If you’re a fan of racing, there’s a good chance you had a Hot Wheels phase of your life. The iconic toy brand has dominated living rooms for decades, producing wave after of wave of stylish, collectible car minis and even a handful of video games. The two ways to experience Hot Wheels have always been split, but now the company has blended its two approaches for a truly unique racing experience.
Partnering with Velan Studios, creators of Mario Kart Live: Home Circuit, Hot Wheels just launched the brand new augmented reality racing game Hot Wheels: Rift Rally, and boy, is it a blast of childlike fun. Out of the box, Rift Rally comes with a camera-equipped RC car — called the Chameleon — and a set of cardboard gates to set up around your home. These are paired with an arcade-style racing game you can access on PS4, PS5, or iOS. Set up a custom track in your home using the checkpoints and control the physical toy in the real world with the in-game car and compete against virtual opponents.
I’ve been testing out Rift Rally over the last few weeks, much to my cat’s initial dismay. As it turns out, converting your apartment into a race track is plenty of fun, but requires a bit of planning and a lot of imagination to pull it off. If you’re going to pick up a copy, just make sure your pets are as prepared as you are.
Racing in the great indoors
When I first jumped into Rift Rally, I assumed that it would get pretty stale pretty quickly. But it offers a surprising amount of guided gameplay in addition to Stunt Mode, which just lets you drive around your home aimlessly and annoy your pets.
After an in-depth tutorial that covers racing basics and track setup, Rift Rally presents a Campaign Mode with lots of challenges. Players can pick which direction to travel in a sprawling map of races, time trials, and skill-based contests across three distinct zones — Dragon Scrapyard, Shevrani Tundra, and Mirage Site-13. Each area has a different theme and puts you up against different opponents in races. Completing Campaign missions allows you to unlock new virtual cars with unique looks.
This mode really brings a lot to the game — instead of just setting up a course and racing against yourself, there are increasingly difficult challenges that you’ll want to tackle. I felt like an absolute racing pro until I reach a Driver’s Ed special event that required me to stay 100% on-course while avoiding traffic cones and other obstacles. My typical wall-ride racing strategy in video games did not fair well in mixed reality.
The difference between my in-game and real-life car was a bit disappointing until I played long enough to look past it. While I was learning to do donuts and boost-drift through checkpoints in the game, my physical car was simply going through the motions. I don’t know what I expected, but a tight corner complete with smoke and burning rubber in-game doesn’t look as impressive in real life. Once you’re racing though, you don’t have time to pay much attention to the physical car.
The actual gameplay in Rift Rally is fast-paced and the virtual opponents don’t hold back. It all has a real classic arcade racing feel to it in that your car doesn’t always do exactly what you want it to do and sometimes the controls feel a bit off, but it’s still fun regardless. When I was winning I felt on top of the world. When I lost because I got hung up on a gate or a shoe in the real world (I’ve never thought more about my apartment’s organization while gaming), it was a frustrating experience. I thought after taking a few losses I’d be ready to hang up my driving gloves but I kept coming back for more.
Like any racing game, I had to learn to take different turns in new ways (avoiding a dining room chair I left near the track) and find shortcuts to improve my times (I learned that my course setup allowed me to skip right through a longer curve in the track). The only thing I felt like I was missing was the seat vibrations and turbo fans that you get with an arcade game like Arctic Thunder.
Did my cat enjoy it?
Gameplay aside, the most important question on everyone’s mind checking out Rift Rally is going to be “is my pet going to absolutely despise this car?” Your animal’s feelings may vary, but I did get my cat Sugar’s take on the game.
When I first booted up Rift Rally, my curious buddy was initially alarmed. Totally fair — I started zooming a car by where she sleeps most of the day. As I got deeper into the tutorial missions, she warmed up to it a bit. While she never got into full mechanic mode, every time I stopped the car she needed to check it out. As long as it didn’t lurch towards her, she was content watching it zoom around the living room.
After a handful of races, I must’ve gotten pretty good, because she was happy to watch the Chameleon zip around the apartment in loops. I’ll have to set up some jumps or something next to really test her resolve, but she seems to be a fan so far. That’s as good an endorsement as any in my mind.
While Rift Rally might not be the perfect racing game, it’s a ton of fun, a classic racing experience, and a significant step forward in mixed-reality gaming. The software for the game is available as a free download on the PlayStation Store and Apple Store and the physical boxset, which you need, runs $130 at GameStop.