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Even if the bright and bold all-polygons, no-textures aesthetic of Hotshot Racing doesn't immediately grab your attention in this era of photo realism, slide into the driving seat one of its four-wheeled monsters and a vital ingredient of the experience sure will. Sumo Digital and Lucky Mountain's new racer has speed to burn, and isn't afraid of making the elemental thrill of seeing the world outside the cockpit turn into a blur the absolute heart of everything Hotshot Racing has to offer.
Which is to say: outside of the behind-the-wheel, steady-60-fps thrills, Hotshot Racing doesn't have a great deal of extra-value frills (at least, not yet). And that's absolutely fine, given its billing as an (excellent) arcade racer and its budget asking price. Get its engine turning over and you're presented with eight racers to select from, with four cars each - all of which fit a type: balanced, acceleration, speed or drift - and 16 tracks to let them loose on, which are split across four environments: desert, coast, mountain and jungle.
There are four main modes of play in Hotshot Racing. Grand Prix strings together four circuits in a row, one from each environment; while Arcade lets you pick any one of those tracks for a three-lap single race. Mixing things up a little more, Cops & Robbers begins with you and other racers evading the chasing police, and you assume the role of a cop car when caught, and have to take down the fleeing criminals. Drive or Explode sees your car take damage if you can't maintain an ever-increasing top speed around three laps - reach zero on the health bar and it's goodnight, head gasket... and the rest. There's also the usual Time Trial option, if racing ghosts is your thing (and oh boy, do these devs go fast).
In my time with the game, it's the Grand Prix and Arcade modes that have held the most appeal - where your car takes no damage and it's all about crossing that line in first place, albeit with checkpoints needing to be reached before the clock ticks down, too. Cops & Robbers and Drive or Explode are fun-enough distractions for when you think your racing line can't be faulted, but I can't see many solo players making them their preferred modes.
That could change in multiplayer mode, however, as (mostly) comical calamity is always best when shared with pals. Hotshot Racing supports four-player split-screen locally and up to eight players for online races - and that it's about as fuss-free as a Mario Kart iteration means that near enough any player, of any experience, can join in and have fun. It's perfect pick-up-and-play fun - but also a game that can be as demanding as you want it to be.
Everything you do in the game - on the track, that is - rewards you with in-game currency that can be used to modify cars and provide drivers with new outfits. None of it affects how these cars perform, but you might find that the perfect palette for your speed-leaning mean machine becomes available a couple of hours into play, or the ideal rear bumper for that behind-the-car perspective (five camera options are available - but I always choose the chase view).
The drivers all have their own pre-race quips, on the selection screen. They also offer a kind of commentary, sparingly, during play - one talks about how driving is an art, while another will always say it's just a temporary setback when they drop out of first - and they have unique ending sequences in Grand Prix mode, akin to Street Fighter II's but more for laughs than not. But with no unique skills beneath their very different looks, these characters are just vessels for the player to, um, insert themselves into. They're effectively only talkative skins.
Tracks are wonderfully vibrant, colourful things, inevitably bringing to mind the likes of SEGA's iconic Virtua Racing (there's a very familiar-looking fairground) and Daytona USA (gigantic fruit-machine spinner, check). There are also shades of Ridge Racer and SEGA Rally (the jungle courses definitely take a cue or two) - and none of this is to the detriment of Hotshot Racing.
If it was only offering these nods at a surface level, and the gameplay couldn't hold a candle to such inspirations, there'd be reason enough to groan and move on. But the moment-to-moment racing, the moment-to-moment speed of this thing, comes close to the instant-click, forever-evergreen magic of those arcade classics.
Perhaps that shouldn't come as a surprise, given the pedigree of Hotshot Racing's developers - Sumo Digital worked on the outstanding Xbox port of OutRun 2 back in 2004 and since then has released a steady stream of excellent racers, including last year's Team Sonic Racing. But nevertheless, it's supremely rewarding to blast through a Grand Prix, take first place and immediately think: yep, I want to do that again.
In true arcade tradition, drifting is a vital part of winning races. Successfully maintain drifts around corners and you'll fill your boost meter - and you'll need to make use of those bursts of extra speed because if there's one 'fault' to be levelled at Hotshot Racing, it's that whatever the difficulty level, you'll never exactly leave your opponents trailing.
This isn't like Mario Kart where you can pull ahead and only a blue spiny shell threatens to eat into your lead - go wide on a bend and run two wheels over a grass verge and second and third will be right on your tail. Often, this kind of rubber-banding is hugely frustrating, but Hotshot Racing keeps the heat on without making it all descending into a sweaty, angry mess. Make a mistake - or, just as likely, get shunted off course by a chasing racer - and there's usually a way for you to catch up to the frontrunners. On Expert difficulty, though, you'll have to keep to your racing line almost perfectly for the full three laps, else you've next to zero chance of coming home in first.
It's to Hotshot Racing's great credit that it makes its learning curve so much fun. Expert success is obtainable with not all that much practise - but if you just want to blast around sun-kissed coastlines or frosty mountain peaks, Normal has you sorted (you're unlikely to run out of time between checkpoints, even if first place is lost when the second-place car rear-ends you on the final bend). Each car type requires a slightly different approach to play, and familiar tracks offer new challenges when you switch from a vehicle tuned for speed to one that's engineered up for drifting.
It won't take forever to do everything in Hotshot Racing, from a single-player perspective (although free DLC, including four new tracks, is promised), but it's an addictive little game that can be hard to put down once you've developed a taste for its throwback-styled variety of speed. Multiplayer options will naturally add longevity if you want to explore them with pals - but as an arcade racer in 2020, this is absolutely best in class.
Pros: super-fast arcade racing that feels amazing when drifting and boosting; tasteful retro visuals that keep tracks free of clutter; free DLC is promised to add more value to the package
Cons: car modifications are only cosmetic; rear-end bumps can feel over-powered on higher difficulty; driver quips could get on your tits
For fans of: Virtua Racing, OutRun 2, Mario Kart 8 Deluxe
Hotshot Racing is out now for PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One (it's on Game Pass) and Nintendo Switch. The game was reviewed on Nintendo Switch, with no notable performance dips between docked and handheld play. Code for review was provided by the publisher, Curve Digital. Read a guide to GAMINGbible's review scores here.
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