An enjoyable and detailed racer successfully invokes the spirit of the 90s arcade, even if it doesn’t quite have a spark of its own.
If you’ve ever enjoyed an arcade racer, I can pretty much guarantee you’ll find something to enjoy in Hotshot Racing. Apologies for opening on such a banality, but honestly it’s true – and that’s partly because there’s a little bit of every arcade racer of note in Lucky Mountain Games and Sumo Digital’s enjoyable, knockabout medley of all that’s great and good about the genre.
There’s some of Virtua Racing, Winning Run and those other early 3D pioneers in Hotshot Racing, withs its lo-polygon look that’s so sharp you could slice your finger on its hard edges. And this really is a striking thing, both in stills and in motion: commendably, it’s 60fps across all platforms, that slickness doing justice to colourful, overstated worlds that feel like the developers have had some of whatever Sega was drinking in its mid-90s heyday. They’re upbeat fantasy worlds, presided over by gargantuan statues and speeding under blue, blue skies.
There’s a touch more Sega beneath those visuals – a dash of Scud Race in its garage that takes inspiration from real-life legends, a little OutRun in its drifting and drafting, both of which are then used to fill up a multi-stage boost bar that’s pure Burnout. The drifting itself takes its cues from Split/Second, with cars quick to break traction and just as happy to snap back into line in what’s a very approachable brand of arcade racing. It’s incredibly easy to get to grips with, perhaps because this is the sort of thing best experienced with a bunch of rowdy friends in the four-player splitscreen that’s on offer.
Hotshot Racing is a rowdy thing itself, with a knockabout style and humour that, despite its wealth of inspirations from classic 90s Japanese video games, feels so very British. There are eight characters, as overstated as anything else in the game, each with four vehicles apiece. So Aston the Roger Moore-a-like who represents the UK, for example, has in his garage an E-Type-a-like, an Esprit-a-like, a Bentley Speed One-a-like and, of course, an Aston Martin-a-like. Elsewhere you’ll find barely disguised takes on a Mk4 Supra, the Pennzoil GT-R, a Porsche 917 and even Phoenix Racing’s iconic Audi R8 LMS.
They’re split across four different classes – there’s balanced, drift, acceleration and speed – and atop that there’s a heap of cosmetic tweaks that can be made with unlockable parts you pick up with in-game credits. The art of driving in Hotshot Racing is largely the same, whichever car you end up behind the wheel of though – it’s about chaining drifts and drafts so that boost bar is constantly being filled, and picking the exact right moment to unleash that stored-up energy.
And it’s entertaining stuff, be it in Grand Prix mode that offers four race championships or elsewhere in more inspired modes such as Cops and Robbers – an Infection-style affair where you’re chasing or being chased – and Drive or Explode, Hotshot Racing’s Speed-inspired elimination mode where you’ve got to maintain a minimum MPH lest you take more damage and eventually detonate. It’s elbows-out stuff, and Hotshot Racing seems most comfortable when it’s flinging its cars at each other in games of high-speed dodgems – even in a standard race aggressive rubber banding will mean you’re always in aggressive company.
That tendency towards more combat-heavy racing probably explains why Hotshot Racing’s tracks are wide-open things, seemingly designed so that at least four cars can jostle along them abreast, but it does also mean they’re a forgettable bunch; for all the detail that lines the side of each circuit, where fun-fairs dance around while water fountains put on outlandish displays outside imposing hotel facades, there’s not quite the same imagination put into the cambers and curves of the tarmac itself, which seems like something of a shame.
And for all the fun I had seeing through everything that Hotshot Racing has to offer (though I’m still working away at the expert Grand Prix levels – there’s a serious difficulty spike to be found there, but I’m enjoying the challenge of having to extract everything out of the drift mechanic) it’s already beginning to fade a bit from the memory, partly thanks to how this is quick to plunder other examples of the genre without ever really emerging with a purpose of its own. Still, a couple of afternoons of fun is going to be more than enough for those starved of arcade racing thrills, and Hotshot Racing’s smart and stylish enough to deliver on its premise, even if it can’t quite cut it alongside the greats from which it draws inspiration.