Wednesday, September 9, 2020

Hotshot Racing (NSW) Review

We zoom and vroom deeper into September's month of reviews with a game that launches tomorrow on the Nintendo Switch eShop, among other platform storefronts as well. It's Hotshot Racing, and here is SuperPhillip Central's review!

An arcade racer with style on the hood and substance under it

Like so many genres in gaming that used to be up there in both quantity and popularity, the arcade racer is one that isn't in most big developer wheelhouses nowadays. Thus, once again indie developers are taking the lead. Hotshot Racing is a mix of Virtua Racing's low-polygon visual splendor with the drift-based racing of games such as Ridge Racer. It's a combination that delights as much as it dazzles, offering a simple enough control scheme for beginners to become acclimated with while also possessing enough depth for arcade racing game veterans to enjoy. It all adds up to one engaging arcade racer.

The main mode of Hotshot Racing is its Grand Prix, offering four unique cups, each with four different races. The four cups in Hotshot Racing's Grand Prix mode are spread out across four unique environments: Coast, Desert, Jungle, and Mountain. Each cup has a race in each location with varying track layouts, time of day, and weather. The winner of the Grand Prix is decided by the driver who possesses the most points at the end of the four-race series, and points are handed out based on position in each race. If you've played any Mario Kart game (or pretty much any racing game with a Grand Prix mode, for that matter), this is hardly a foreign concept.

Nearly every screenshot for this review was taken in handheld mode.
A great feel when it comes to handling and control is also no foreign concept to Sumo Digital, one of the co-developers of the game, and this fact continues with Hotshot Racing. Between cornering tight turns by pulling off impressive drifts and the general feel of driving each and every racing vehicle in the game, everything controls well in Hotshot Racing. There's a little sensitivity to drifting that takes some getting used to in the first several minutes of the game, but by a full race or two's completion, you'll be drifting like a pro.

And you'll need to drift like a pro, too, as Hotshot Racing can be a tricky game when competing against the computer. Most of your time as a local player will be spent in the previously described Grand Prix, and while the Normal and Hard difficulties aren't too terribly taxing, it's the Expert difficulty where one careless mistake can cost you not only the race but the cup as well. It can be quite frustrating, but at the same time, highly rewarding when you finally overcome the odds and the competition to stand at the top spot on the podium.

Once you've grown acclimated to it (which won't take too long), drifting feels sensational.
Apart from the Grand Prix, there is a single race option to explore, offering standard arcade-style races where you choose the location and amount of laps. Additionally, there are two special modes to choose from, both survival-style events. One has you avoiding pursuing police cars controlled by other players, where taking damage will eventually result in you blowing up and becoming a cop car yourself. The player with the most money at the end of this mode is considered the winner. In order to get money, you need to either cross checkpoints or, if you're a cop car, destroy players to inherit their cash pile. The other mode is likely inspired by the movie Speed. You have to keep your speed over a certain, perpetually increasing threshold and make it to the finish line. Checkpoints in this instance not only increase the speed limit you need to drive over, but also partially heals damage to your car. Both modes are fun, little time-wasters, but they failed to really hold my attention for too terribly long.

Hotshot Racing offers automatic or manual transmission.
The latter is best if you want even more of a challenge.
No, the meat and potatoes, or the gears and tires, if you'll pardon the clunky race car analogy, is the Grand Prix, and this mode won't last you too terribly long either. For each of the eight drivers in the game, there are four exclusive race cars they drive. By completing certain in-race requirements when driving a given vehicle, you'll unlock new skins, parts, and more to purchase with the game's currency. This adds some replay value for single player, if you need some motivation to continue playing and the stellar racing mechanics and fast speeds aren't enough.

As for the racing mechanics, when you drift, you slowly build energy in your boost meter. Once it has filled one of the notches, you can unleash a boost to soar past the competition or better yet, maintain your lead. You can also gather energy by slipstream-ing opponents. However, you lose energy in your meter when you collide against walls, so there's a good reason to not go completely hog wild when racing. There's a strategy to using boosts, too. Obviously straightaways are terrific for unleashing them, but also if you find yourself slowed down from a crash, they're a great way of getting back into the race as well.

Building some boost energy while drifting through downtown. My kind of evening!
Unfortunately, the AI doesn't really have to worry about getting back into the race because there's definitely a high level of rubber-banding on display in Hotshot Racing. While I appreciate the developers and designers of the game to get clear inspiration from classic racing games for most of the features in Hotshot Racing, rubber-banding was one they could have removed and I wouldn't have minded. Races always come down to the last few seconds due to how the computer sticks and stays neck and neck seemingly always, no matter how many boosts you use.

Aside from that big negative about the game, one of the qualities I adore about Hotshot Racing is that most modes outside of Time Trial can be played with up to four players locally for some split-screen action. I was only able to play with one other player locally, but I can happily state that it was a smooth as silk experience. Outside of the incredibly enjoyable local play, there is online multiplayer for up to eight players. I was unable to play this before the actual game's release tomorrow myself due to a minimum player limit before races can begin. Here's hoping, though, that there is a long-lasting community attached to the game.

This local multiplayer screenshot was taken while my Switch was docked.
I briefly mentioned the low-poly graphics of Hotshot Racing, but it's worth noting how lovely and striking the visual style really is. It makes seeing obstacles and turns simple, while also rewarding players with a smooth as silk frame-rate, whether playing docked or handheld on the Nintendo Switch. Environments look divine with large draw distances, and meticulously detailed tracks with numerous objects, buildings, and more scattered around them.

When it concerns the sound, Hotshot Racing features a hype-inducing announcer, as well as voicework for all eight drivers in the game, whether contextually within races or during their Grand Prix endings. The music wasn't a memorable spot for me in Hotshot Racing, but that's probably because I was too busy listening to the gears shift, the engines roar, and focusing on trying to win each race. I did notice that every track's final lap version got more vigorous and changed up notes and accompaniment considerably, making for a immensely more intense conclusion to each race than without it.

Not mentioned in the body of this review, Hotshot Racing's
Nintendo Switch version features optional motion control steering.
Delivering thrills, chills, and arcade racing entertainment of yore (complete with some unwanted old school sensibilities like rubber-banding), Hotshot Racing succeeds at bringing a stellar arcade racing experience to the Nintendo Switch (and I assume other platforms, too, when it releases on those). The driving and drifting mechanics are structurally sound and more importantly, they feel wonderful when playing. Hotshot Racing crosses the finish line with a gorgeous low-poly art style and enough under the hood gameplay-wise to back it all up.

[SPC Says: B]

A code was provided for the purpose of this review.

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