Throwing itself right back into the time when Sega Rally, Daytona 500 and the likes were storming the arcades in the early to mid 90s, Hotshot Racing is a love letter to the bygone era of arcade racing. I was born in 1984 and when arcades were in their boom, I’d just gotten myself an upgrade from a ZX Spectrum 3 to a Sega Master System. Going to the arcade was an eye opening wow event. Anyone below the age of perhaps 22 probably wouldn’t understand. Sigh (old man noises).
Hotshot Racing evokes so much about that era of arcade racing perfectly. The chonky polygons, the bright colours, the eye bleeding speed of it all and the loud brash soundtrack served with ample stilton. It is a sensory feast on the eyes and ears and that is Hotshot Racing’s biggest compliment. I felt like I was right back in those arcades having a fantastic time. This also transfers over largely to how the cars handle too.
Taking cues from early kart games, this is all about drifting, slipstreaming and most importantly boosting. the car has grip for days and you’ll rarely need to fully brake for longer than a second or so. Doing so whilst steering will see the car drift out in a gloriously over the top drift. This, along with the powerful slipstreaming effect of following behind other cars, will increase you boost gauge. You’ll get several elements on the gauge and you use each one separately and in full. So if you fill it up, you’ll get 5 separate boosts for example. The cars handle responsively but when you are power boosting round the final bends trying to overtake the extremely aggressive AI, you’ll feel like buckaroo trying to hold on. It is part of the charm but along with the AI, it also becomes a little annoying too.
The AI has one of the most aggressive cases of rubber banding in recent memory. I stopped on a track and they all stopped to a crawl. I ran a clean and perfect race and they suddenly blast past with mammoth new speed in the final few corners. The game doesn’t feel like it rewards clean and honest driving because the AI run their own rules and that is the games biggest issue. In single player campaign cups, I’d end up driving tactically to just save all my boosts for the last few corners and then surprise them all. Rinse. Repeat. Except for Expert mode where they are so overpowered, I’d be eliminated by the checkpoint timer right on the last lap whilst in last. There doesn’t seem to be much of a middle ground and I hope that gets addressed over time.
The other mild quirk that annoyed me was the 4 player minimum limit for a multiplayer race. The servers were hardly full at launch and so getting 4 players to stay still long enough to actually go racing took far longer than it ever should be. The AI fill out the other 4 slots anyway so why limit it at 4 and not 2?
There are 16 tracks in all, although many blend into each other as there are four themed environments (four tracks for each). The tracks play well but aren’t instantly distinguishable from each other and so it feels less. I hope a fifth environment comes – as Sumo Digital – has stated new modes, tracks and mods are coming in the future via free updates.
Outside of races and time trials, there are two other fun modes. Cops and Robbers see a cop trying to smash the loot out of other players robbers cars, and robbers bank their money when they reach checkpoints – earning more via drifting and slipstreaming. There is also Drive or Explode mode. This sees your HP meter for your car drop if you don’t keep above an ever increasing minimum speed. This is where dirty driving becomes a forte as you damage other cars as you hit them but if you aim it right, they’ll slow to a crawl and lose a whole lot more HP getting up to speed again. Mwhaha.
There is also a fun and initially impressive customisation menu for each car. The eight characters have their own garage and so you unlock parts for their cars (speed, turn, drift equivalents) by completing various goals. Winning races, total drift time and so on unlock car pieces you can buy with your cash prizes for winning. There is a ton of things to unlock but they don’t fundamentally change the cars handling or speed so its all cosmetic only. It feels a little bit of a missed opportunity.
Still, what is here is a great base for a game that will grow over time. The score here is as the game is at launch, with its quirks slightly pulling down what is an engaging and frantic arcade experience. Local multiplayer runs smoothly like a dream, online does too when you can actually get enough people together to start a game. A few AI tweaks, performance modding to cars and some new tracks will make Hotshot Racing grow into a classic arcade experience hopefully. For now, its a commendable start.
Bought on PS4.
A solid base to build on, perfect for local multiplayer arcade fun. Just ram that cheating AI!
That sense of speed!
Cheesy soundtrack is golden!
Cars handle like a true arcade classic.
Local multiplayer works like a dream.
The AI rubber banding is horrific.
Tracks often feel a bit samey.
Strange 4 player online minimum requirement when AI fill out the slots anyway
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