. In my view, this game haws great graphics for a game of its time.

When I was looking for any kind of weakness in this game, I found myself actually looking hard for them. This is definitely a good sign for this game. Still, I did manage to find one in the music. There is some variety to be had here. In fact, the track The Pride of San Jacinto is probably one of the best menu tracks I’ve heard to date. Still, having said that, some of the music does come off as a bit muffled. This is surprising to me because I don’t typically encounter this in an N64 game. The sound effects, meanwhile, work pretty well for a game that is based around toy cars. So, it is definitely passable in my books, but it’s not without its flaws.

Overall, I found this game to be a surprisingly great game. While the content could have been better spread out, there is a lot of content to be had in the game. The tracks are nicely done and the various items and power ups add a nice flare to the overall gameplay. The graphics are great and the audio is pretty decent. So, I would say this definitely falls into the category of “hidden gem” that is worth playing.

Furthest point in game: Beat the Twinmill challenge.

General gameplay: 21/25
Replay value: 8/10
Graphics: 8/10
Audio: 3/5

Overall rating: 80%

Drew Wilson on Twitter: @icecube85 and Facebook.

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