Hotshot Racing Review: Drift Away
ALMOST HEAVEN, OLD CASTLE TOWN
Hotshot Racing doesn't directly say that it's inspired by Cruisin' Exotica, but it clearly was. It's a series of races on tracks with everything from cartoonishly massive eight balls to actual dinosaurs hanging out behind the barriers. There's even a countdown timer that refreshes when you pass checkpoints. The old Cruisin' games were unashamedly designed to eat quarters, though, so Sumo Digital had some work to do to make this playable at home.
Mechanically, they did a great job with it. The driving controls are much tighter than in the arcade, and drifts and boosts are intuitive. It almost gets away with not having any kind of tutorial. If you were playing just against humans, I'd have very little to criticize here, but unfortunately nobody plays this game and it'll be mostly against bots. That's where a series of related design problems come into play.
YOUNGER THAN THE MOUNTAINS, BLOWING LIKE A BREEZE
Let's start with the timer. It's pointless. They made the totals more generous so you don't lose an otherwise good race to it, but in effect that means it will never be a threat unless you're so far behind that you might as well have quit anyway. I have no idea why they even bothered with it other than that it might be necessary to balance out the aggressive AI rubber banding. Maybe the AI will be terrible with you if you go that slow? I didn't try.
STEGOSAURUS, TAKE ME HOME
The rubber banding is, in turn, necessary because the AI itself is so prone to smashing into you. If you don't get a boost off the line, sometimes it'll smash into you from behind and send you flying. It'll almost always crash into you when you're drifting, which will send you careening into a crash if you're not lucky. Usually you can rubber band your way back to 1st, but if you're really unlucky then it happened on the last lap and you're just screwed. Most racing games would let you restart the race to make up for that, but Hotshot only lets you restart the entire grand prix. Again, if you're lucky this was on the first race. If you're not, then one dumb AI can set you back four races with a single crash. That sucks.
RESTING BUDDHA, STRANGER TO BLUE WATER
And then all those compounding problems bubble up and make the difficulty settings pointless as well. If the AI is going to rubber band right behind me no matter what, then the difficulty settings don't really make a difference. Normal might as well be expert, and it's not like there are meaningful unlocks or any kind of a story to motivate you to play the same tracks again on higher levels. But if you only play through once, the whole game lasts just over an hour, and that's hardly acceptable for a $20 arcade game.
So where's that leave us? Hotshot Racing is a set of well-built racing mechanics and great tracks that are undermined by almost everything else. It should at least be a great podcast game, but it's so short and there's so little reason to keep playing that it doesn't even work as that. I hate to be this negative on a game that has solid design at it's core, I really do. Unfortunately, that core is in the wrong game. Hopefully they can find a better home for it someday.