Racing games have gotten more and more in depth as time has gone on. From the early days of Gran Turismo through to the spectacular Forza series of modern day, it’s clear that much of the focus is on a more sim-style approach to racing. There’s still the occasional lighter-hearted take of course, and Hotshot Racing takes that idea and runs with it; coming across as a mix between Outrun and Virtua Racing, the wizards at Sumo Digital and Lucky Mountain have created an excellent throwback to a simpler time, where just the joy of throwing a car around a track was enough, without needing to worry about tyre wear or suspension limits.
Hotshot Racing takes its arcade inspiration to heart – we have a selection of championships to compete in, each with 4 tracks and 3 difficulty modes. There are a handful of racers, each with 4 cars, to choose from featuring slightly differing abilities when it comes to acceleration, drift, or top speed, but that’s it. My personal favourite was Keiko, and it pays to stick to one as there are challenges associated with each driver and car that unlock new aesthetic customisation options; some require us to drift for 5 seconds in one go, while others are spread out over many races such as boost 20 times in a race, or drift for 100 seconds total in each car. Again, they only unlock visual customisation options, but they are a neat way to encourage us to play with each car and racer, as well as alter our style slightly to succeed.
The racing itself is incredibly fun, throwing back to earlier titles in its approach to handling; chucking the car around the corner while tapping the brake sends us into some epic powerslides that look cool as shit while also still being fun to control. On the lower difficulty I had no issue navigating hairpin after hairpin while jostling for position with the AI cars. It’s just simple enough to play, yet it’s not also going to take it easy on us. The AI are aggressive as anything, taking no hesitation in smashing into us to get around a corner, or pushing us into a hazard. It gives the racing a bit of a scrappy feeling, and it’s something that I loved about Hotshot Racing.
Slipstreaming or drifting builds up a boost meter that is split into four chunks; once one is full, a tap of A sends the car careening down the track at some speed. Again though, utilising the drift even at this speed means we can fly around bends and turns as easy as anything. I haven’t had this much pure fun in a racer since the days of Daytona USA and Outrun 2. There are no power ups, no item pick-ups or short cuts, just you, a fleet of rivals and some well-designed tracks to contend with. An arcade-style timer between checkpoints ratchets up the tension, each crash or knock costing valuable seconds. I’d perhaps have liked an option to turn this off for single races though. My young children were enjoying playing, but that timer meant they were often out before they’d even finished the first lap.
Each championship can be played with up to four players, which is – as always – even more fun as we bash and shove each other both in game and in real life. There are also single races to play that offer up a couple of additional modes. First, we have Cops and Robbers; as the name implies, players need to complete 3 laps of a track and collecting money at each checkpoint while avoiding being taken down by a Police vehicle. Both this and the latter Drive or Explode mode feature damage to the cars (though it is just a life bar rather than anything that’ll affect handling), and once depleted we respawn as a Cop to try and take the remaining robbers down. The winner is either the first person across the line with the most cash, or – most likely – the last man standing. As I keep saying, this mode is brilliant fun, offering up a neat twist on the pure racing of the Arcade mode.
Drive or Explode has us racing Speed-style, meaning that if our speed drops below a determined amount we will blow up. Each checkpoint passed ups the lower limit, and by the final lap things get tough as even drifting around a corner will drop us just under the limit. We have a few seconds to get our speed back up thankfully, and it’s here that the boost comes in handy. Again, damage features and here it can be even more of a burden as cars hurtle around the track trying to keep their speed up. Attempt this on Expert and much like Mario Kart’s CC classes the base speed is faster too – it never gets overwhelmingly fast because the controls are tight but one small mistake can spell disaster.
I didn’t manage to get on in time for the online test sessions, but there are the same three options for race types in ranked, while a quick match also features. This does require a minimum of four players to start a race, though as it’s coming day one the GamePass I don’t imagine there’ll be a shortage of opponents.
Flat shaded polys are not a new thing to games, but Hotshot Racing manages to imbue them with an excellent style and colour palette that looks just how I remember titles like Virtua Racing looking. Each of the four areas are pretty generic in their basis – Coast, Desert, Jungle and Mountain – but manage to look great while having their own recognisable landmarks and features. Some of the tracks reuse elements which can make them feel a bit same-y, but for the most part each are unique and – here it comes again – just plain fun to play. This visual presentation is complemented by some wonderfully arcade-like music and effects, down to the announcer who could have been lifted wholesale from a 90’s arcade. If anything, Hotshot Racing does too good a job of replicating the arcades of old – it reminds me of just how old I am when I think back to the games that it takes inspiration from, they seem like a million years ago…
I’ve used the term fun a lot in this review, simply because that is the most accurate work for Hotshot Racing. I had an absolute blast playing it, and appreciated its retro arcade feel and looks. Those looking for more in depth racing might come away wanting, but then that is pretty much the opposite of what Hotshot Racing sets out to do – this is pure, simple, captivating gameplay, and a title you can’t miss out on, especially as it’s in GamePass!
This game was tested and reviewed on Xbox. All of the opinions and insights here are subject to that version. Game provided by publisher.Want to keep up to date with the latest Xt reviews, Xt opinions and Xt content? Follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube.