Disclaimer – My opinion of Hotshot Racing is based on my experience with the Nintendo Switch version of the game.
Amidst the whole Covid-19 kerfuffle I have had a lot of time to just sit down, think and dream of the outside world. It’s been a bizarre mix of child related horror and surreal existential realisation that, for whatever reason, has resulted in a drive to get behind the wheel and burn some rubber. I have been particularly drawn to Arcade Racer’s, such as Horizon Chase Turbo (a game that I reviewed somewhat recently), so when I saw Hotshot Racing gathering a fair amount of hype, needless to say, I wanted to dive right in and give it a good go.
Before we get into the nitty gritty, I have to talk about the game’s visuals because they are a treat for the eyes so decadent, that those with pancreas abnormalities may have to look away. Hotshot Racing is a beautifully realised homage to classic, early polygonal racers like Virtua Racing. Polygons so big and chunky you could package them in a tin and sell it as a leading soup brand. The style is bold to say the least, and if done poorly, could have left the game looking like a hot mess, not a Hotshot. What we have here however, is a game that looks stylishly minimalistic. In an age where realism is king, Hotshot Racing shows that aged tech can still look damn snazzy with the right touch.
Now there are some issues with the visuals that burn my clutch, which naturally detracts from the overall visual package. For example, the games performance is incredibly inconsistent, both in handheld and docked. These are mostly limited to irritatingly noticeable microstutters that plague some of the games side modes, but also rear their ugly grill from time to time in the games core Grand Prix mode. There is also a bit of clipping on driver models and in general, the car designs are a little bit too samey. Not a game breaker, but certainly worth mentioning.
Regardless of visual niggles, graphics certainly don’t make a game great. So how does the game actually play? Not that great unfortunately. Whilst the games core mechanics are mostly solid, things very quickly devolve into the realm of tediousness. Propelling your hunk of metal forward via the power of combustion technology is great, turning your wheel and landing sick drifts, whilst difficult, is a blast. The issue is the game’s incredibly aggressive, rubberband-fuelled AI.
I would go as far as to say it is impossible to gain a substantial lead in any of Hotshot Racing’s single player modes. Everytime I managed to claw my way to pole position, two or three drivers would zoom past me within ten seconds. Heck, they will even ram you off the track whilst they’re at it, if you let them. The battle for first is seemingly endless, and despite most developers insisting this breeds ‘fun’, it is ultimately a pain in the rear bumper to deal with. Gameplay therefore boils down to ‘exploiting’ your boost, and saving it until the last second and zipping past the competition which becomes repetitive and is never satisfying.
Speaking of single player modes, Hotshot Racing’s main form of entertainment comes from a traditional Grand Prix mode. For those not in the racing loop, this essentially boils down to a series of short races whereby you accrue points. At the end of the set, if you have the most points, you win. Do this over a few Cups, then again over a couple additional difficulties and you’re golden. Whilst the mode itself is mostly ‘run-of-the-mill’, Hotshot Racing does introdroduce short cinematics once you complete a cup based on the driver you selected.
Each drive has a unique personality, appearance, and most importantly, set of cars they can take to the track. The spoiled, bratty, British, Aston for example sounds like a repugnant toff and drives a selection of expensive looking vehicles. Each driver has 4 cars to pick from, with each car being a part of a specific class of car and having unique stats to boot. This allows you to experiment with what ride you want to take, and since you get a fancy cinematic at the end, you are even given an encouraging nudge to do so.
Outside of the Grand Prix mode, you can play around in the Cops and Robbers and Drive or Explode modes. Both modes are incredibly well designed and offer a boatload of high octane action. Cops and Robbers has a small team of cops chasing a band of robbers in an attempt to ram them off the road before the race ends, whilst Drive or Explode slowly ramps up the game’s top speed and demands that you never slow down or you will start taking damage. Take too much, and you go boom. These modes are great if you have friends, and a waste of time with the AI. The AI are relentlessly aggressive in Cops and Robbers and will hunt you to the ends of the earth, sometimes ending your race before the end of the first lap. In Drive or Explode the AI is the complete opposite, with the majority of the cast dying way too quickly and the race becoming a 1v1 against a super AI.
Thankfully multiplayer exists…right? Yes…kind of. Yes, it technically has a listing in the main menu, and yes you can select it, but I failed to find a single full lobby of players – even at launch. I had a grand total of 3 online races, and these were lobbies mostly consisting of bots making the whole thing pointless. If I wanted to race against bots, I could do so at any point without having to wait 10+ minutes for real people to join. The lack of an online community on the Switch kills the game’s longevity and leaves you with just Grand Prix, since most of the other game modes are simply not worth playing. It’s worth noting the game has Local Multiplayer, however I was unable to get a full team of players together to fully experiment with the mode. That being said, the game ran mostly fine in four player split-screen and this was easily the most fun I had with the game.
The games lacklustre gameplay package is topped off with an equally below average sound design. The game’s music is mostly forgettable, with some tracks being irritatingly repetitive. Engine noises are fine for the most part, but start to drone on if you are at top speed for too long (which is fairly frequently), and the game’s voice acting is performed well enough, but not worth keeping unmuted.
Hotshot Racing is a visually stunning Arcade Racer that is trying to pay respect to a bygone era. The game had potential, but a lacking single player offering, painful rubber banding and nonexistent multiplayer combined to make this a game simply not worth your time or money. A truly beautiful disappointment.
Toast Seal Of Disapproval
If you’re a fan of Arcade Racers, then maybe check out my review for Horizon Chase Turbo. Additionally, if you want something a bit more hardcore with a dash of sci-fi, then take a look at my review for FAST RMX.
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