When you’ve made a game that pays homage to early polygonal racing games and you want to release it on the Switch, you’d better be certain it’s a good one. After all, considering the Switch has actual Virtua Racing on it, when you come at the king, you best not miss.
The upstarts with the sheer gall to step onto the champ’s track are Lucky Mountain Games and Sumo Digital, with their coin-op-inspired Hotshot Racing. Thankfully, though, there’ll be no anguished squealing of tyres and smashing into the barricades for this one, because it absolutely manages to hold its own and is well worth a look if you long for the days of Ridge Racer and Daytona USA.
As you can see by the screenshots on this page, however, it’s Virtua Racing that’s very much the main influence for Hotshot Racing’s visual style. Everything’s reduced to such a low number of polygons that, if you were really bored enough, you could probably sit and count them on the screen. It’s a style that at the time was considered fairly primitive once the second wave of (more detailed) racing games started to appear, but time has been kind to it and in these days of photorealism the minimalist look is actually pretty striking.
This is helped by the fact that the game runs at a silky smooth 60 frames per second most of the time. There are some situations where that can drop quite a bit – there’s a race variation called Cops & Robbers which can chuck you right down to about 30 in handheld mode – but by and large, in the main Grand Prix mode, everything runs smoother than a jazz musician shaving his face with butter.
Speaking of Grand Prix (and stuff you spread on toast), this is the game’s bread and butter and is a fun enough romp that will last you a while, even if it isn’t massively revolutionary in any real way. There’s a total of 16 tracks split into four cups, and you can take them on in Normal, Hard and Expert difficulties (making for a total of 12 cups). As you’d expect, you get points depending on your position and the winner is the racer with the most points after four races. Let’s face it: even if you haven’t played the game yet, you could probably guess all this anyway.
That’s not to say it isn’t still entertaining, mind you. On the track is where it counts and in that respect, Hotshot Racing is a winner. Handling is nice and tight when it needs to be, and as you’re turning you can hit the brake to slide into the sort of drift that would make hardened Ridge Racer fans weak at the knees (we'd expect nothing less from a game that has racing experts Sumo Digital involved). Drifting even builds up a boost meter, as seen in every Ridge Racer game from the PSP version onward, meaning any fans (like us) who despair that the series has seemingly flatlined will appreciate it getting a little jolt of life again, albeit in tribute form.
It’s so old-school, in fact, that we have our suspicions there’s some rubber-banding going on. Obviously, that’s pretty difficult to prove and is often just the fall-back excuse for anyone who’s struggling to win races (don’t worry, we aren’t), but it does seem tricky to get any sort of a decent lead over anyone. Even if we save up four boosts and activate them all in a row, it isn’t long until opponents are right behind us, slipstreaming and trying to overtake us again. If this is the case it isn’t a dealbreaker by any means (plenty of other racing franchises use it, Mario Kart included), though it does mean the Expert cups may raise your blood pressure a little more than you’d like.
One of the ways in which Hotshot Racing tries to move on beyond simple arcade racing is in its character roster. Rather than just choosing what car you fancy, you instead select from one of eight characters, each of whom has four different cars with their own stats. Prize money from races can be spent on customising these cars in the Raceshop mode, allowing you to tinker with anything from the design and colour of your car’s paintwork to the bumpers, exhaust, spoiler and even the bobbleheads on the dashboard in the in-car view.
Each character also has their own distinct personality, from American hotshot Alexa (who’s entering the race because she doesn’t want to become a mechanic like her old man) to Jamaican athlete Marcus. Each character has their own unique ending when you win a Grand Prix with them, which is a nice touch and encourages you to play with different racers. Less enjoyable, though, are the soundbites you hear from them while racing: while they’re harmless enough (a few dodgy stereotypical voices aside), there just aren’t enough of them so there’s a lot of repetition.
Outside of Grand Prix mode, things are as expected. You can do single races: these include two different race types called Cops & Robbers and Drive Or Explode, neither of which is particularly outstanding. You can do Time Trials, there's split-screen or local wireless multiplayer for up to four players, and theoretically, there's online multiplayer for up to eight players. We say “theoretically” because we (understandably) couldn’t find a match before launch, and given that the game won’t start an online race until there are at least four players ready, we have the feeling the online community won’t last long after it’s released. Buy this one assuming it’s going to be local only, and you won’t be disappointed.
If the look of Hotshot Racing appeals to you and you can appreciate the aesthetic delights of something that looks deliberately low-fi and polygonal, the action it offers on the track does an excellent job of backing up the game's style with substance. It may have its quirks and it may turn you into a paranoid conspiracy theorist ready to tell tales of rubber-banding to anyone who’ll listen to you, but hey: that just adds to the authenticity of the era it’s based on. This is a fine racing title that truly nails its driving mechanics and delivers an exhilarating experience that will captivate newcomers and veterans alike.