If you’ve followed my reviews here in the past, you know I love a good driving game. Part of the appeal is the music that goes along with it. Just as we listen to our favorite radio station or play our road-trip playlist from our phones, a driving game’s soundtrack sets the mood for the game. When I drive in real life, I love upbeat music of all kinds (pop, country, techno) when driving solo, and I’ll let my passengers program the music on group excursions, but I digress. Most racers have the audio as a secondary component, but it’s a rare beast that gives the music the spotlight, which is precisely what AbstractArt and Light Road Games have done with Music Racer.
Players select one of many colorful vehicles and distinctive backdrops, then play along to the musical track of their choice. The object is to drive over blocks in the road that shift from lane to lane and are picked up to the beat of the music. Maintaining the beat longer boosts your score, as does avoiding any obstacles that will slow you down or outright stop you. Your score can be banked and used to buy new cars and new backgrounds.
Here’s what I liked
Outstanding music – There are nearly 30 different musical selections, mostly in the synthwave and electro-pop genres. While none are from artists who are extremely notable in the market, players may well find some new favorites here. Intensities vary from smooth to pulse-pounding, so there’s bound to be several different tracks here that you’ll wish you could take home and add to your own real-life playlist. Fortunately, some of the artists, such as Tobu and Isafold, who provided about two dozen of the musical tracks, have presences on music services like Soundcloud, so you may well get your chance.
Flashy graphics – The developers appear to have grabbed every neon effect out of their color palettes and made sure they were each featured in the game. Players can choose from 80s-music-video cityscapes or Day-Glo interpretations of the Far East, and others are available through the usage of in-game credits that are earned as players complete game sessions. A robust settings menu grants an array of options to adjust the brightness and intensity of the graphics for whatever mood the player is in at the time. The backdrops synchronize well with each musical selection.
A mode for all seasons – There are four distinct game modes in Music Racer that are ultimately difficulty settings for the core gameplay, which do not change from mode to mode. Standard mode is the most common, which will have both block pick-ups and obstacles on the course. Colliding with an obstacle will remove a portion of your current chain’s points and start a new chain. Zen removes the obstacles but leaves the pick-ups, lowering the difficulty a few notches. Cinematic removes the pick-ups altogether, letting players just listen to the music while adding in the ability to manipulate the camera and get all creative. Lastly, Hard mode puts everything back in, but now the obstacles will end the run and force players to start again.
Here’s what I didn’t like
Not much behind the wheel – Despite offering a range of different vehicles – from pop-culture faves to automotive icons and fantastical creations – they all perform equally well on the track, which is to say that the vehicle’s perceived performance means nothing in this game. There is no accelerator or brake, no nitrous or power-up activator. Players simply use the left stick (or, preferably, the D-pad) to shift the car between lanes. That allows players to focus on the racing, right? It would if there were other cars on the track. The sole purpose of changing lanes is to collect the pick-ups and avoid the obstacles.
I ain’t got rhythm – OK, so Music Racer is more of a rhythm game than a racing game. So how is it when viewed that way instead? Well, not much better, if I’m honest. The movement from lane to lane doesn’t appear to follow the beat of the music, and sometimes the track’s contortions make seeing upcoming blocks very difficult. That’s okay, because you can miss blocks and still maintain a chain. In fact, the only way to fail a song is in the Hard mode after hitting an obstacle. But, as you’ll see in the next section, that mode can be avoided altogether.
Mixed bag of cheevos – Music Racer has 36 achievements, and all but three are related to unlocking content. Each time you purchase a new vehicle or background, you get a new achievement. If you play it enough, you can unlock 33 achievements and 925 Gamerscore, which really isn’t that difficult over time. That leaves three more achievements to go, each being related to your performance in the game. Your score on a course is rated from zero to three stars, and you’ll get an achievement the first time you score one, two or three stars on a course. Let’s say you do really well on your first play-through and you two-star a course … you’d get the two-star achievement only. While that’s not all that unusual, there is no clear gauge of how you’re doing on a given track, so it’ll take some unneeded trial and error to underachieve and get the one-star achievement. On the upside, perfectionists should have no trouble 100-percenting this game given enough play-throughs.
Missing elements – The game does provide quite a bit of adjustable elements for the on-screen appearance, but there are a lot of things missing that would be more beneficial to the player. For example, there are no indicators of your star rating until the end of the course, nor are there any tells for what scores award the given ratings. There are no leaderboards or high score listings for the game in total, or even the individual tracks. A good example of this feature is found in Aaero, another hybrid rhythm game with multiple music tracks, which shows the top score and ranking for each course in the game. I would love to see an update that adds this type of functionality to Music Racer.
We’ve established there is some pretty spectacular music but no actual racing in Music Racer. So the developers got the name of the game at least half-right. If it were a better rhythm game than it is, I’d be a bit more willing to recommend it. What we have here is more of an interactive album, which has some gaming components added in to justify calling it a game. This may support the title’s album-like price point, its only other major positive attribute. For gamers looking for good music and 1,000 Gamerscore, download away. For those of us looking for more compelling gaming, Music Racer is more AM radio than high-end stereo.
Score: Limited Appeal
Music Racer was developed by AbstractArt and Light Road Games, and it was published by Sometimes You. It was released on January 29, 2020 for $6.99. The author was provided a copy of the game for the purpose of this review.