Of the various delights that await you in Hotshot Racing, the most unexpected is seeing the face of Sir Roger Moore. Any lawyers representing Mr Moore’s estate can breathe easy; this is not a literal likeness, more of an unmistakable homage—a rumpled lattice of polygons, lashed together in the name of smirking luxury and capped with a cocoa-brown dollop of hair. It belongs to Aston, one of the game’s racers—representing Britain, naturally. (Hotshot Racing harks back to Street Fighter II, whose brawlers, hailing from across the globe, were caricatures of entire countries.) Unfortunately, I haven’t encountered a way to transmogrify any of Aston’s cars into pale, fin-sprouting submarines, but they do all come with the ability to blast spurts of blue fire from the exhaust pipe, the better to power out of a mile-long fishtailing drift.
The developers, a partnership of Lucky Mountain Games and Sumo Digital, operate on the received wisdom that drifting is only as important as what you drift through. Thankfully, the wisdom in this case has been received from Sega—from the likes of Out Run and Daytona USA, with their lagoon-blue panoramas and alpine air. Indeed, if you’re feeling the itch of self-isolation, then Hotshot Racing is easy to recommend; its unbounded sense of movement is liberating, and it comes bundled with an elusive dose of longing. (These last few days, I’ve been more or less unable to play without piping out the theme for Daytona USA—“Daytona! Let’s go away!”) The art style consists of blocks of unbroken colour, which refuse to be boxed in by any dark outlines—the way our memories of those old games grow untrapped by the limitations of their day, bolstered by the hardware of our brains.
Hotshot Racing began life a decade ago, as Racing Apex, which was aimed at iOS platforms, and something of the pared approach that defines mobile gaming remains: the simple, speedy grip that it holds on your attention, coupled with a low-commitment comfort. (The game that can be quit, or clicked to sleep, at any time is often the one that enslaves us; it’s those games that don’t make demands on our time that end up with the lion’s share of it.) The menu is staffed with such sensible options as “Quick Race”; “Grand Prix”—four quick races stitched together; and “Time Trial,” in which your only opponents are your previous lap times. There are other modes, such as “Cops N Robbers” and “Drive or Explode,” neither of which I can report back on, as they are still being tinkered and tuned by the developers. But for a game like this, wherein the juice is self-evidently squeezed within approximately five seconds of playing, an abundance of modes seems like a bunch of excuses.
I can report that the juice is good. For Lucky Mountain Games, unity with Sumo Digital has yielded the advantage of moving out of Unity—and into Sumo’s internal racing engine. Players of Team Sonic Racing will be on familiar tarmac; collisions lack any speed-killing crunch; what you get instead is the glint of flying sparks, as you glance the flank of a rival, and the sort of bumps that bear you onwards, rather than hold you back. The drifts—induced by tapping the brake as you turn into a corner—build up your boost, which spirits you ahead with a sizzling screen-blur and which you can keep bottled, to unleash at tactical moments.
It is what one might call “arcadey,” a word that cuts to the heart of Hotshot Racing—exposing its allure along with the faint fumes of its shortfall. I am a firm believer in the curative power of the arcade: a semi-hallowed place, in which a euphoric pocket of fun could be exchanged for a pound coin, and one would leave lighter in every sense. Such spiritual pleasures have never been possible at home. The boon and boast of Sega’s Dreamcast was that it offered perfect ports of arcade games, owing to the NAOMI arcade system board harboured in its shell. But there’s no such thing as a perfect port, when it comes to an arcade game. Part of the dream is always cast aside. Hotshot Racing never graced the arcade, and, as such, I can think of no more potent praise than saying that it leaves you with the sense of something lost in translation. I have only played it in a preview capacity, completing all four of its Grands Prix on normal and hard difficulties, but the game’s chief joys are there in full. And at the current moment, its offer is irresistible: Let’s go away!
Hotshot Racing is currently scheduled for release this spring, for PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch, and PC.