It's no secret that arcade racers have sort of gone away for most of PlayStation 4's lifespan. Most of the generation's best racing games lean towards simulation, which is fine, but those looking for a more casual experience don't have nearly as many options. This is where Hotshot Racing slides sideways into view, with all the drifting, boosting, and SEGA blue skies you could hope for.
This is as arcadey a racing game as you'd hope to find on PS4, directly inspired by classics like Virtua Racing and Daytona USA. You can see that in the polygonal art style; it's simple, but it allows for vivid colours and an extremely clear image. In motion, it looks great, especially as the game runs at a flawless 60 frames per second.
There are four Grand Prix championships to enter, with three difficulty settings changing the overall speed and how aggressive the AI is. Eight distinct characters have simple backstories, as well as charming little sequences when they win a Grand Prix. They each have access to four cars; an all-rounder, and then vehicles tuned for acceleration, top speed, and drifting. You can certainly feel the difference on the track, but it's balanced so that any car can win if handled properly.
Speaking of which, the handling is superb. It's unabashedly an arcade racer, with an emphasis on drifting and boosting to secure victory. Powerslides take a second to get used to, but you'll be tearing around bends Ridge Racer style in no time, and it feels wonderful. Drifting and drafting earn boost, and when you've earned enough to fill one segment of the meter, you can open the taps for a surge of speed. Controls are super straightforward, with a simple brake-to-drift mechanic meaning that heroic drifts are performed with just a squeeze of L2. If you want, you can swap to an interior camera view, though this does make it a little harder to judge all those powerslides.
The circuits are built to provide some wonderful sweeping slides, although perhaps are little on the easy side. There's not much to get in your way in any of the 16 tracks (32 if you count mirrored versions), so if you can get ahead, there's not much stopping you. There's some rubber banding at play, meaning your lead is never completely secure — especially on Expert — but the tracks themselves aren't going to give you much trouble. Having said that, the design of the environments is great; Ocean World has you driving through the middle of an aquarium, you'll drift through a casino in Casino Run, and Dino Dash is full of prehistoric reptiles and references to Jurassic Park. Add tons of visual flair like low-flying helicopters, stunt planes leaving smoke trails overhead, and animals on the sidelines, and the courses all have real identity.
You'll see all of them as you play through the Grand Prixs, but there's plenty of other modes too. Time Trial is self-explanatory, and you can choose a ghost from the leaderboard to challenge yourself, which is neat. Single Race lets you set up a custom race, able to change the track, difficulty, number of laps, and game mode. Arcade is your regular race, but you also have Cops & Robbers and Drive Or Explode. The former is an infection-style mode where cop cars bash into robbers to convert them into more cops. The latter is an elimination mode where you need to keep above an ever-increasing top speed, lest you activate the bomb on your car. These can all be played in local split-screen or online multiplayer, both of which work with no real issues.
However you decide to play, you'll slowly unlock a wide range of customisation options for characters and cars. They're purely cosmetic changes, but they give you something to work for, and there are dozens of challenges you'll need to beat in order to unlock everything.
Aside from one or two infrequent bugs with the menus, this is a very slick package — everything in here works brilliantly, and it all looks and sounds great. To be honest, our only real problem with the game is that there isn't more of it. Perhaps it'll be expanded upon after release, but at launch, it's a modestly sized offering that may not hold your attention for too long. Still, what's here is extremely solid. If you've been craving a proper arcade racer on PS4, don't sleep on this.
Hotshot Racing is an unapologetic return to arcade action, and it's brilliant fun. This game's charming retro aesthetic, sweeping powerslides, and glorious handling are a constant joy, and a perfect antithesis to the myriad simulators on PS4. Some might find the courses don't provide much of a challenge, and we'd gladly have taken a little more content, but you'll be hard pushed to find a better example of straight-up arcade racing this generation.