One brief glimpse at Hotshot Racing in action – or even a screenshot to be honest – and you immediately get an idea of what games have inspired developers Lucky Mountain Games and Sumo Digital’s effort. With visuals akin to 90s hit Virtua Racing and racing that includes the long tyre-burning drifts of a Ridge Racer or Out Run, how does this modern-day take on the genre stand up to these arcade racing classics?
Hotshot Racing absolutely nails the feeling of those arcade racers focusing on long, seemingly-impossible drifts around corners whilst keeping your speed as high as possible. Much like those older series, you’ll find yourself performing some truly slick manoeuvres all thanks to the game’s tight handling vehicles. Even going at insanely fast speeds, you feel firmly in control. Throw in a boost meter that fills up the more death-defying drifts you perform and you’re left with a game that rarely takes its foot off the pedal.
Grand Prix is arguably the main event in Hotshot Racing taking the tried and true system of competing in four races, your position in each awarding points. The racer with the most points at the end wins the cup. It’s predictable stuff for a racer but gets the job done and with four cups and three difficulties, it will keep you busy at least a little while. Even on the easiest setting, I found the computer opponents put up a good fight… too good in fact since they all take on a rather offensive racing style and feel prone to rubber banding. Sure, you want a good challenge, but when a little nudge from behind is enough to send you spinning one-eighty as you watch the pack race by, it can be a little frustrating especially if it’s the second time in a race.
Outside Grand Prix, you’ll also be able to take on individual tracks in standard races, race alone in time trials and compete in two more unique modes. Drive or Explode is my favourite and plays out like a video game version of the Keanu Reeves movie Speed. In it you’ll need to keep your speed over a certain amount, dropping below inflicting damage on your car. Last car standing wins or first to make it through a series of increasingly faster laps wins. Cops and Robbers meanwhile sees players joining one of the sides, the robbers collecting money scattered on the track and the cops doing all they can to knock their health down and take them out. I enjoyed the latter two modes and would have loved to see more of these unique options since everything else feels pretty by the numbers. In fact, from a single-player perspective, Hotshot Racing may leave you wanting more.
The game features sixteen tracks split between coastal, desert, jungle and mountainous areas. First of all, I love how much variation there is between the tracks, even those part of the same environment group. The four coastal region tracks, for example, don’t just have you racing along sparking sandy beaches the whole time but can take you through aquariums one moment and a scorching hot volcano the next. Similarly, the desert region isn’t just filled with sand and cacti but sees you speeding through an aeroplane graveyard and even a Las Vegas-like city. Every track has something unique about it helping them stand out a little more from one another.
A large ratio of the racetracks are fairly simple in their design some rarely requiring you to hit the brake or drift too often at all. While my initial drive-throughs were certainly a blast, I found myself growing weary of them more so than the trickier tracks. Of the sixteen tracks, I would have preferred a few more that demanded a little more of my drifting ability. Hopefully, the upcoming tracks being added via update will help even the selection out a little more.
Rather than racing as a nameless driver in a helmet, you actually have eight named competitors to pick from varying in personality. It’s a small touch but one that adds a little more character to the game. There’s a variety of cars although they boil down to four main flavours, three excelling in either top speed, acceleration or drifting and the final offering a more balanced ride. You definitely notice a difference between the four although I found myself leaning away from the wilder ride of the drift cars.
As you race, you’ll earn credits that can then be used to buy cosmetic items for both the drivers and cars. It’s neat being able to tailor your ride with spoilers, rims and even fuzzy dice over the dashboard, however, it feels a little on the hollow side since they have no actual impact on the way the car drives.
Rather than shooting for a realistic visual style, Hotshot Racing instead opts for a low-polygonal look that surprised me in how striking the effect actually proved to be. What once may have seemed dated has now circled back to feeling slick and stylish, environments managing to pop with bright colours and a healthy amount of distinct scenery whizzing by. The sense of speed is exciting too, the game running nice and smooth playing either handheld or docked, on your own or split-screen. Speaking of…
Get four players together and Hotshot Racing makes for a fun and competitive time in local split-screen play. While it may not be as chaotic nor unpredictable as Mario Kart 8 Deluxe or Team Sonic Racing, the focus purely on racing here makes for some rather tense and thrilling competitions. Also included is an online mode for up to eight people with the option to even bring other players in locally too. Unfortunately finding a room has been tough and since you need four people minimum for an online game to kick off it’s meant a lot of time waiting around in the lobby. It’s a concerning sign especially when online would have significantly extended this game’s lifespan.
If you miss the days of insane drifts, loud announcers and time-extending checkpoints then Hotshot Racing fills that gap nicely. While this arcade racing competitor certainly has a few dings in it, Hotshot Racing manages to nail the truly important areas. It handles well, feels fast and has that ‘one-more-go’ feel you want from games of this genre. Veteran or newcomer, Hotshot Racing is an exhilarating time.
Version Tested: Nintendo Switch
Review copy provided by Curve Digital