It’s wonderful to think about the toys of our childhood and how they’re being brought back to life as video games. Through gaming, new generations of youngsters can enjoy the same things that older gamers did in their youth, but in a completely different way. It’s safe to assume that many of you reading this grew up building with LEGO blocks and love getting to see your favourite sets come to life in a number of games. The Hot Wheels brand of die-cast cars has seen similar treatment with over 20 video games to the franchise’s name. Beyond the pure joy that they brought to us as kids and the video game resurgences that they’ve both received, the one thing that LEGO blocks and Hot Wheels cars had in common was the excruciating pain that they both delivered when you inadvertently stepped on one. For kids’ toys, these things were brutal. Now that pain can be experienced in a whole new virtual way as Firebrand Games brings you Hot Wheels: World's Best Driver.
The first thing that needs to be made clear is that this is not a racing game, but rather a driving game broken up into varying challenges. Sometimes you'll be tasked with navigating around a track and completing obstacle courses in a certain amount of time with ghost cars flying past you, but you're never actually racing against other drivers on a closed circuit. Choosing between one of four different coloured teams, you are then faced with a series of driving challenges correlating to that team’s specialities.
The four different types of gameplay are broken down to Outrageous, Superfast, Powerful, and High-tech, but what these actually translate to are “do some tricks,” “beat the clock,” “crush some stuff,” and “drive your car accurately.” Giving the separate categories interesting names was not enough to trick us into believing that the challenges were any fun. Completing challenges and earning medals will unlock increasingly difficult tasks and new cars, but it’s really just more of the same with a slightly different coat of paint. You also have the option of playing each challenge in Hot Seat Mode, which is the game’s name for pass-and-play multiplayer. And that’s it. That’s the entirety of available gameplay. No track editor, no true multiplayer, and no racing.
In its defence, at least World’s Best Driver doesn't make any attempting to force some contrived plot into the mix. This game is all about driving vehicles in remote test facilities and attempting to get the highest score on the online leaderboard. We applaud the lack of a shoehorned storyline, but setting the game in remote locations feels a lot like an excuse to not bother designing environments. Most of the driving locations are set in the desert, leading to long stretches of hilly land without much detail to them beyond the occasional mountainous backdrop. There are some snowy settings as well, but these look exactly the same as the deserts, except with a colour swap to white and pine trees replacing the craggy locale.
Looks are one thing, but there are also some bizarre technical anomalies plaguing the game that aren't necessarily problematic for the gameplay, but they do shine a light on the poor overall quality. One example of this is when our racer was ejected from his dirt bike and sky-rocketed straight up into the stratosphere upon hitting a wall head-on. These instances mostly made us laugh, though, so it’s difficult to hold them against the poor game.
Any team of developers can throw together a driving game with shoddy graphics, inflexible options, and no multiplayer, but as long as it handles well and doesn’t frustrate its players to the point of quitting, it'll be fine enough. This is where World's Best Driver completely falls apart. The moment you take your place in the driver's seat you'll notice that something isn't quite right. One of the most difficult challenges is just staying on the track, and that’s literally what this entire game is about. The steering controls are so sensitive that one wrong flick of the stick and you'll be completely off-kilter. Attempting to straighten yourself after you've made the horrible mistake of trying to control your vehicle will more often than not result in your careening completely off the track and away from your target. There’s no option to adjust the overly sensitive controls, making even the simplest tasks vastly more difficult than they should ever be.
Adding insult to the injury of broken controls is that the Wii U GamePad’s special features aren’t even acknowledged. Rather than using the touchscreen to navigate menus or allow off-television play, it instead displays still images of vehicles or a description of the challenge that you're currently playing. Because of this lack of GamePad tech support, one would think that the game also allows you to use the Pro Controller, but that’s yet another feature that the developer didn't deem necessary.
The game plays poorly, looks bland, and lacks variety, but that's not to say that World's Best Driver is all bad. If nothing else, it has easily one of the most engaging soundtracks that we've heard in a while, filled with rhythmic techno tracks that had us dancing in our seats. In all honesty, even when we put the controller down after long days of playing, we would leave the game’s menu open and turn the volume up to keep the beats bumpin'. Just because the game's over doesn't mean the party has to stop!
There are no two ways about it: Hot Wheels: World’s Best Driver is not good. It’s a game that takes a wonderful childhood memory and turns it into something unbearable that completely misses the mark. Issues such as uninteresting challenges, a lack of variety and boring visuals are nothing compared to the horrendous steering controls that make this nearly unplayable. Soundtrack aside, believe us when we say that this is one driving simulator that’s better left off the road.