If you've ever had the opportunity to play any of the last several Hot Wheels games to hit the market, then you've pretty much already played Hot Wheels Stunt Track Challenge. This latest game to fly the Hot Wheels franchise banner uses basically the same driving mechanics that the series has used for years, relying on a very basic arcade racing model with only a few slight race mode variations to change things up a bit. Like its predecessors, Stunt Track Challenge is a game that makes an attempt to appeal to younger racing fans, but when you factor in how little this game really differs from any of the last few games in the line, there's really no good reason to go out and buy it.
The actual premise for Stunt Track Challenge is simple. The Stunt Track Challenge is actually a sort of racing game show hosted by a too-extreme-for-his-own-good 20-something and his trusty sidekick RaceCam, a spherical camera robot that doesn't speak. The main mode of the game, titled the game show mode, is where this whole game show aspect comes into play. In order to unlock any of the game's multiple tracks and cars, you'll have to play through a series of episodes of the show. Each episode contains around eight races of varying rule sets. Sometimes you'll be competing in straight races, and other times you'll be stunt driving your way through a series of targets, trying to achieve the highest score. You earn points based on performance throughout this mode, and the racer with the highest point total at the end of the episode wins. You can still advance without winning, though, provided you place at a certain level.
The game show mode is definitely the meat of the single-player experience, which is unfortunate since it only takes a scant few hours to complete. You won't unlock everything the first time around, but it's unlikely that you'll be so engaged by the mode that you'll want to go back and play it again, anyway. There is also a simple arcade mode where you can get into some basic races as well as play the various stunt track challenges against friends. There's also system link play for both the PS2 and Xbox versions of the game, and assuming you can assemble five other people (plus the required hardware) to play a six-player race, it works well. However, the PS2 version also includes an online head-to-head game for up to six racers. Unfortunately, no one actually appears to be playing the game online. So don't count on online racing to be a big feature unless you're going to buy copies for all of your friends, too. Other than the online difference, the two versions of the game are very similar. The Xbox version looks slightly cleaner than the PS2 release, but that's about it.
It's not too hard to understand why there aren't a ton of people playing Stunt Track Challenge online, since the racing itself is just so plain. The exact same basic racing model the series has employed for the last few years is back again, with little to no alteration whatsoever. You simply press the gas to go, hit a button to powerslide, hit another button to use a temporary boost, and perform simple barrel rolls and spins via the D pad or left control stick after flying off a jump. Though there are just under 30 cars in the game, the handling for each one is only marginally different, and you should be able to race just as well with one car as you would with another. While there's nothing inherently wrong with an unsophisticated racing model, the problem here is that so many other arcade racers do far more interesting things with their own simplistic race models that Stunt Track Challenge feels decidedly archaic in comparison.
Stunt Track Challenge certainly doesn't do anything to combat this feeling with its presentation, either. The game's graphics look like they could have very easily been lifted out of any of the last few Hot Wheels games, and they don't even seem to be that much more improved. The car designs, while representative of the toylike theme of the game, aren't really that spectacular, and the track designs are noticeably derivative of most other futuristic racers currently on the market. The game does perform technically well enough, with no frame rate issues or glitches, but mere technical competency just isn't enough in this case. The minimal audio in the game is mostly banal. The soundtrack is generally made up of repetitive, distorted guitar tracks with overwrought drumbeats; the sound effects rarely even make their presence felt; and the few bouts of dialogue you're presented with come from the generally annoying race jockey who hosts the game show, and none of it is very good.
It's tough to really dislike Hot Wheels Stunt Track Challenge, since it apparently isn't aiming very high with its goal to provide a simple, inoffensive racing experience for younger players. The trouble, though, is that there are plenty of other, better racing games out there that would be just as suitable for any audience, young or old. Factor in that this is an extremely marginal update that really doesn't improve upon any of its predecessors, and Stunt Track Challenge ends up feeling pretty unnecessary.