Thursday, July 18, 2024

REVIEW: Hotshot Racing


This is a review of the Steam version of the game.

Hotshot Racing began life as Racing Apex, a game which sought to capture the spirit of the 90’s arcade racer in the 21st century. Looking at alpha images and gameplay videos, there was a heavy influence of various Sega titles, most notably Sega GT/Scud Race. There also seemed to be mechanics involving vehicular combat at one point as well.

At some point, the vision for Racing Apex dissolved and found new life as Hotshot Racing, keeping the same ideas and concepts in mind, but instead blossomed into an honest-to-truth racer. A racing game that would indeed feel right at home in the 90s. It has been an interesting four years of development. Is Hotshot Racing a testament to an era long forgotten in the past?

Upon start-up you’re greeted to a “press start” screen, where after certain time has passed, an attract movie plays showing off gameplay footage. This isn’t unlike what one would see at the arcade as one passes by several games, hoping to spend their quarters on. The main menu also serves as a callback, with synthwave-style music and a booming announcer that screams “Daytonaaaaa.”

The main modes available are Grand Prix, Arcade, Time Trial, and Online. Arcade is the single race mode while Time Trial is also self-explanatory. The main mode is Grand Prix which serves as the game’s story mode. After you select a character and a car of your choice, you race in a tournament of four racetracks. Once you win a Grand Prix, a small cutscene plays, showing the aftermath of what each driver became after they’ve won their championships. Without spoiling the driver’s endings, some of the endings range from surprisingly heartwarming to downright comical.

There are driver banter throughout each race. A driver will refer to whatever track their on as they start the race, will make remarks to other aggressive drivers, and other attributes that take place on track. The drivers can tend to be a bit chatty, but I never found it to be a nuisance. There are audio settings in the options menu to lessen the chatterboxes if it becomes too much of an annoyance.

There are eight characters to choose from, with each driver boasting four unique vehicles from their garage to choose from. The vehicles are separated by a specific class; Balanced, Acceleration, Speed, and Drift. No two cars in a single class drives the same. One car in Balanced may have equal stats across the board, where another Balanced car from another driver may have emphasis in acceleration over speed. This brings the total of possible cars to a whopping 32 cars in total.

Each car is based on a real-life counterpart. You have your staple cars like the Dodge Viper, Toyota Supra, Nissan R34s, and Honda NSXs but you also have racing cars such as the Bentley Speed 8, Toyota GT One, and a Bugatti Veyron for good measure. There were even some classic cars I wasn’t expecting to see such as the Shelby Cobra, the first-gen “Hakosuka” Skyline, and the Toyota Sports 800. Obviously none of these cars go by their actual names, but eagle-eyed car fans can see the resemblance of such iconic cars even down to their names.

The tracks that you race on also vary between four different environments with four courses each, totaling up to 16 courses. If you add their mirrored variants, then that is doubled to 32 courses altogether. Some of the courses have similarities with each other due to sharing the same environment, but each environment is unique enough to stand out apart from the rest.

You have the sweeping beaches of the Coast, the barren wasteland converging into the bustling city of the Desert, the dark temples and dinosaur inhabited caverns of the Jungle, and the amusement-park snow-capped Mountain region. Each region has its own charms and landmarks with the Casino area of the Desert met with tight 90 degree corners while hairpins and elevations make up the Mountains.

The gameplay captures the classic arcade 90s racing aesthetic that I have already mentioned several times, but, if I were to pinpoint, it feels like a mix between Scud Race and Ridge Racer. You have four meters of boost that you can fill up by drifting as well as slip-streaming behind other racers. If you drive reckless by hitting walls, then you lose your boost. When you have a full stock of meter, you can use it to give your car a speed boost, in which you can chain drift with the added speed boost to fill your nitrous reserve.

This plays very similar to Ridge Racer games released during the PSP era throughout the seventh-generation of consoles. The aim is to drive like a daredevil while being as clean as a whistle. The faster you drive and the cleaner you race, the higher you’ll be able to maintain your boost. There is a bit of a learning curve but on easier difficulties, the game is lenient enough to offer a challenge while giving you a solid chance to win.

This leads me to the A.I. The AI in this game is extremely aggressive but it’s never to the point of unfairness. When you’re in first place, there are a pack of drivers always on your tail. When you’re in last, which is possible due to one of the aggressive drivers ramming you into a wall, it is just as quick for you to regain lost positions. No race ever feels like a complete shut-out and this is done quite well with the rubberbanding mechanics in this game.

Think of the difficulties in this game similar to that of Mario Kart. The higher the difficulty, the faster the cars will behave. If Normal difficulty would be considered 100CC, then Expert difficulty would easily be the 200CC. As such, I highly recommend to try out Expert as soon as you gain a handle on how the controls work. It’s a challenge, the AI is much more aggressive, and the timer gives you much less wiggle room to work with. However, the sense of speed is enough to make even the toughest losses feel fun and the closest wins all the more satisfying.

There aren’t much in the way of replayability in the sense that once you go through all four Grand Prix, you’ve seen what the game has to offer for the most part. You can customize your car with various hoods, spoilers, bumpers, and sideskirts with a depth that I was not expecting for a game like this. You can buy costumes for your character. You can challenge the leaderboards to reach the best time on time trials too. I’ve mentioned that there was an Online mode, though unfortunately at the time of writing the Online mode isn’t as active. The game however does pair you with bots after some time passes, so you’re not left hanging out to dry.

Perhaps the one main negative I can give this game is optimization. From default, it took a while for me to have my controller work with the game. My DualShock 4 outright refused to work as the buttons were mismatched. My supposed “acceleration” button ended up pausing the game, for example. Fortunately I had a backup Xbox 360 controller that worked just fine with the game. Hopefully in a future patch, this will be addressed, but aside from that hiccup the overall experience is fine.

Overall, Hotshot Racing is the perfect game to unwind after a long day when you want to feel a sense of speed and turn your mind off. It’s similar to how the Ridge Racer series was for me. I’d spend many a night on my PSP sliding and drifting everywhere and I felt a sense of nostalgia while playing this game in that regard. Racing fans will find enjoyment out of this and arcade fans will enjoy the easy to learn hard to master challenge that this game has to offer.

The Lost Summer recommends! ✔️

Hotshot Racing is available right now on Steam, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and Nintendo Switch!

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