Hotshot Racing is the latest retro-modern take on classic arcade racers. Does it earn its place on that competitive podium?
Hotshot Racing won me over before I got off the starting line. It was the announcer. “Hotshot Racing!” he bellows on the title screen. It’s the most Sega-like of introductions, a voice that says put your foot down and prepare for fun.
And Hotshot Racing is fun. Lots of fun. It’s a pedal to the metal blaze of colour and careening curves that brings back childhood memories of afternoons ensconced in Margate video game arcades.
I presume that’s exactly what developer Lucky Mountain Games set out to do. Evoking the aesthetic style of the early polygonal era is an obvious choice, but it can sometimes be too obvious. It’s an easy way to tap the nostalgia bone of players my age – and neatly reduces the need for expensive texture work – but if it’s not done well, it can feel like a lazy short cut.
With Hotshot Racing, however, Lucky Mountain has found the perfect marriage of retro design and modern gameplay. The 90s style fits the arcade racing genre like a snug driving glove, and the studio’s attention to detail is evident throughout, from the typefaces and menu sound-effects to the international cast and announcer who is, as far as I can tell, living his best life.
Earlier this year I reviewed The Eternal Castle: [Remastered], a game that purports to be an undiscovered classic of the 80s. It also recreates an old visual aesthetic, but where that game flounders and Hotshot Racing succeeds is with polished, well-designed gameplay. Those crisp roads look lovely, sure, but they are made for racing.
On the road, Hotshot Racing proves that it’s much more than an exercise in nostalgia with a handling model that recalls Criterion’s best work. Drifts can be teased into satisfyingly long glides. A well-timed boost can be the difference between first and second place, and the dark art of slipstreaming is a tricky pleasure to master. If you’ve played Burnout Paradise or Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit Remastered, you’ll feel right at home.
Each vehicle has drift, speed, and acceleration attributes that make a noticeable difference and, as each car acquits itself differently depending on the layout of the track, experimentation reaps rewards.
The game’s clean lines are rounded out by a roster of eight endearingly cliched drivers, each with costumes to unlock and a unique set of cars to drive. Each character has an amusing narrative delivered through in-race dialogue and victory vignettes that remind me of Ouendan‘s little narratives. It’s a neat touch that adds extra flavour and feels genuinely different for a racing game.
All the while, a collection of sun-kissed landscapes whizz by in a carnival of colour. It’s a travelogue of broad-brush locations featuring marinas, jungles, mountain ranges, casinos, and coastlines. You’ve been here before, but it’s crisp, beautiful, and moves by at a rock-solid 60fps. Each locale is also reworked to offer a varied mix of track layouts. Some have tight turns that require judicious use of the brake, while others are threaded with long straights and sweeping corners that encourage outrageous drifts and well-timed boosts. An upcoming free DLC update is soon to add four new locations to the mix.
Structurally, Hotshot Racing keeps things simple. There are Grand Prix, Time Trial, and Single Race options, but a little spice is added by two modes that speak for themselves: Cops & Robbers and Drive or Explode. They are fun diversions, but the beating heart of the game is the tournaments.
The game also supports multiplayer via split-screen, as well as local WiFi on Nintendo Switch. Thankfully, the bugs that plagued online multiplayer at launch have been swatted and the community appears well-populated.
The only real note of disappointment is in the thin and weedy engine sound effects. A little more grunt would be nice, but it’s a minor blemish on a gem of a racing game.
Or as the effervescent announcer puts it: “You Win!”
Game: Hotshot Racing
Platform: Nintendo Switch (reviewed), PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One
Publisher: Curve Digital
Developer: Lucky Mountain Games
Release Date: Out Now