You know what really grinds my gears? The fact that we’ve not had a new Ridge Racer game this generation.
There have been lots of other great racing games, sure, but not many of the arcade variety. And even less that are focused on getting you sideways. And so, just months before the release of next-gen consoles, I say thank god for Hotshot Racing.
Developed by Lucky Mountain Games and Sumo Digital, Hotshot Racing is entirely new, yet it feels (and somewhat looks) like a blast from the past. Its cars and tracks have that low-poly look, reminding players of titles such as Daytona and Virtua Racing, while its brake pedal is never simply used to slow the car down. You don’t play Hotshot Racing like Gran Turismo, striving to find the best brake spot before heading for the apex of a turn; you simply tap the brake and drift around any corner that’s thrown at you.
Along with its pumping soundtrack that’s also suitably old-fashioned, and its over-the-top announcer, Hotshot Racing is the closest thing we’ve had to a new Ridge Racer game in years. It even has a boost gauge that charges as you drift. It’s bold and colourful and fast, and though it’s easy to pick up, it’s difficult to master. It’s for those tho like to challenge themselves in short and sharp playing sessions, rather than grind their way through a sprawling career.
The closest thing Hotshot Racing has to a career is its Grand Prix mode, which serves up four Grand Prix events, each consisting of four races to conquer. Chances are you’ll want to play through them multiple times though, thanks to multiple difficulty levels and a selection of drivers that each have their own ending. Winning a Grand Prix is also key to unlocking some customisation items for both the game’s cars and drivers.
Outside of Grand Prix mode, single race mode allows you to set up you own events on any of the game’s 16 tracks, which are evenly spread across four environments. You can take part in a standard race, or you can opt for the more interesting Cops and Robbers or Drive or Explode. In Cops and Robbers you’ll either be vying to escape to police and collecting cash along the way, or attempting to take down racers in a police car. In a twist, racers taken out become additional police, making it harder to evade the law as the race goes on.
Drive or Explode, on the other hand, requires drivers to keep above an ever-increasing speed target lest they explode. And to complicate matters further, damage is enabled, so competitors can also try to take each other out if they wish. Simply racing is fun enough, but Cops and Robbers and Drive or Explode expand your options and are wonderfully challenging. Perhaps too much so at times – get to the front of the pack and it often feels like everyone is trying to take you out.
There’s also a Time Trial mode, of course, in which you can try to better your own ghost or challenge those of other players’. It’s the only mode that’s single-player focused, with all the others allowing up to four-player splitscreen. There’s online multiplayer, too. You can quickly jump into ranked and unranked events, as well as create your own lobby. With the latter, you can play Cops and Robbers and Drive or Explode online.
Whichever mode you spend time in, your achievements are rewarded with cold, hard cash. Head on into the Raceshop and you can spend it, though you might need to unlock some items for purchase first. Alternative outfits are available for each of the game’s eight drivers, while customisations are available for their cars. Each driver has four cars; one that’s balanced, and others that are tuned for acceleration, speed or drift. They all have minor stat variances as well.
Character is Hotshot Racing‘s biggest asset. It doesn’t have a lengthy campaign or cutting edge visuals, but it doesn’t need them. In a sea of racing games, it stands out because it’s different. It’s old-fashioned, but has enough modern-day quirks and mechanics that it doesn’t feel dated. It even has an in-car view which is unexpected.
If, like me, you’ve been waiting what feels like forever for a new Ridge Racer game to be announced, I really do recommend that you give Hotshot Racing a go. There are some elements of it that don’t quite align with Bandai Namco’s premier arcade racing series, but it lets you get sideways in a range of wonderful locations, and challenges you to carefully use your boost to remain at the front of the pack. I don’t know about you, but that’s something I’ve been craving.