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Hot Wheels: Rift Rally feels like a natural evolution of Mario Kart Live

Cruis’n across the kitchen

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Several years ago we covered Mario Kart Live, the “mixed reality” RC-car-like game from Velan Studios.  I had a blast playing it (and my family even ended up buying a Luigi cart to race with our kid), but you could clearly see that it was a bit limited in what it was trying to do. Well, Velan is back with Hot Wheels: Rift Rally, and it feels like a more fully-realized experience. Given the cost, that’s ideal!

Hot Wheels: Rift Rally (iOS, PS4, PS5 [reviewed])
Developer: Velan Studios
Publisher: Velan Studios
Released: March 31
MSRP: $129.99 (standard edition), $149.99 (collector’s edition)

Hot Wheels: Rift Rally’s setup is pretty painless

Just like Mario Kart LiveHot Wheels: Rift Rally uses a remote control car (with a camera) that interfaces with software to simulate a racing game in a real life environment. While Mario isn’t poking out of the driver’s seat being cute, this iteration is cleverly called the “Chameleon Car,” which can morph into tons of different classic Hot Wheels racers in-game.

By placing four “gates” throughout your house, you’ll be able to see the track on the screen, which includes any real hazards or layouts you devise on your own. The tech is slick, and Rift Rally supports PVP as well as AI opponents.

Setting it all up was painless for me. The car has a little side panel that can be opened for USB charging, and from there you need to load up the iOS or PS4/PS5 app. Rift Rally will walk you through everything organically (including connecting the car and instructions for building the gates by hand); a format that really reminded me of the step-by-step process Nintendo uses for Labo.

There are two potential connection types for Rift Rally:

  • Wifi
  • Direct connection

This is a huge step up from Mario Kart Live, as the Rift Rally Wifi option hosts a significantly more stable connection in my household. In all, it took me around three minutes to fully get up and running.

Rift Rally has a campaign, which does some heavy lifting

Rift Rally is as simple or as complex as you want: as evidenced by the fact that everyone in my immediate family enjoyed interacting with the game in different ways. You can focus more on traditional driving or try and master some of the “stunt-centric” intricacies to get an edge; like burning out, drifting, and popping wheelies.

The campaign is a huge boon as it walks you through all of these concepts and sends you on your way through a small series of stages; augmenting a traditional free play mode. There are more significant rewards this time around, including randomized cars after leveling up; as well as extras like more music tracks. Thankfully, Rift Rally‘s campaign isn’t solely racing-focused: there are challenges too, like destroying drones on a track before they can destroy the map or racing side-by-side with monsters or other digital hazards. All that wackiness marries the stunt and racing aspect of Rift Rally in an interesting way that isn’t too out there to the point where it impedes gameplay.

You do still need what I could call a “medium-sized room” (at least) to play it comfortably, which is going to be a limiting factor once again for anyone looking to buy into this mixed reality universe. The small caveat is that Rift Rally doesn’t require a ton of room to stunt around in, and you can do more with less compared to Mario Kart Live.

Stunt mode is where I spent most of my time

Stunt mode is the other core focus of the game, which is basically just “messing around for points.” It’s also the thing my kid loves the most. As a model “free play” game type you’re able to try out all sorts of weird jumps and track layouts: you don’t even need to set up the gates at all.

It’s a great place to train and try out drifting and burning out properly, and you’ll earn levels/experience for doing it. Velan was really savvy to add this mode in, as I tend to oscillate between blowing off some steam on a lazy weekend evening with stunt mode and trying to make actual progress. Again, all of it leads to unlocks, so it’s not wasted time either way if you’re progression-oriented.

I wasn’t able to test out multiplayer pre-launch (because I only had access to one car, and couldn’t find anyone online). But the inclusion of these at all will clearly extend the game’s longevity in our house, especially with online play on the table.

Screenshot by Destructoid

If you were on the fence about Mario Kart Live, IP aside, Rift Rally is a more fully featured game

Obviously, some folks are going to get a lot of joy out of Mario Kart Live because of the sights and sounds of the Mario IP alone. I get it! The pitch probably sold itself, as the entire concept of Mario Kart in real life is fun on paper all the way to practice.

Yet, Hot Wheels: Rift Rally uses everything the team learned from their prior project to keep you playing a bit longer; which is something you want from a game that costs $100+ and requires a toy to function. We’ll definitely be alternating between this and Mario Kart Live in the future, skewed toward digging into Rift Rally has to offer.

[This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher. 8.5/10]

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Chris Carter
Managing Editor - Chris has been enjoying Destructoid avidly since 2008. He finally decided to take the next step in January of 2009 blogging on the site. Now, he's staff!