The latest from Sometimes You, Music Racer is an arcade style rhythm game, where you collect musical notes and dodge obstacles as they appear across three lanes. The track responds to the music that’s playing, giving you a dynamic experience. At the end, you’re given a star rating and a number of notes to spend on new tracks and cars. It’s a simple premise that is never built upon. From a gameplay perspective therefore, Music Racer lacks any real substance. You pick a track, then you collect notes. And then you do it again. And again. And again…
Not even the three different game-modes offer any respite, because they’re all variants of the ‘normal’ mode. Cinematic isn’t even a game mode, as it only lets you view the tracks, with the obstacles, notes and your ability to control the car all removed. Meanwhile, Zen Mode has no obstacles, and Hard Mode institutes a one-hit kill – hit any obstacle and it’s game over.
It should become rather boring, rather quickly. But it really doesn’t. Because what Music Racer lacks in substance, it more than makes up for with style. This is a beautiful game. Period. It borrows heavily from that ’80s synth-wave aesthetic, and pulls it off with aplomb. Each track is vibrant and beautifully coloured; each one decidedly unique in both concept and layout. Some are simply flat tracks, whilst others include a mix of challenging hills and valleys. But most importantly they all work seamlessly with each individual music track. As a song ebbs and flows, the background shifts colours, entire sections of track are built and a million things happen all over the screen. It’s a true joy to look at.
Music Racer also has a ton of customisation options. Those willing to grind for a few thousand notes can end up with a pretty sweet ride to race along with. Among the selection is the Tron Bike, KITT from Knight Rider and the DeLorean, as well as a mixture of classic and modern supercars and even a sick raven that flies along the track. And then you can customise everything you buy by changing the colour of the car and its rims. I have really appreciated the depth here, and it kept me playing longer than I otherwise would have. Even though I was essentially doing the same thing over and over, the fact that I could do it as a bird or in a F1 car made it much more entertaining.
There are times when this style just gets in the way though. On tracks where there are hills, turns and valleys – which is most of them – it becomes impossible to collect everything because of the restrictive camera work and speed at which you’re travelling. It’s the same with obstacles: you might not see one until it’s too late, and hitting it means the end of your combo (or game, if you’re on hard mode). It feels unfair at the best of times, and downright annoying at the worst.
But in a game called Music Racer, it should be obvious what the most important thing is. That’s right, the music. And, rather disappointingly, Music Racer’s selection is nothing special. There are 20 or so songs in total, and they are all the kind of royalty-free electronic music that you can find all over YouTube. That’s not a bad thing in itself and the selection isn’t horrible. I personally enjoyed the library myself, and there are a couple of bangers hidden within it. However for the most part the songs are too samey and tend to blend together after just a few plays. And if you don’t like that type of music then you’re out of luck because…
Well, YOU CAN’T USE YOUR OWN MUSIC. Why not? No idea. And it’s especially perplexing considering that you can on the Steam and Android versions of Music Racer. We have Spotify on Xbox. There must have been some way to incorporate that into this game. I found this lack of functionality to be such a disappointment, and such a major flaw. I would have played so much more had I been able to race along to my own (obviously excellent) music library.
So with Music Racer on Xbox One you have a game that clearly values style over substance. It decides to tip the scales at one end and own it, and manages to do it brilliantly. The game is vibrant, stylish and full of unique cars and tracks. Unfortunately, that one killer flaw just drags Music Racer down. Having the ability to use your own music would have really extended the lifespan of this game and allowed it to gain a much higher rating. Right now Music Racer is a game that is good, but not great. Even so it’s worth checking out, considering the unique concept, beautiful style and low price.