Music Racer (Switch eShop) Review
Music and racing in videogames can be an incredible combo. The high-speed thrills of a racer can be elevated to another level with a pumping soundtrack that perfectly accentuates the endorphin rush of zooming around a track, and the racing, in turn, raises the joy of cranking up the stereo by supplementing the beat with a tangible experience. So, when I saw Music Racer was headed to the Switch and looked to combine the two titular elements into a music rhythm game (my personal favourite genre), I was certainly intrigued. Unfortunately, it’s all style and no substance, and doesn’t have much to offer as a music or racing game.
Music Racer is a relatively barebones package. You select from a handful of cars, choose a visual motif, decide on a song and you’re off. The game takes place on a neon-lit track with three lanes (or more on some levels) littered with white blocks representing the music notes you need to drive into. Your car accelerates automatically with the music, and the entirety of the gameplay involves moving side to side to hit the notes with your car. On the standard difficulty mode, there is the occasional obstacle to avoid as a collision will break your combo and briefly muffle the music, though you can choose a Zen mode to remove these obstructions if you wish.
The main issues with Music Racer quickly become apparent. The cardinal sin it commits is about the worst thing a music game could do – the notes don’t match up with the beat of the song. They’re close, but more often than not they’re just a little “off”. It’s made more obvious by the slight pop that is emitted every time you hit one, and it instantly throws you off when it’s out of time. The notes don’t follow any particular patterns during repeated song phrases, they don’t move across the lanes with any rhyme or reason, and overall they feel like they’re plopped down randomly.
There’s probably a good reason for that. Similar to titles like Audiosurf, the core appeal of this game on PC was the ability to take any song from your music library and play it in the game, with notes generated based on an algorithm’s best guess from looking at the song’s audio file. With this ability for any song to be used, you could understand notes not always being exactly in the right place. Sadly, this functionality isn’t in the Switch version, and you’re left with a couple dozen decent electronica/techno/drum and bass songs to choose from. Rather than being finely tuned though, these songs seem to have been generated using the same method applied to uploaded songs, and the result is a musical experience that lacks any real cohesion between the music and the action. It’s a bit of a deal-breaker for a music game.
This is compounded by the way the environments unfold around you. The courses weave and wind in a rapid fashion that makes seeing upcoming notes often impossible, meaning you’ll often find you’re unable to position yourself to hit notes before they’ve whizzed past you. One course has the notes dropping from the sky ahead of time giving you some guidance as to where to go, but it’s confusingly not a standard on all tracks. Missing notes is of little consequence as you can’t fail the song (apart from hitting an obstacle on Hard mode), and the track design means it’s not uncommon to only hit 60-70% of notes on a song because you simply can’t see them coming. It all feels like you’re just along for the ride.
It’s a shame too, as it does get a few things right. The art style is simple but can be unquestionably pretty at times. The bright neon lights contrasted against the sleek dark tracks can be a visual treat. A particularly neat touch has your car slow down and speed up to match the intensity of the song. It results in your car accelerating into the chorus before the bass drops and before you know it, you’re flying along at top speed and the visual effects ramp up accordingly with an explosion of pulsating lights. When everything coalesces it can be genuinely exhilarating, but those moments are fleeting and never truly overcome the lack of true connection to the music a game like this needs in order to shine.
Music Racer is a great concept but unfortunately fails to deliver on either of its namesakes. The lack of precision note placement results in a disconnect from the music that can’t be overlooked despite all the flashy lights. It has its moments, but for the most part, this is just an interactive music equalizer that doesn’t offer much of a compelling reason to hop along for the ride.
+ Enjoyable songs
+ Pretty environments
+ Moments of exhilaration
- Notes not in sync with the music
- No connection to the music or consequence for action
- Track design can make seeing upcoming notes impossible