There's No Need To Re-Invent The Steering Wheel
Between Gran Turismo 7, Project CARS 3, and the next inevitable Forza title, the racing genre is certainly becoming a little overcrowded with photo-realistic sims all vying to offer the definitive realistic racing experience. However, the folks at SumoDigital and Lucky Mountain Games seek to offer a slightly different racing experience with HotShot Racing, due to release later this summer, a nostalgic throwback to the beloved arcade racers of the 90s. Everything about HotShot Racing, from its low poly aesthetic, over the top announcer, and blisteringly fast-paced gameplay made me forget that I was sitting at my desk, and instead immersed me in the experience of being at the sticks of an actual arcade cabinet, coins in hand. But, can a nostalgic throwback experience justify itself as a standalone racer in 2020?
Back To The Ol' Cabinet
During my hour-long session with the HotShot team, the developers made no secret about their inspirations, Hard Driving, Virtua Racing, and Daytona USA, being titles that they held close to their hearts, and the DNA of all of three is abundantly evident as soon as players jump into their first race. It makes no apologies for not being an ultra-realistic sim, embracing the break-neck speed and often comically disaster-prone nature of arcade racers in its stride.
Like it's inspirations, the developers intended gameplay to be purposefully simple, entirely built around it's drift system where successful drifts build up a boost meter. This allows the player to soar in front of opponents. Base statistics can vary slightly depending on which car the player chooses, but that’s pretty much all there is to it. Racers only need to navigate the boost and drift buttons, and the rest is up to the player's unique strategy and technique.
This means the game is super accessible, perhaps even more so than Mario Kart, as players only need to control the basic movement of their car and work just two buttons. Yet, being accessible doesn’t mean forgiving. Just one poorly executed drift can cost the entire race, often leaving little opportunity to catch up. Thankfully, the gameplay takes an easy-to-learn, hard-to-master approach, and players will have to refine their drifting ability over the course of several races to confidently navigate the 16 different tracks.
Pastels Are The New Black
Across it's multiple different is an absolute visual delight. Though it would be easy to dismiss the 90’s arcade aesthetic in comparison to its high detailed counterparts, what HotShot Racing lacks in polygons and textures, it makes up for in color and vibrancy. Every course is a visual feast of pastel colors that - though simple - are simply a joy to absorb.
I also fell particularly in love with the games sound design, which only goes hand in hand with its retro visuals. The presence of an overly enthusiastic announcer who proudly screamed out any of my menu choices with intense excitement brought me straight back to the arcade cabinet.
As well as the traditional Grand Prix, Time Trial, and Arcade modes, there were two additional party game types available to choose from in the build that I played. Drive Or Explode, a mode inspired by the movie Speed in which players must consistently stay above 90mph or risk spontaneous combustion, and Cops and Robbers, in which racers are assigned opposite sides of the law in a high-speed chase that’s focused on a combative playstyle of bashing up other cars until they blow up.
The thing is - these modes were so much more fun than the traditional racing modes. I was laughing and cursing at the other players as we bashed our cars together and sent each other flying in a manner that felt so appropriate for a racer trying to distance itself from traditional racing sims. It’s a shame there are only two of these party modes available, and I can’t help but feel SumoDigital are missing a trick on not making these party games the focus of HotShot Racing, and I would have loved to see several other experimental modes.
Thankfully, the modes that are available still offer a great - if short-lived - party experience, with support for 4-player co-op and 8-players online play available on all platforms. LAN play is even supported for Switch.
HotShot Racing Impressions | Final Thoughts
The nostalgic sensibilities and aesthetic of Hotshot Racing is an absolute delight and achieves its goal of reviving the arcade cabinet games of the 90s. Its simple, accessible gameplay could make it the perfect party game for anyone to pick up and play - although I really think it could benefit from a few more modes to truly cement itself as one. With a few more multiplayer components, Hotshot could confidently position itself as a competent substitute for the likes of even Mario Kart. Until then, it's a welcome revival of an era of games that have been sorely missed, and a simple but solid arcade racer that's accessible for anyone.
TechRaptor previewed HotShot Racing on PC as part of a preview event with the developers.