Modern racing games constantly blow my mind with their hyper-realistic visuals and goosebump-inducing sound effects, but sometimes I just want it to be all about fun.
I grew up on the arcade style racers – the likes of Outrun and Chase HQ – so I’m used to your progress in a race being tied to reaching checkpoints. If the time runs out, you automatically lose the race – it’s not all about positioning.
As good as those games were, watching them morph into 3D was a real joy – I still remember seeing Daytona USA in the arcade for the first time ever and my jaw was on the floor. As such, they hold a special place for me, and that’s exactly what I’m getting from the brilliant Hotshot Racing made by the ever-brilliant Sumo Digital. This is the arcade racer I’ve been wanting on consoles for quite some time and it comes loaded with content.
From online races, to time trials, a customisable workshop and, of course, multiple types of Grand Prix. The game is just a joy to play, whether it’s solo, co-operatively or competitively. And it looks like a modern visual delight while it does it with a sort of 3D cel-shaded aesthetic.
It pays so much homage and respect to the classic 8 and 16 bit retro racers, but it also manages to blend them with a visual style closer to a Daytona USA and SEGA Rally. And that’s not just in the style of cars you roam around it, or the unique cast of characters you can select from.
Each track gives you something completely different – from a ride-around equivalent of Jurassic Park to a circuit built into a beach and around a theme park. There’s even one set deep in a rainforest.
Hotshot Racing completely gets the thinking behind those classic retro racers and what made them so special. There’s no rhyme or reason for you driving away from a T-Rex one minute, then jetting around the world to private parties the next, and none of that matters.
It’s not a serious racer like an F1 or Forza, in that it’s trying to ground itself into the real world. It just wants you to soak up each course individually, as if it has no connection to the next and appreciate it for what it is. And there’s tons of neat easter eggs to discover if you take the time to look around, like trains circling around you, and volcanos bubbling away just off in the distance.
Sumo Digital are no strangers to making great racing games – if you’ve ever played Sonic & Sega All-Stars Racing you’ll know what I’m talking about – and their experience really shines through here, building an engaging, lasting intellectual property that is rife for long-term play, as well as potential expansion and further development.
At the heart of it are four Grand Prix Championships to win, each with four courses within them. You can choose between a Normal, Hard, and Expert difficulty, and from there choose between one of eight drivers – each with their own back story and set of cars to choose between.
The four cars all have their own speciality – varying between balance, drift, acceleration, and speed – so depending on your style of play, you do have options. That’s worth bearing in mind, seeing as how drifting is quite important to your overall success in Hotshot Racing as there’s a lot of tight corners.
That said, having the acceleration in your vehicle to tear away towards the tail end of a race is crucial to snatching the first place spot at the last moment, and overall speed is useful for obvious reasons, so perhaps a balance is most beneficial?
Hotshot Racing is a typical arcade racer. Like a Mario Kart, say, you’ll be leading one minute, then find yourself down to 8th just as quickly, all because you accidentally banged the front of your car on a tight corner, or another car reared you and sent you careering into the stands. You’ll need full concentration to see yourself to victory because the AI is ravenous – even on Normal difficulty.
It definitely feel like a racer that benefits an experienced player, I feel. Not that Normal can’t lead to some comfortable wins for you, but you’re never actually guaranteed to win your races at any point, and then you’ve always got to have the timer in the back of your mind as you move from checkpoint to checkpoint.
Another thing I really liked about Hotshot Racing is that each racer has their own individual ending to accompany the backstory. So if you successfully lift the championship at the end of a Grand Prix, you’ll get a ‘true ending’ so to speak, with some nicely put together scenes that show the player what they did after the race. It adds some nice replayability and encourages you to check out all the characters.
And you totally should, if, for nothing else, just to hear their own individual taunts and apologies as they take over rival cars or bash into them. Aston’s a proper British lad, for example, saying ‘Terribly sorry, old chap’ if he zooms into first place.
Beyond local wireless, the option to play multiplayer Grand Prix, and, of course, the online component, Hotshot Racing also sees you earn cash as you win races so you can spend that on outfit changes for each of the racers, as well as complete car overhauls – changing the look of the bumpers, wheels, and even accessories on the dash. Slightly disappointingly, though, none of the changes actually affect the stats of the car, so customisation is reserved for aesthetical purposes only.
But I’ve had so much fun with Hotshot Racing, it’s exactly the kind of racing game I’ve been looking to dip into and it offers enough to keep me coming back for more. Disregard at your peril.
+ Pure arcade racer fun
+ Lots of different cars, characters, and courses to experiment with and dive into
+ Great soundtrack and aesthetical choice
+ Lots of multiplayer options
– Cars can only receive aesthetical upgrades.
– Can be a bit harder going for those new to arcade racers
Hotshot Racing is now available on Xbox, PS4, PC, and Switch
Code kindly provided by Curve Digital
Tested on Switch