Most of my life I remember going to the local taco place, and in their dining room in a back corner, there was a Virtua Racer cabinet—or a game that looks a lot like it—and though I’ve never played that specific cabinet, I’ve probably spent hours eating there watching the intro video loop repeatedly, remembering the hours I put into similar games as a kid. Racing games have since moved on to hyper realism in most cases—and gone are the neons of OutRun or the bright, colorful polygons of VirtuaRacer—until I got a hold of Hotshot Racing.
Hotshot Racing is an arcade racing game that harkens back to those halcyon days of cabinet polygonal racers. It has intentional blocky graphics that, even with their super crisp anti-aliased lines, remind me of something from the PlayStation one era or earlier. There is no emphasis on realism here, instead, there are a handful of racers, each with their handful of cars, and joyous arcade style racing.
Arcade-style doesn’t mean unchallenging. Racing in Hotshot Racing is about speed and drifting, which makes it a little more in-line with a modern racing game than one which its visual style is trying to emulate. Don’t expect realistic ground effects here, but the material you drive on matters: asphalt is best, while gravel and dirt slows you down. There is somewhat different handling on dirt tracks, though there isn’t the minuscule attention to handling that you would find in a more simulation-focused racing game.
Unlike the old school racing games it’s trying to emulate ( VirtuaRacer had only one track) Hotshot Racing has a decent amount of content. There are 24 cars you can use, spread out over eight different racers. And there are sixteen race tracks spread over four different regions. Strangely, the cars are attached to certain characters, so you have to play different racers to get to the car you may want. While each of the eight drivers has four different cars each, they all seem to have the same four types: the neutral car, the car with the higher top speed, the car with the better acceleration, and the car with the better drive.
Each of the cars available has a different handling profile, and three stats: speed, acceleration, and drift. Though the way each car ultimately feels may not be determined by those three stats alone, that’s all of the information you have to go by. Speed and acceleration are pretty straight forward, but I found the “drift” stat to translate a bit to handling as well. I would have preferred that the drivers and the cars be separated, but that may have exposed a lack of variety between the vehicles, making the practical number of unique cars lower than what it seems to offer.
Despite the variety of tracks, none really stood out to me too much. I raced each of the sixteen tracks multiple times, but other than one specific track with a very tight u-turn, I’m struggling to think of any other that stood out for being particularly tough, or exciting. Each track is certainly visually appealing, often with crowds, and other props that are thematically appropriate—and in a style that is reminiscent of those old arcade racing games.
The default mode in Hotshot Racing is ‘Arcade.’ It specifically tries to simulate playing a game on an old arcade cabinet, and in Arcade Mode if you don’t make a checkpoint in time, you are automatically disqualified from the rest of the race. I spent most of my time playing arcade mode– racing against others in multiplayer, or trying my hand at increasingly difficult Grand Prix races. But there are other race modes aside from just the ‘arcade’ mode. There’s a Cops and Robbers mode, and a ‘Drive or Explode’ mode. Each of these modes gives you a health bar, and you must avoid getting smashed to bits by the cops in Cops and Robbers. In Drive or Explode dropping below the posted speed for too long results in health loss, and eventually your car exploding.
If you like customization options in your racing game, Hotshot Racing has a fair amount. Each character has several different outfits they can eventually unlock—via currency or through challenges. The same goes for car customization, with each car having its own set of paint jobs, color combos, and even different body modifications that you can apply to make the car your own.
One of my favorite features of Hotshot Racing, and something you don’t really see much in a PC game anymore, is the ability to play the entire game locally split screen. You can even take that split screen race setup into online multiplayer—something I personally haven’t run into for a few years now. But Hotshot Racing is great for couch versus, and makes me feel like I’m playing a game of a different era.
I absolutely love the polygonal art style employed in Hotshot Racing. At first, I thought there was something off about it—and it took me a while to realize its super clean lines betrayed the style it was trying to accomplish. But when I turned the resolution down to the lowest setting, I almost felt like I was playing a PlayStation one era game. Sadly, there is no option in-game to de-modernize the graphics.
Hotshot Racing is a fun throwback to an earlier era of racing games. It’s a casual arcade experience that has a solid enough framework to be something worth playing. It has a decent amount of tracks, and cars to be something that you could play for a while, especially if it ends up having an active multiplayer community. Either way, I recommend this one for its throwback style and simple arcade-like experience.
Hotshot Racing will be available for PC, Xbox One, PlayStation 4 and Nintendo Switch on September 10th.
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