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Music Racer: Ultimate Review


Imagine the VR game Beat Saber. Imagine all of its gameplay flourishes, polish, satisfying contact, and replayability. Then imagine Subway Surfer, the mobile game. Imagine its speed, meaningful progression, challenges, and the need for perfect timing. Now enter Music Racer: Ultimate, an attempt to mesh both of these games together that ultimately misses out on every one of these qualities.

The lack of a meaningful and fun gameplay loop that’s compromised by its impreciseness and interrupted by the very design choices that this game rests on means that Music Racer: Ultimate is more of a trippy equaliser than a video game. 

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To start on the positives – performance. This game runs flawlessly on Xbox Series X|S, with framerates being set at 120fps at 4K resolution, and not a frame drop in sight. It’s also a very good looking game stylistically. The textures have a sort of 80s neon type look to them, and it’s very pretty to look at. I never get bored of watching the level backgrounds as I play, as they’re all meaningfully different from one another and they never fail to impress. 

To explain what Music Racer: Ultimate is, it’s mostly a timing based rhythm game that focuses on collecting nodes. The more nodes you collect, the more stars you get and these nodes are used to unlock other courses and racers. You chain nodes together as combos that give you bonus nodes at the end, and if you hit any of the pylons on the track, you lose the combo. 

There are several game modes on offer; a classic mode, a hard mode, a zen mode and finally a cinematic mode. The hard mode is essentially classic mode, but when you hit a pylon, the game ends; the zen mode completely removes those pylons; and the cinematic mode adds a rotating camera and removes all nodes and pylons, essentially becoming an equalizer. This amounts to a fair whack of gameplay, if you include the decently long list of music available, as well as the ability to add your own songs and play songs from the Audius player in-game. 

There is a lot to unlock, and it all comes at a decent pace too, so you’re never having to grind levels to unlock a new track or racer. This is all well and good, but actually comes back to hurt the game as we’ll discuss later when we move on to gameplay. I will say that whatever comes later in the review, this game is visually stunning, and that I’ll occasionally boot it up just to look at the equaliser backgrounds of each level, as they really are gorgeous. 

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The first and most striking issue Music Racer: Ultimate presented to me was its difficulty. Now, I have no issue with hard games. I’ve recently been enjoying pushing my way through Elden Ring, I can hold my own in expert difficulty in Beat Saber, and insane difficulty Geometry Dash levels made up most of my high school bus rides. The issue with the difficulty here is that it comes from a disconnect in timing between the nodes and the music. It’s sometimes hard to tell if the nodes follow the beat of the music or the rhythm, but whichever it is, the nodes are a touch off beat, which means that getting the correct timing is nearly impossible most of the time. 

What adds to this is the tracks. The tracks that your racer moves on are winding, and they twist and turn and loop. This means it’s often hard to tell where the nodes lead ahead of you, which doesn’t sound like a huge deal as Music Racer: Ultimate is a rhythm based game, but as the nodes are so offbeat, you rely on your sight and quick reactions to know where to turn. Even worse is the sheer amount of light saturation on the screen. I’m all for the trippy backgrounds this game provides, but occasionally there’s so much light being bounced around that it makes it impossible to see the nodes or where you’re going. It feels like the gameplay is totally hamstrung by these issues, and it really affected my enjoyment of the game, as with all these difficulties the game simply isn’t fun to play. The other thing that affects enjoyment is the lack of music.

Music Racer: Ultimate is a game about racing along and moving in time with music. It’s also an equalizer and comes with a music player known as Audius, so you’d think that it came with a half decent slate of music. This couldn’t be more wrong. I’m not saying that the music in Music Racer is bad, I already liked the track “Candyland” by Tobu, and Colours and Neon Voices were welcome additions to the collection too. I’m just saying that all the music is from the same genre, and that it won’t be for everyone. Electronic pop is a wide genre of music, so it’s a shame to hear that most of the different tracks sound very similar and begin to blend into each other over time. The Audius player exists to provide some variation to this, but there’s just no well known music on it, only various remixes of popular songs, and for some reason a few freestyles. It’s overall a disappointing selection of music that I can’t help but feel missed a key opportunity to extend to other audiences and genres. There is an option to add your own music, however this is only possible with music that you own, and not via music platforms such as Spotify or Apple Music. 

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To conclude, Music Racer: Ultimate is a game that tries what has been done before, while missing out on the things that made past games successful. It’s satisfying to hit a block in Beat Saber. It’s fun to dodge trains in Subway Surfer. It feels like an achievement to be so on beat in Geometry Dash that you never miss a jump. Music Racer: Ultimate is none of these things. It gets some things right, such as its visuals and progression, but these things just aren’t enough to make the game feel fun to play. 

It’s occasionally a rush to play Music Racer: Ultimate, as when it’s firing on all cylinders with crazy backgrounds and bassy music it really does feel worth your time. But these moments are few and far between. Even the great sense of speed that could have added a decent amount of fun to the gameplay isn’t quite up to scratch, as by default the screen shake settings are set to high, meaning you can’t even see your character, let alone focus on the road ahead. 

Music Racer: Ultimate is a decent effort at a rhythm game, but it simply lacks too much in the meaningful gameplay category to warrant a recommendation.

Music Racer: Ultimate is available at the Xbox Store

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