Review: Hotshot Racing (PS4)

Platforms:

  • PlayStation 4
  • Xbox One
  • Nintendo Switch

Platform/Hardware Used:

  • PSN Download
  • PS4 Pro
  • 4K HDR

Extras:

  • DualShock 4 Required (1)
  • Move None
Title: Hotshot Racing
Format: PSN (4.54 GB)
Release Date: September 10, 2020
Publisher: Curve Digital
Developer: Lucky Mountain Games
Original MSRP: $19.99 (USD)
ESRB Rating: E
A code for the game was provided by the publisher for review purposes.
PS Nation Review Policy

Gameplay:
Hotshot Racing is an arcade racer that aims to prove that there is more under the hood than just cheap thrills. Its aesthetic is inspired by retro racers, but it maintains high levels of polish and performance. The drift-style handling is an attempt to provide more depth than similar racers. Some of these characteristics succeed in elevating the overall experience, but the lack of meaningful replayability works against them.

While Hotshot Racing does buck some of the trends of its genre, it also embraces the best parts of it. Every aspect of the game is bright, colorful, and full of fun energy. The tracks, car selection, and even menus are all vibrant and attractive in a way that appeals to children and older retro fans alike.

The handling feels great and has some real depth to it. On a straightaway or gentle curve, there is a weightiness that makes slight corrections feel responsive without throwing your car across the track. There is a boost that can be activated with the press of a button, which tightens up the steering as it propels you forward and greater speeds. You can also draft other cars and use the extra juice to overtake them. While the game does not feel blindingly fast like some arcade racers, there are enough mechanisms in play to give it a nice sense of speed.


The highlight of the gameplay is the drifting. It is fairly easy to pick up, but requires a lot of practice to master. As you approach a curve, you tap L2 to initiate the drift, then hold the joystick in the direction that your momentum takes you until it is time to straighten out. As you swing around a curve, there are audio-visual cues from smoking, squealing tires that help you decide when to pull out of the drift. Experimenting with the amount of pressure applied to the L2 button and joystick to perfectly carve out a hard turn is the main hook of the gameplay. It feels great when you slide by your opponents and boost out of the back end. Alternatively, misjudging a turn and slamming into the barrier can make your stomach sink, especially at the highest difficulty when each split-second matters.

Boosts are earned throughout each race by successfully drifting and drafting. There is a green meter in the lower-right portion of the screen that fills up as you pull off clean maneuvers and earn up to four boosts. If you bump into another car or the wall during a drift, though, the boost progress you have made during that turn is cut short. This punishment effectively raises the stakes of each race and makes it even more rewarding to effectively navigate a turn.

There are eight playable drivers, each with four cars to choose from. The drivers are over-the-top representations of their home countries, in a cringey kind of way that would have been fine to leave behind in the 90s. The cars may look different, but each driver has one in each of four categories: balanced, acceleration, speed, and drift. They all handle very differently but since there are basically only four car types in the game it takes no time at all for the excitement of experimenting with new rides to wear off.

Disappointingly, all of the drivers and cars are available at the start of the game. There are aesthetic customizations for your driver and cars that can be purchased with in-game currency earned by competing, but these add-ons are often so subtle that they are hard to spot while you are racing. Cash comes quickly and by the boatload at the start of the game on its easiest difficulty, which cheapens the experience of earning these already dull unlockables.

Game modes include Grand Prix, Single Race, Time Trial, and Online. There are four Grand Prixs, each with four tracks and the possibility of earning a bronze, silver, or gold cup at the Normal, Hard, and Expert difficulties. There is a jump in difficulty between Hard and Expert that feels a little too steep, but on the plus side this adds some replayability to a game that is otherwise sorely lacking it.

In Single Race you can choose between Arcade, Cops & Robbers, and Drive or Explode. Arcade is just a standard race, but with the ability to choose the track (including mirrored versions), difficulty, and number of laps. In Cops & Robbers, the goal of the cops is to slam into the robbers, dealing damage up to a threshold at which they become cops themselves and continue the cycle. In Drive or Explode, there is a continually rising target speed that you must stay above or succumb to a fiery demise. The two more imaginative modes are fun to mess around with but do not have much staying power without unique unlockables or goals to chase.

In Time Trial you can choose any course and race against the default AI ghost, or you can download that track’s leaderboard to take on the very best from across the network. This is a great way to fine-tune your skills and get more familiar with a certain track, which proves invaluable in Expert mode. However, it suffers from the same lack of replayability as most of the other modes.

Grand Prix is easily the best offline mode, and is the closest thing to a career mode that Hotshot has to offer. It gives you a tangible goal to chase, all the while increasing your skills and awareness of each track. The tracks’ layouts are fairly unimaginative and straightforward, but their dynamic themes help to make the journey more exciting. Stringing together four great races to end with the highest cumulative points and grab the gold metal feels great. As an added bonus to getting first place, each racer has a brief backstory that they narrate after visiting the medal stand. These vignettes, as cheesy as they are, help add a sense of levity and give a feeling of connection with each racer.

The further you progress through each Grand Prix and increasing difficulty, the more frustrating the game’s rubberbanding becomes. Computer opponents seem to shift into a higher gear as they cross the start line for the final lap. It is one thing for the last lap to be more crowded, but it also becomes a common occurrence to be bumped and sent spiraling into the wall. Coming to a stop and slowly pulling away from the wall is devastating at the Expert level and it can take you from first to last place in the blink of an eye.

Visuals:
Hotshot Racing has a vibrant look that pays respects to the racers that paved the way for it while applying a fresh, modern coat of paint. Everything is given an oversized polygonal look, with flat surfaces and sharp edges abounding. Even the racers are blocky and lacking in detail. The consistency of the lighthearted aesthetic is charming, particularly when paired with the more refined gameplay mechanics.

The game’s visual performance excels, running at a smooth 60 fps through each boost, drift, and collision. The extra visual effects added to in-game maneuvers are equally smooth and consistent. As you boost, the camera backs up and everything becomes blurred, exaggerating the feeling of speeding ahead. Throughout each drift you leave behind tire marks and kick up a sizable cloud of smoke. Light wind streaks appear on the sides of your car to let you know you are drafting effectively. Flames become increasingly large as they engulf your car in Cops & Robbers. All of these cues are immediately comprehensible and soon feel like second nature on the track.


Most of the cars approximate the look of a real-world car that has been put through a retro filter. The result pops off the screen at first glance but does wear out its welcome. As mentioned before, the unlockable aesthetic add-ons do not do enough to individualize the cars.

There are multiple views to select from, including a cockpit view and an over-the-hood perspective. Playing in the cockpit view provides a little higher-thrills experience. The sense of speed is ratcheted up and the track feels more crowded. It is tougher to get a feel for your surroundings and to avoid getting spun out at times, but it is well worth giving a try to mix things up.

The surroundings of each track live and breathe their colorful themes. Dynamic objects such as giant windmills and even roaring dinosaurs add a ton of character to the game and help carry its otherwise no-frills raceways. The flyovers before each race help to highlight the creative settings that fly by in the background during the race.


Audio:
Just as there are effective visual cues throughout each race, there are audio cues that add depth to the racing experience. The squeals and screeches of drifting help you to know when you should keep holding and when you have pushed it too far. A tone sounds to let you know that you have earned a boost. This allows you to keep your eyes on the track rather than wandering towards the boost meter down the stretch of a particularly hairy race, knowing that you have the boost tucked away in your back pocket.

The music is arcadey and upbeat, right at home with the rest of the game’s personality. There is nothing too memorable here. It does speed up for the final lap, adding to the drama of it.

Throughout each race, your driver delivers humorous little quips. These phrases change depending on the action, lamenting their current situation if they are trailing the pack or shouting triumphantly as they pass another driver. Little touches like this throughout the game help make the drivers feel like they have more of a personality.

Online/Multiplayer:
Hotshot Racing can be played locally up to four players split-screen, or online up to eight. For this review, local play was all single-player. However, all of the game modes except for Time Trial can be played with four players locally.

After several post-launch attempts to join in online Quick and Ranked matches, only one was successful. The various failed attempts suffered from bugs or simply not having enough players. A minimum of four online players is required, as the remaining four can be filled in with computer opponents. Even with the rare occurrence of having four players queued up during online play for this review, the race failed to start once and the game had to be closed and restarted to get back to the menu. The one successful online match was thrilling and even more hectic than offline events. Hopefully the bugs will get worked out and the player base will grow, but for now it is a shame that the online play is so non-existent. It really takes away from what has the potential to be the highlight of the game.

Conclusion:
Hotshot Racing is a $19.99 game ($15.99 for PS Plus members at the time of this writing), and in many ways you get what you pay for. The action is fun and the gameplay is surprisingly deep, but there is very little motivation to keep coming back for more. At launch the online play is very disappointing. Time will tell if that is a lasting issue or just a shaky start. All that aside, Hotshot Racing succeeds in providing a solid, retro-inspired racing experience with modern touches.

Score:
7.0

* All screenshots used in this review were taken directly from the game using the Share functionality on the PlayStation 4.

Twitter Digg Delicious Stumbleupon Technorati Facebook