Last Week, Curve Digital stuffed us in the trunk and hit the gas as we got a behind the wheel preview of an insanely fast retro racer that drives a quick S bend from OutRun to Sega Rally and beyond.
Coming to PC and PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and Nintendo Switch this summer, Hotshot Racing is something of an ode to car chases of old. This racer is a mash of blisteringly fast arcade racers and with sharp physics and performance that would leave Virtua Racing in the dust. Set among 16 distinct and brightly colored tracks, developer Lucky Mountain Games and Sumo Digital has carved out a unique niche that is certainly as fun as it looks.
For anybody who feels like far too much horsepower has been put into making car porn at the expense of gameplay, then you’ll be glad to know that HotSshot Racing takes its aesthetic inspiration from an entirely different era. The breezy and upbeat palette evident in Hotshot Racing nods back to the 16-bit processors of old without being constrained by those limitations. Harsh edges, polygonal shapes, and deliberately blocky backgrounds extend beyond the tarmac as Hotshot racing put players at the heart of 32 flashy vehicles and press go. Outside the paddock, The Desert, Coast, Jungle, and Mountain regions each play host to four themed backdrops, looking like a cubist landscape turned Hotwheels playset. Everywhere from the Ski Paradise to Area 41 look like blistering fun and come conducted to a gorgeously retro soundtrack. The hum of your engine, and the screech of rubber against pixelated concrete as you race towards the finish line, it’s all here.
Ironically, hard nosed racing karts and showroom cars of Hotshot racing are far more modern under the hood than you would expect. Tom Turner, Development Director at Sumo Digital, explained how the game got off the grid and why it feels like a natural evolution of those boisterous 90s racing titles.
Sumo has an existing relationship with, publisher, Curve. We’ve worked with them on games like human Fall Flat and when Curve got in contact about an opportunity to work on this great concept we took a look. Trevor, from Lucky Mountain Games, had a build of the game in unity at the time, so they brought the Unity version in and we all sat down and had a go. For us, we pretty much fell in love with it straight away. It’s an aesthetic omage but feels very much like it has a more modern handling system, and that seemed like a fantastic challenge for Sumo.
This modern architecture provides Hotshot Racing with a lot more than good looks. This a top tier racer with a finely crafted physics engine that is tuned within an inch of chaos. Think of this like a GTI, an old idea but still fast enough to be fun.
Getting into Hotshot Racing is incredibly easy, and there seems to be a ton of content already on offer for players. Thankfully there isn’t much need to take on any tutorials or pass a test before getting on the road. The starting grid for any new player is the menu, and this opens up the option of single races, time trials, online multiplayer, and the classic Grand Prix season. After selecting a race, driver, and car, actually getting around the grid is as certainly not going to require a test. While much of the grid that we took on last week had some time to play in advance, yours truly picked up a controller and played for the first time, still managing to hold their own. While you’ll heave yourself around series of S bends and twisting tracks with joypad analog sticks or an applicable steering wheel, there isn’t much need to learn more than put the pedal to the floor if you want to have a good time. If you’re looking to do more than just compete then Hotshot racing rewards drifting. Again, this is a simple process of releasing the pedal, turning, and putting power back down.there are no complex systems but that doesn’t make handling in Hotshot Racing something for the slow lane. A variety of cars are available to jump into almost instantly, 4 for every driver and each focusing on drift power and other attributes. What sounds like a simple series of stats all combine to give very different experiences, and brute speed is not always the winning attribute either. Picking a car that you can drift around a corner, holding onto boosts and using acceleration to get clear of the rabble behind you can be just as valuable as straight-line speed.
Get caught in the background and Hotshot Racing’s physics engine starts to reveal itself. While top tier drifters will understand how to use this modern physics engine to their advantage, Hotshot Racing balances collisions somewhere between Destruction Derby chaos and twitchy Forza sim. Cars that clip each other react exactly as you might expect in a modern racing game, slipping across the streets of mountain tracks and attempting to veer off in any which direction. It’s a very deliberate design decision, with Trevor Ley, Founder of Lucky Mountain Games, noting that
One of the handling types we were looking at as inspiration was a game called Splitsecond. Splitsecond has a very nice, controllable, drift system. That is something that we wanted. We wanted to have a drive system that was easy to do but hard to master.
On the other hand, take too much damage and animated explosions will rip through the front of your car, in a manner that’s almost as entertaining to you as your opponents. Racing the range of eight drivers, all of whom might just fit into Wacky Races, around Hotshot Racing is a joy that looks, sounds, and feels like you’ve strapped into a responsive arcade cabinet. During our warm down laps, Tom commented on the reason for this highly effective handling solution.
In the Nottingham Studio, we were already in the final stages of finishing Team Sonic Racing, when we we re first approached about Hotshot Racing. It was something we all felt would be a really cool challenge for the team to transition onto. As a result, we took the decision, very early on, that we were going to rebuild the game from the ground up in Sumo’s own Sumo Engine. This is the same engine used to ship all of the Sonic racing titles, giving us a really mature toolset, all designed with driving games in mind.
While the look and feel of Hotshot Racing might be indulgent nostalgia, the available game modes are more than just first past the post. Players putting themselves in the hot seat can pick from both online multiplayer and solo escapades against some flashy AI drivers. Getting into a race is as simple as hitting the host button or joining an online match. While ranked mode seems to be something set for the live release, we aren’t quite that good yet and took a spin around three very different races.
Arcade races are a throwback to exactly what aficionados of old arcade machines might expect. Diving around the game’s 16 tracks, outwitting opponents and making the best of your boosts are all crucial as three laps count down and all the aforementioned elements come together to produce an experience that is simple unadulterated fun.
The Cops and Robbers game type continues the simple concept done fantastically well, turning the entire track going experience into a game of catch. Split into two teams, Cops and Robbers finds racers trying to outrun any unfortunate drivers who end up as the local constabulary. Unlike traditional arcade races, if you fail to outmanoeuvre your pursuers you could end up being rammed across the thin blue line, becoming a cop car. As your custom car turns on the blue and red lights of the local PD, that finely-tuned piece of hardware beneath your keyboard morphs into a hulking great police car. As handling ebbs away and this hulking monstrosity throws your back end out, so the rules of the road cease to be an issue. The result is a hilariously chaotic endeavour where the race for cash is all that matters. This is best played with friends, or at least with the in game voice chat on.
Finally, we got to test drive the drive or Explode game mode. While Cops and Robbers is a crash course in Hotshot;’s physics engine, the only thing you’ll need to worry about here is speed and acceleration. Drive or Explode is a time trial with a twist, pushing players to keep ahead to the clock and punishing slow speeds. Anybody who delves below an acceptably fast speed will find that their car starts to take damage, eventually exploding. It’s pretty much Speed, but without the buses or Keanu Reeves. While this sounds like a simple scenario, Drive or Explode tests different play styles by forcing fast cars to drift or take the best lines, and more manoeuvrable racers to keep the pedal down flat all the time. One slip up can be fatal here and that’s what make it fun to play.
Fast fun is clearly at the hear of Hotshot Racing, meaning that accessibility we spoke of earlier isn’t undermined by any steep progression curves or unrealistic power gaps. While progression might mean racing up the ranks and taking on some tougher opponents, it never ends up with a faster are. A whole garage full of cosmetic items is on offer allowing all of Hotshot racing’s kitsch pilots and their stylized cars to take on a new look. From alternative color jumpsuits to new wings, and extra go-faster stripes, the custom graphics and new skins are the kind of flashy show off award that should suit your typical hotshot down to the ground.
After hours of manic single player action, we feel like this adrenaline-fueled car crash of old school fun and modern physics can’t pull up to the starting grid soon enough. It manages to mix the entertainment of Mario Kart with some precision of more mature racers. Simply put, it is just indulgent fun. We can’t wait to play this later in the summer, and best of all we’ve got a head start too. Hit us up when Hostshot Racing arrives on PC, via Steam, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and Nintendo Switch later this year. Head over to the official hotshot racer website in the meantime to find out how to secure a starting place in this racer.