What if you took Virtua Racing, combined it with Daytona USA and added a splash of Split/Second? You’d get Hotshot Racing. Now for some this is an incredibly exciting combination (like me), others may not see the appeal, but Hotshot Racing is definitely one for the classic arcade racing fans that get their heart strings pulled when they see blue blue skies.
A couple of the developers involved (the game was developed by Lucky Mountain Games in conjunction with Sumo Digital) directly referenced their inspirations as Virtua Racing, Willing Run and Hard Driving and all this inspiration is immediately apparent when you boot the game up.
It’s hard not to get nostalgic with both the visual presentation as well as how the game feels to play. It’s a drift based racing game which definitely leans towards Daytona USA and the more modern Horizon Chase Turbo, but it feels more like Outrun to me. Trevor Ley from Lucky Mountain has previously mentioned Split/Second as an inspiration for the handling model which is great to hear as it’s a personal all-time favourite of mine. The drift model in Split/Second isn’t as twitchy or “light” as the 90s arcade racers which probably suits an analog stick better. But after spending some time with it, it definitely feels like it fits right in between Outrun and Split/Second. It even includes a very similar turbo building mechanic to Split/Second. Where in Split/Second you use your driving skill to build a power meter, in Hotshot you build a turbo meter to get a boost on the competition.
What you see is what you get here though. The visual style is unapologetically intentional, not only to tap into the obvious nostalgia, but also to allow for uncompromised performance, even in split screen – which is a welcome addition and not common in games these days. This has also allowed for parity across all versions of the game.
Keep It Simple
Don’t expect the all of the options and modes you’d normally get from a sim racer, or even other modern arcade racers like Forza Horizon. This is a pure arcade racer through and through, which means, short, sharp and punchy. But there are some newer modes that have been added to the game that go beyond the traditional ones fans of the genre have come to expect.
Alongside the standard Grand Prix, Time Trial and Single Race, you have an infection style Cops and Robbers mode where the “Cop” cars have to take out the “Robbers” and convert them into cops until there’s no robbers left with the ultimate goal being to earn the most cash. The game randomly chooses whether you start as a Cop or a Robber and in my experience it’s a bit harder to “win” as a cop than a robber because a robber’s job is first and foremost to survive, with money being the secondary goal. But even on the Normal Difficulty, the cops get quite aggressive and seem to be able to keep up quite easily.
There’s also an elimination mode called Drive and Explode where you need to maintain an increasing top speed without slowing down or crashing out. It can get really intense and is a really unique take on the mode. You have a life meter which depletes with each hit you take, but some life is restored as you hit checkpoints. A victory is based not only on survival, but also finishing in first place which can be quite difficult.
Both of the above sit alongside Arcade mode within the Single Race umbrella but there are also online modes as well as offline.
While selecting a car type based on their stats (with some colour variants) is nothing new, selecting a racer isn’t quite as common in this type of game. Hotshot Racing gives you a selection of 8 racers to choose from, from a variety of countries each with their own little bio.
You have Alexa (USA), Aston (UK), Xing (China), Keiko (Japan), Marcus (Jamaica), Viktor (Russia), Mike (USA) and Toshiro (Japan). As an example:
Alexa – “Everyone thought Alexa would end up a mechanic like her father. But that was his dream, not hers. Now she’s carving out her own path – as a bona fide racer.” A pretty standard bio for anyone who has played basically any kind of game from the 90s and for me it’s a neat little touch that really helps the game capture that classic feeling of games from that period.
Within those selections, you get the option to pick a different coloured outfit for your racer. Nothing too in depth but enough personalisation to give the player that little extra bit of attachment to invest deeper in the game itself.
A Modern Touch
But not everything is grounded in nostalgia, this is a game releasing in 2020 after all. Like many modern games, you earn money and complete in-race challenges which go towards unlock in the form of customisation options.
The customisation does go pretty in depth in terms of the sheer volume of it. Characters just have colour palette swaps, but cars go a little further with body kit modifications as well as colour options.
It helps add re-playability and depth to what would otherwise be a pretty shallow game had it released as bare bones as the arcade games that inspired it. I will also say some of the achievements are pretty funny, including one where your objective is to cross the finish line on fire, which I’m yet to do myself. Another is called “BMW Driver” which is achieved after slipstreaming behind someone for 5 seconds….ok even as someone who grew up with BMW drivers I have to say that’s pretty good.
Fans of classic arcade racers from the 90s will feel right at home with Hotshot Racing. Lucky Mountain have clearly demonstrated an understanding of what made those games so great while adding just enough modern modes and systems to allow for both better re-playability and player engagement.
It also happens to have a completely reasonable price tag for the polish of the title and what’s on offer here, but if you’re reading this, there’s a fair chance you’re a Game Pass subscriber in which case you’re in luck! Hotshot Racing launched straight into Game Pass so there’s no excuse not to give it a whirl.
This review is based on review code provided by the publisher