It’s no secret that I love an arcade racer, last year I got a lot of time out of Dangerous Driving and going back to a lot of my time playing on consoles I’ve always gotten a lot of enjoyment out of them, and one of the kings of recent times, in a genre that’s all but lost, has been Sumo Digital. They brought OutRun 2 from the arcades to home consoles back in the Ps2 era, and not only that but made an excellent version for the PSP too and since then they’ve consistently pumped out pretty decent ports of many popular racing games whilst also keeping SEGA’s attempt at a Mario Kart competitor going. It’s a studio that wears its love of the genre smack bang in the middle of a t-shirt, so what of its latest release?
On the surface Hotshot Racing has all of the right ingredients: a thumping soundtrack that wouldn’t be out of place vying for your attention in a dark, smokey seaside arcade from the 90s, bright and attractive visuals that perfectly capture that Blue Skies feeling that was so synonymous with SEGA from the likes of the original OutRun through to Daytona and SCUD Racer, trackside furniture that ramps up the excitement levels (they’ve even thrown in a Daytona-esque slot machine over one circuit), start line boosts and an announcer that loves to yell cliches.
So far, so good, it’s ticking all the boxes one would expect of a nostalgic look back at the genre, it’s brash, it’s loud, it looks a lot of fun. And it is, mostly.
An arcade racer lives and dies by its handling model, Sumo has a history in delivering on this and Hotshot Racing is no exception. Right from keeping the revs in the yellow to get that all-important boost, to tapping the brake without letting go of the accelerator to initiate a drift, the car does what you want, when you want it to. Each category of car, of which there are four (with eight characters being selectable, all with four cars each, one for each category), all feel different and even cars within the same category feel vastly different. Take Alexa’s “Days of Thunder”/Daytona USA inspired “Thunder” (which you can run in a Mellow Yellow-like livery if you wish) and compare it to Xing’s NSX alike “Blaze”, both are classed as Acceleration type cars, but the latter won’t respond to demanding quick responsive drifts particularly well, whereas Thunder is basically designed for that purpose (and is, in my opinion, an absolute joy to drive).
And once the game gets going and you figure out your preferred car, then everything begins to click into place. The initial difficulty is, to me, way too slow. I was seriously thinking Sumo had gotten this all wrong just because there was a lack of sensation of speed or adrenaline being pumped through my eyeballs to my chest, but crank it up to Hard and things begin to change, change that difficulty level to Expert and oh, boy, that’s more like it. On the lowest setting, wins come far too easily, the rubber banding is way over-powered, especially when you combine it with the mechanics that increase your boost meter: drifting and drafting, and even the biggest of mistakes won’t stop you from winning. On Hard that rubber banding is at its best, it gives and takes at just the right amount to make the races enjoyable, on Expert it can feel a little too punishing but not so much that you want to throw the controller.
What will make you want to throw the controller is the aggression of the computer AI, now I’ll say at this point I’ve not played the game online, Sumo had set up matches for people to play but there were never any available when I had the opportunity to play, but back to that AI. They, too, will take advantage of drifting and drafting to gain the ability to boost, they’ll also try for the start line boost to varying levels of success, but what they don’t do is race you. Instead, they tend to just try and drive through you, on the lowest difficulty its irritating, on Hard it begins to grate, but your entire race can be ruined on Expert by a computer-driven car ramming you up the backside, usually on a corner and pretty much always clipping you in just the right way to spin you round so you’re facing the wrong way. Now I’m not one for rage quitting, but this has pushed me close.
It’s not even like the circuits are narrow twisty things either, they’re very, very, wide, probably too wide. Which means that the trackside furniture I mentioned earlier is just a little too far away from your sight-lines to add to the experience. These are, however, gripes that don’t detract too much from the overall experience. There’s not much that can be done about the circuit design or scenery now unless there are plans for new circuits further down the line, but Sumo could definitely tweak both the rubber-banding and the aggression levels of your competitors, get that right and Hotshot Racing stands strong enough to be considered as highly as SEGA Rally, Daytona USA and Ridge Racer Type 4 as a pure arcade racing experience.
Formats: PC, Switch, PS4 (version tested), XBox One
Release Date: 10th September 2020
Publisher: Curve Digital
Developer: Lucky Mountain Games, Sumo Digital