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Hot Wheels: Rift Rally Makes A Race Track Of Your House And A Competitor Of Your Pets

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The mixed-reality game from Velan Studios makes for a fun party trick and family toy alike.

Hot Wheels has been one of the most dominant toy brands for more than 50 years, meaning generations of kids grew up with them, and in many cases became generations of adult collectors and/or parents of new fans. In that span, the brand has expanded beyond physical cars and tracks to offer mobile apps, RC cars, console games, and more. By now, Hot Wheels has been reinvented in nearly every way it could be. But teaming with Velan Studios, creators of Mario Kart Live: Home Circuit, has emblazoned the iconic flame logo on a new landscape: mixed reality. Hot Wheels: Rift Rally carries on from what Velan did with its Nintendo collaboration to give Hot Wheels fans of all ages a novel way to burn rubber.

Being an augmented, or "mixed," reality experience, Hot Wheels: Rift Rally is both a traditional video game in that you download software to play it, and a physical toy that you unbox from its package. Out of that box, you'll get one camera-equipped car, dubbed the Chameleon, and pieces of plastic and cardboard that are easily assembled in about three minutes, allowing you to make a forever-customizable track.

Rift Rally's Chameleon hides a sync button on its unique exterior that you use in combination with a QR code presented on their screen, be that your TV if playing on PS4/PS5, or via iOS on a range of iPads and iPhones that go back several years. As a result, most players will already have the device they need, which makes for a nice step up on the team's Mario Kart game, which is confined to just the Switch. Setup is quick and can be done via Wi-Fi on either platform or by connecting directly to the PS5. The Wi-Fi option is preferred according to in-game text, and I'd agree after spending time with both, though in smaller spaces, a direct-to-console connection can be enough, though it may not be as reliable. Occasionally, the console connection left my car stuttering at times, as though the signal was noticeably weak when it moved far away or around walls.

Hot Wheels: Rift Rally Chameleon
Hot Wheels: Rift Rally Chameleon

Setup is simple--notwithstanding my own user error that resulted in the team bailing me out with live troubleshooting. I'd worried I was getting rare special treatment as a journalist, but Velan revealed that its tech support for Rift Rally is going to be comprehensive. Outside of my own silly mistake, the toy and tech worked well, but if players do run into trouble, it seems they'll have a rather pain-free avenue to a fix.

As soon as the car is synced to the platform, its camera will present its point of view on the screen, and this was an exciting moment for me and my kids. It was bewildering at first, for my three-year-old especially, to suddenly find ourselves on the TV as framed by our new toy car, like seeing the world through the eyes of an action figure a la Toy Story. The novelty of this alone instantly makes the Chameleon a worthwhile RC car for enthusiasts in that space, but the mixed-reality elements certainly elevate it to something even cooler. Steering with the PS5 controller feels great, and the touch controls, while I personally never prefer them, work surprisingly well, too, partly due to the control schemes that give the game three distinct feels.

The vehicle lasts a good while on a full charge--about two hours in my experience--and takes about as long to charge it fully when it's been depleted. Playing on Wi-Fi, it was fun to send the car (and set the track up) across different rooms. Naturally, most RC cars are destined to crash into the stove when you send it into the kitchen and lose sight of it. But the camera-enabled setup with Rift Rally means you can zoom around the house in first-person view without ever moving from your chair. Dodging my kids or chasing our dog with the Chameleon has been its own kind of fun, even as it's not intended to be the centerpiece of the game.

That would be the racing itself. Like Mario Kart Live: Home Circuit, each checkpoint included in the box has on it a unique visual key, sort of like a QR code, which tells the car's camera which numbered checkpoint it is. When the car reads them, the on-screen display morphs from a simple standee to an elaborate checkpoint straight out of a classic orange trackset. From there, it's up to the player to assemble any functional track they might like, moving checkpoints around their home. Rift Rally does ask its players some room to roam, and hardwood floors like mine proved to be the ideal terrain, though the car hardly slowed down on area rugs, and I suspect anyone with rugs that aren't too thick can still enjoy the game.

The freedom to build our own track was, for my family and me, a great touch. It allowed for each race to look different if we so chose, even when revisiting earlier races in the game's multi-faceted single-player campaign that includes multiple AR-infused biomes as well as a free-roaming stunt mode. Simply setting up checkpoints, then test-driving the Chameleon through each checkpoint created a circuit race, forever customizable whenever we wished. Track-building is a core tenet of Hot Wheels, and remodeling that signature element of Hot Wheels in AR made for a whole new way to see a toy brand which has been part of my life for decades.

The checkpoints make the game function as intended, but they also importantly act as mostly blank slates. So long as the Chameleon goes through each checkpoint in sequential order, a lap is recorded and the race goes on, meaning players can make any race as intricate as they can imagine--so long as the car can keep up, too. Adding real-world obstacles, like laundry baskets, chairs, and books can turn any basic racing circuit into residential Thunderdome. This open-ended approach is only possible because the vehicle is versatile and the technology is reliable.

Though there are options for "network" races against other Chameleon cars in the same physical room, as well as console-exclusive co-op options that split campaign duties across different controllers, I had just the one car and controller, so I couldn't test these options. Instead, I spent a lot of time in the game's single-player campaign. Each race is performed against AI bots that exist on the screen only, and after a track is built, the world is filled in with sci-fi decor, cherry blossoms, and more scenery, giving a race more than just a virtual orange track, but atmosphere and set dressing, too.

The in-game presentation includes plenty of bells and whistles to transform a race into a spectacle.
The in-game presentation includes plenty of bells and whistles to transform a race into a spectacle.

Each race is ideally meant to be won, but you'll usually score Shards (for unlocks) even when you fall short of first place. Races come with optional objectives, too, which are well worth chasing as completing them is often how players will unlock upgrades and new cosmetic options for their cars. I say "cars" because in-game, the aptly named Chameleon morphs into nearly two dozen different Hot Wheels original vehicles, including the poster cars for the brand like Twin Mill and Bone Shaker. Like building a track, unlocking (normally unboxing) new cars is another of those classic Hot Wheels moments that is remade in the mixed reality package and gives fans of the brand a new way to experience it.

Outside of the core races, there's a stunt mode that offers more unlockables but forgoes actual racing. Instead, players are tasked with pulling off a number of tricks, such as wheelies and burnouts. The interesting thing here is that while these tricks are performed on-screen with the animated vehicle, its real-life counterpart doesn't reflect those actions. Driving the car in-game is matched by a moving vehicle in the real world, but for most actual stunts the virtual car is much more capable. This isn't a knock on the game whatsoever. It was simply interesting to me, as someone fairly new to mixed-reality experiences, to see how the game world morphs what's really going on in the physical world.

While I find this framework of racing, stunting, and collecting to be faithful to the brand and an intriguing setup, it'd veer off course quickly if the core tech didn't work well. Thankfully, it does, for the most part. As mentioned, playing via Wi-Fi is going to give players a more reliable connection that can go farther around the house, too, and any house that has things like a PlayStation or an iPhone very likely has Wi-Fi already. However, if you find yourself in the small subset of people who have new tech without the local network to connect them to, Rift Rally will likely be a bit janky for you. Stick to Wi-Fi if you can and you'll be just fine.

It also stings that there's no cross-save play, so I didn't carry over any of my campaign progress or unlocked cars when I shifted to mobile. The app is free on both platforms, so it's easy enough to play it where you'd like once you purchase the physical car and its accessories, but without cross-save, you'll still be better off picking one platform and sticking to it. Still, my kids and I were each able to pick up and play Rift Rally with ease and reliability, and for a game targeting family members of all ages, that's key.

Not having played Mario Kart Live: Home Circuit, Hot Wheels: Rift Rally causes me to look back and wonder if I missed something really cool, as Rift Rally definitely delivers on its premise and I'm only left curious how much of a step up it might be from Velan's first effort in this space. Like putting a VR headset on your parents or friends for the first time, Rift Rally has that special thrill of emerging tech experienced by new eyes.

It's enjoyable to play and gamifies its systems with enough depth to keep a family playing for a good while with the feel of a legitimate video game campaign mode. Even outside of the campaign structure, it's just really cool to cruise around my house with a camera-equipped toy car as my dog looks on with confusion and my kids form tunnels with their legs. It's more than a gimmick, but I admit even the basic gimmick of the toy is neat. For kids, collectors, or children at-heart, Hot Wheels: Rift Rally is a fun way to see the beloved toys from a new perspective.

Hot Wheels: Rift Rally software is available as a free download on the PlayStation Store and Apple Store. Its required physical boxset is sold separately and exclusively at GameStop for $130 for the standard edition, or $150 for the special edition, which includes a black and gold (rather than red and white) Chameleon vehicle and a traditional diecast McLaren Senna Hot Wheels toy, as well as an in-game McLaren Senna model.

Mark Delaney on Google+


Mark Delaney

Mark is an editor at GameSpot. He writes reviews, guides, and other articles, and focuses largely on the horror and sports genres in video games, TV, and movies.

Hot Wheels: Rift Rally

Hot Wheels: Rift Rally

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