If the name High Voltage sounds familiar to you, it’s because the developers have been getting a whole lot of attention lately from the Nintendo camp. Their soon-to-be-released first-person shooter, The Conduit, has been in the limelight for about the last year or so, yet High Voltage has set aside time to work on a handful of WiiWare titles as well. The latest to hit Nintendo’s online store is High Voltage’s Hot Rod Show, an arcade racer somewhat reminiscent of the Micro Machines series. It’s fun, fairly easy to jump into, but is it worth your 1000 Wii Points?
Hot Rod Show is broken up into three main gameplay types: Championship (the game’s version of Gran Prix), Time Trials, and Multiplayer. High Voltage has covered the gamut of control options, allowing players to use the Wii Wheel, Wii Remote and Nunchuk, a GameCube controller, or the Classic Controller. The Wii Wheel actually handles fairly well, but it still doesn’t offer a level of control that can match the other options. Ultimately, we opted for the Wii Remote and Nunchuk set-up, and it offers a comfortable and enjoyable way to play.
The Championship mode is fairly brief, as it paces you through three random tracks (of which the game offers a total of six). There are three levels of difficulty – Easy, Medium, and Hard – though you must complete Easy mode in order to unlock Medium, and so on. Championship mode is a fun diversion and it definitely offers a challenge (especially on the higher difficulties), but it’s an experience that wears thin rather quickly.
The Time Trials mode allows you to simply race through an unlimited number of laps in an attempt to beat your own best records. There are no other racers (or ghosts) in this mode, and it’s an option that adds very little to the overall package.
The real value of Hot Rod Show comes from its multiplayer offering. You can play with up to four players in local, split-screen races, but there’s no online whatsoever (which we found especially odd, since the game offers an ESRB warning about the game’s rating during online interaction). Playing with friends is always a treat, but again, the gameplay gets old pretty fast. With only six tracks to choose from and few differences between them, you’ll likely find yourself playing a couple of races and then moving on to something else. The lack of online multiplayer is a real bummer, since competition with strangers (something I like to refer to as “the pwnage factor”) inevitably encourages replay.
Regardless of which mode you choose, the tracks are fairly basic, with little to see and little variety from track to track. The vehicles (mini Monster Trucks and big rigs) all handle exactly the same – something the game tells you outright – and the differences between racers is 100-percent aesthetic. In multiplayer, you can select the number of laps for each race (from two to 100), but that’s about the extent of customization, outside of raising or lowering the volume of the music and sound effects.
The focus of Hot Rod Show is, undoubtedly, the ramp-and-trick system. Similar to other arcade/kart racers, there are boost markers along tracks, and hitting each one is essential to success in the higher difficulties of the Championship mode. More importantly, however, hitting ramps and tricking while in midair will score you bigger boosts, and it’s an element of the game that is, admittedly, somewhat addictive. You can jump (with the B button) over mud pits to keep from slowing down or jump while hitting a ramp to get more air. If you can get high enough to reach the star markers, you’ll get a super boost that lasts for a good, long while, giving you an edge over the competition (not to mention making you a hazard should you run into other racers).
Another way to gain a bit of boost is by doing multiple tricks (tricks are performed by waggling the Wii Remote – a subtle but satisfying mechanic) while going over ramps. Additionally, you can power-slide (with the Z button), which will allow you to maintain speed when navigating corners, and utilizing this mechanic, too, will make all the difference between winning and losing. Lastly, you can power boost at the beginning of a race (though not in Time Trial mode) by quickly tapping the A button to charge up a boost meter.
The physics in Hot Rod Show are pretty impressive, and you can do some fun maneuvering while in midair. Of course, if you land outside of the track, your vehicle will explode. Like in Mario Kart, however, you’re put back on track relative to where you fell off, and you can then jump right back into the race. Though there’s essentially only one type of vehicle, it’s hard not to be enamored with the way Hot Rod Show plays. The mechanics can be a real blast to toy with, but we just can’t get over how shallow the package is overall.
Additionally, though the track selection is very limited, races can drag on, especially in Championship mode. Five laps around a long track that doesn’t present much in the way of scenery or hazards can become more of a chore than playtime.
The game’s production values do little to make up for the lack of gameplay depth. The framerate runs smoothly and nothing looks ugly per se, but tracks are very ho hum and textures are plain and uninteresting. On the plus side, however, vehicles look cute and animate really well, though again, the pickings are slim. You’ll eventually unlock some new skins for your vehicles, but you’ll be hard-pressed to notice much difference during races. We wish there was more variety in the look and design of the tracks – perhaps a unique theme for each, with obstacles and environmental elements to match (though one of the tracks does have a sort of “ice” theme going on). There are five racers to choose from, and though the character stills are well-designed, the characters, themselves, are downright creepy-looking.
The game’s audio does even less to endear players to the experience. There’s no real variety here, either, and from what we could discern, there seemed to be only two different songs total – both being fairly generic instrumentals that might remind you of a late-night outing to the Waffle House. The characters each say one or two things after a race, but their lines are really cheesy. Sound effects, however, match up nicely with the gameplay, and though nothing at all about the game’s production stands out as particularly attractive, Hot Rod Show is a tight, professional product all the same.
High Voltage Hot Rod Show offers well-designed racing mechanics with some truly addictive gameplay, but that doesn’t change the fact that the package is extremely shallow. With essentially just one vehicle type (mechanically speaking), six bland tracks, and no online multiplayer, it’s a novelty that ages far too quickly. Of course, it’s hard to fault this racer too much or attach too many expectations to it, since it’s about $40 less than what you’d generally pay for a retail racer on Wii.
RATING OUT OF 5 RATING DESCRIPTION 3.8 Graphics
For a WiiWare title, Hot Rod Show looks good. The textures are smooth, the vehicles animate well, and the framerate is solid. However, tracks are pretty plain-looking, and there’s not much variety in terms of scenery. 4.2 Control
The game offers plenty of control options, and each option works well. There’s no control customization (other than toggling the rumble feature), but it’s not really missed. The subtle use of waggle with the Wii Remote and Nunchuk option is a fun touch. 2.8 Music / Sound FX / Voice Acting
There seem to be only two songs offered in the game. The sound effects work well, though. Voice-overs didn’t impress… at all. 3.0
There’s so little offered in Hot Rod Show, it feels a lot like one of those trinkets you’d buy from a machine at the grocery store. Still, the game has an undeniable charm, and it’s fun in extremely short bursts.
3.4 Overall Rating – Fair
Not an average. See Rating legend above for a final score breakdown.