Although there are more than enough quirky budget racing titles available for today's gaming platforms, few of these games have provided the level of consistency found in the Hot Wheels franchise. Multiple publishers and developers have tried their hand at the series, but despite this constant changing of the guard, the Hot Wheels games have always focused on simplistic, arcade-style racing gameplay, which has worked pretty well for the series. The latest developer to create a Hot Wheels game is Climax Studios, and its offering is Hot Wheels World Race for the GameCube and PlayStation 2. World Race takes the series in a more futuristic direction, drawing inspiration from titles like F-Zero and the Extreme-G series. However, aside from its futuristic direction, World Race sticks pretty close to the basic arcade racing formula the series has used for years, which works both in the game's favor and against it.
Hot Wheels World Race plays pretty much like the most recent entries in the series. The main competitive races put you in a six-car race on a variety of courses, each filled with all sorts of twists, curves, and jumps. The accelerator and the hand brake are the controls you'll find yourself using the most, especially since the game relies heavily on powersliding. The game also employs a simple, yet cool, stunt system--when you find yourself launching off any of the various ramps, you can spin the car frontward, backward, or to either side using the left control stick or the directional pad. Well-performed stunts reward you with a boost to your Nitrox2 bar, which is essentially your speed burst bar. Once the bar is full, you can go much faster for a short period of time. This function is most useful on certain jumps--those that can get you to an otherwise inaccessible shortcut on a track.
World Race doesn't bog you down with any manner of plot or storyline beyond its initial opening cutscene, in which a mysterious man simply explains that you'll be racing on crazy tracks in another dimension, because, well, that's the point of the game. There are 35 different cars, each piloted by a different racer, who, incidentally, is a part of one of five different racing teams: the Wave Rippers, the Scorchers, the Road Beasts, the Dune Ratz, and the Street Breed. Every racer has strengths and weaknesses in categories of speed, grip, acceleration, and boost, and, for the most part, the differences are noticeable--for instance, cars with higher grip levels take turns significantly better than those with lower grip levels. There are actually only five cars available at the beginning of the game; the rest must be unlocked in the game's league mode.
League is the primary mode in World Race, and it lets you compete in three different race classes: rookie, veteran, and elite. You must beat one to get to the next, and each consists of multiple tracks that you must compete in. The mode uses a points scoring system that's based on how high you place in each race, and the racer with the most points at the end of the league is the winner. Additionally, better performance on various tracks lets you unlock racers, new tracks, and even concept artwork. The remaining single-player modes consist of a quick race, a time trial mode, and a challenge mode, which places specific goals in front of you, along with a time limit and a finish line. There is also a multiplayer mode, in which you play split-screen versions of the quick race and league modes with up to two players on the PS2 and up to four players on the GameCube. The only trouble with the roster of modes is that there isn't much here worth playing through in a single-player capacity once you're done with the league mode, which takes only a few hours to beat on all three difficulty settings (though unlocking everything will require a little more time). The multiplayer component is a definite plus. If you have friends who want to play, the game will be enjoyable for a lot longer than it would be otherwise, but if you're in a purely single-player mind-set, the game doesn't offer much once you're done with all the major goals.
World Race's track designs are clearly inspired by some of the more recent entries in the futuristic racing genre. Each track is modeled after a "theme" environment--for instance, one track has an Egyptian motif and another track resides high up in the clouds. However, the comparisons to other futuristic racing games, like F-Zero, stop at inspiration, because the tracks in Hot Wheels aren't really all that great. Most tracks reuse a lot of the same basic design elements over and over again, and there isn't much variety to be found beyond the basic environment concepts. The track backgrounds look OK, but they aren't particularly high in polygon count, and the resolution is pretty low, which makes everything seem kind of drab, overall.
The car designs are unique, and a bit futuristic, but they're still based on real cars with tires, engines, and so on. Although no two cars look exactly the same, there aren't many differences either. The frame rate holds up pretty well, though you'll notice some chop in multiplayer play, especially when playing four-player on the GameCube. Otherwise, the GameCube version is definitely cleaner and a little more polished looking than the PS2 version. The sound design is complementary to the rest of the game, with no one aspect really standing out. Sound effects consist of some good engine noises, the expected squeals of tires as you powerslide around curves, and some decent "boost" noises when you hit a speed burst. The soundtrack is made up of a number of generic techno tracks that are simply there to give you something to listen to while you race, and for that purpose, they work. There's also a Smashmouth song that plays during the opening cutscene, but that's the only place you'll hear it.
While there isn't anything decisively wrong with Hot Wheels World Race, there's nothing to get particularly excited about, either. The series has offered roughly the same package year after year, with only some presentational changes and a few miniscule gameplay upgrades here and there, and at this point, with so many other racing games available, Hot Wheels just isn't holding up the way it used to. Perhaps with some additional gameplay modes, or less-archaic graphics and sound, World Race might stand out a bit more, but as it is, the game is only worth playing if you have a specific affinity for the Hot Wheels series.