Old-school retro arcade racing fun-times comes drifting to consoles and PC in the shape of Hotshot Racing. If like me you’re old enough to remember the times when arcades were king with large smoke-filled rooms fitted corner to corner with all the latest arcade games was a kid’s paradise, this is a game for you.
If you’re as old as I am, you’ll also probably remember the first ‘gaming war’ between Ridge Racer and Daytona (and perhaps Virtua Racing before that): these two giants were the go-to racing games for the arcade go’er. Namco’s Ridge Racer had the fancier graphics (and a real Mazda MX5 to sit in if you ever visited London Trocadero) but SEGA’s Daytona had all the arcade thrills and spills you would expect coming from the kings of the arcade. It was a good time.
Fast forward 25 years, during which times racing games have evolved from arcade fun to as real-to-life as you can get with the likes of Gran Turismo and Forza. Yes, these are good games – great games in fact – but they can be too hard and technical for the casual gamer. They’re designed with fancy real-life car models and accurate physics over blistering balls-out racing fun. The arcade racer has sort of been left behind. Until now…
Step forward Hotshot Racing from Lucky Mountain Games, an unashamed throwback to the golden age of arcade racing, combining the best bits of Ridge Racer and Daytona to give us arguably the most racing fun you can get on console.
The premise is pretty simple. Put your foot to the accelerator and race around implausibly imaginative tracks and reach the next check-point before the timer runs out. Remember that old racing mechanic from the likes of Ridge Racer, Sega Rally, Daytona, and Scud Race? Yeah, this is a long-dead gaming tropé that is back and I have to say, I have sorely missed it. This method of time trial mixed with the fight for the chequered flag really gives the racing a sense of urgency.
There are four GPs to take part in, and each one has four tracks for you to bomb around at break-neck speed with each one getting progressively faster/harder. Imagine Mario Kart without all the Nintendo bells & whistles and you’ll have a good idea of what to expect.
There are plenty of racers to choose from, coming from all around the world. They don’t have any particular skills or abilities so their differences are just cosmetic. And I have to say awfully clilché. If this is by design to help keep the retro feel of the 90’s or just uninvetive is something I’m not sure about. They are an eclectic bunch and have some genuinely funny quips when tussling with other drivers during a race.
Each of these characters has four cars to choose from and each car has specific attributes; all-round, acceleration, speed, and drift. The attributes are pretty much the same for each class of car so when it comes to choosing it really is just down to who you like rather than any particular character having a special skill-set. The car designs are wonderfully boxy in design but loosely follow the look of real-world cars.
Once you’ve chosen your character and car it’s off to the start line where a voice-over booms “START YOUR ENGINES!” and off you go. It’s then that a delightful, retro feeling that washes over you. Cars bumping and tussling for first place without consequence, loud rawk music blasting through your speakers and checkpoint anxiety. It’s all there and I love it.
The handling of the cars of course depends on what model you have chosen, for the most part. Steering is just like that of Ridge Racer: release the accelerator, or tap the break to start a mega drift, keep control of the drift for as long as you can by feathering the throttle and brake. The longer you drift the more you fill up your boost meter. A welcome treat and something which is essential if you hope to win a race on the harder levels. Although it’s not as refined as Namco’s masterpiece it definitely works well enough to have you sliding around the biggest of corners with huge satisfaction.
Getting used to the steering, racing against a time limit as well as other races is a relatively easy affair. However, you will spend most of your time fighting an invisible foe. Hotshot Racing has some terrible rubber banding and has been a topic of hot debate over here at Finger Guns Towers. Some of the team like it and others don’t. I’m one of those who doesn’t. The trouble is that no matter how well you race, you can never build a good lead. There are so many times when I’ve raced a perfect lap, only to have a car suddenly turn up behind me, jostling for position.
That’s not the worst part. I mean a challenging race against your main rival is one thing, but it’s not always the same car that rubber bands in front of you. This ruins the sense of having a tight race with your nearest rival. It’s just a free for all at times. My main issue here is there is no reward for racing well, you could conceivably just jostle your way to the front, ignoring the drifting, boosting, and getting a racing line, you can just bully yourself to the front. Yes, this is perhaps how the arcade games were back in the day, but it sure dampens your enthusiasm to compete.
On the flip side, other members of the team like it. The argument being that no matter how far behind you fall in the race there is still a chance you can catch up with the leading pack and win the race. However, if there is a pack of cars in front, all jostling for position, you’ll notice that all the bumping and fighting has no effect on the other cars, they just keep on driving with no ill-effect. I guess it could be down to personal preference but for me, it puts a dent in an otherwise flawless recreation of arcade classics.
Speaking of arcade classics, special mention has to go out to the graphics. They are beautiful in a low-poly kind of way, sitting somewhere between Virtua Racing and Daytona. Simple flat polygons with no texture, bright colours that run super smooth and are a delight for the eyes. These graphics partnering the 90’s inspired soundtrack make for a delightful retro experience that can’t fail to send you back to your favourite arcade.
There is a multiplayer option in Hotshot Racing and this is easily the strongest and most fun you can have. There the three modes for you to choose from. Arcade which is your standard race against friends, then there is Cops and Robbers which sees you play as either the cop or robber and have to chase/evade your pal for as long as possible. Finally, there is Explode. In this mode, you need to keep your speed up or your energy meter depletes leaving you a smoking wreck should it empty, just like that film with a bus. You can play with up to 8 players online but if you don’t have enough friends you can populate the rest of the spaces with AI.
If that’s not your thang you can play 4-player local co-op. That’s right. Local co-op! This really is a retro game in every respect. We were lucky enough at Finger Guns towers to be provided with 3 review codes so we could test out the multi-player and its safe to say Hotshot Racing is the most fun we’ve had playing online for a long time. It’s just superb in its simplicity. Even though there is a faint whiff of rubber banding it perhaps adds to the rivalry and tension as you’re never far away from some sort of chaos or, in the case of Sean, just lurking somewhere ready to wipe you out.
Hotshot Racing is an absolute blast and has filled a void that’s been left since the last Ridge Racer game appeared on PS3. It’s everything an arcade racer should be. Fun, fearless, and loud. It doesn’t pretend to be anything other than a tribute to a bygone age where massive sit-in arcade machines were the norm. It takes me back to a time when gaming was all about fun and I love Hotshot racing for it.
The only downer which can sour the experience somewhat is the rubber banding. It really is bad at times. And the racers themselves could have been a little less cliched. But don’t let that stop you from picking this game up if you want something less serious than the Forza’s and the Gran Turismo’s. This is pure pick up and play arcade magic. Switch your brain off and just soak up those retro vibes.
HotShot Racing is a must buy if you are looking to rekindle your love affair with arcade racers. Just be prepared to battle the rubber banding for the finish line.
Hotshot Racing launches on September 10th for PlayStation 4 (reviewed) Xbox One, Nintendo Switch and PC
Developer: Lucky Mountain Games, Sumo Digital
Publisher: Curve Digital
Disclaimer: In order to complete this review we were provided with a promotional copy of the game. For our full review policy, please go here.
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