Hot Wheels Micro Racers takes the classic playtime activity of racing toy cars and adds 3D-accelerated graphics and artificial intelligence to create a fun arcade-style racing game. Everything about the game is straightforward and easy to use, from the menu interface to the controls.
The gameplay consists of racing against up to three other cars on one of three tracks. Three racing modes are available: single race, championship mode, and pursuit. Single-race mode, as the name implies, lets you choose a track and race once. In championship mode, you must race through all three tracks but must come in first place to advance to the next track. Pursuit mode is a somewhat brutal option; it consists of a single three-lap race, and the car in last place for each lap gets eliminated (it explodes) until only the winner remains. The two-player split-screen mode lets you and another racer compete head-to-head on the same computer.
The controls are easy to learn, as they simply involve turning right and left, and using the gas, brake, and the turbo boost. Each car has different handling characteristics: acceleration, top speed, grip, and turbo recharge rate. These characteristics are clearly displayed in the car-selection screen. The turbo boost adds a small element of strategy to the game; it should be used as often as possible, but since turbo takes a moment to recharge, it should also be used in the most advantageous locations in order to maximize its effectiveness. A super-turbo boost is also available after you find the three hidden stars on each track. After you locate a star, your boost will become more powerful, and it will last longer.
Only two cars are available at the beginning of the game, but after you win the championship mode on the novice and amateur levels, you'll get access to new cars. You can also unlock additional cars by finding the three hidden stars on each track. These additional cars add to the limited replay value of the game. While the game's car-handling physics aren't realistic, it's still fun to switch between cars with contrasting strengths and weaknesses since they handle the tracks differently. Unfortunately, aside from unlocking the hidden cars, there's no way to make a record of your racing success - there's no Hall of Fame to let you record your name on a high-score table or anything of the sort. As it stands, the only reward for winning at the pro level is that you get dumped back to the main menu. It's a disappointing anticlimax, especially after sweating through that last lap, hoping not to get hit by an electric train or get passed up by one of the computer-controlled cars hot on your tail.
The three 3D tracks included in the game are well detailed and full of jumps, turns, obstacles, and hazards. The beach-themed Wave Watch track takes the race around a sandcastle and features a randomly bouncing beach ball that can destroy your chances at winning a race if you aren't careful. The At the Office track features a treacherous course across desks and tables littered with office supplies, books, and other items. An electric fan on one of the desks turns on and off periodically, and it can blow the cars right off the table. You must be careful not to let your car slide off the edge of a table or desk, or you'll fall to the ground and explode. Exploding won't necessarily cost you the race, but it'll hurt your lap time since your car will take a few seconds to respawn. The last track, Slumber Summit, takes place in a child's bedroom littered with toys. The racetrack crosses an electric train track, and drivers must avoid colliding with the train. A greater number of tracks would have been a welcome addition, but to the game's credit, its few tracks do feature a number of interesting shortcuts and secret areas.
The graphics in Hot Wheels Micro Racer are good. The game occasionally slowed down at higher resolutions when there were multiple cars on the screen, but aside from that the game ran smoothly. The third-person overhead view could have been slightly wider to give a better view of what is coming up on the track, but the game makes up for this by including warning beacons that pop up at the top of the screen to notify you of upcoming turns and obstacles.
The game's sound effects are optional, and they don't add much to the experience overall. Each of the cars has a slightly different engine sound, and the cars have unique sound effects for their turbo boost. You'll also hear some simple crashing sounds when the cars bump into one another. The background music is pleasant and upbeat, but it gets old after a few races. Fortunately, you won't get tired of the tracks as quickly.
Hot Wheels Micro Racers provides a fun and enjoyable arcade-style racing experience from a toy-sized perspective. While the game would have benefited from additional tracks, its few racecourses are well designed and detailed enough to make the game a modest value.