Developed By: AbstractArt, Light Road Games
Published By: Sometimes You
Category: Arcade, Music, Rhythm, Racing
Release Date: 01.29.20
I don’t often play racing games, but recently I’ve come across a few arcade racers that I really liked – Horizon Chase Turbo chief among them. Rhythm games, on the other hand, require rhythm, which I genuinely do not possess. So, when Music Racer for the Nintendo Switch hit the review cycle, I was pretty apprehensive about being the one who picked it up. After a few good hours with it, I can definitively say that while a few of my fears about the game were validated (I still don’t have any rhythm), the game itself doesn’t do much to alleviate them.
We’ll start with the good; this game is stunningly beautiful. The graphics are sharp, colorful, and distinctive. The cars are based on – but not exactly like – real cars, as well as including some nods to famous cars like the Back to the Future DeLorean and light cycles. The courses are even prettier; things remind me of Tron except a thousand times better looking. The backgrounds have a lot of solid blacks mixed with neon highlights and everything just looks great. The music is similarly one of the game’s strongest features. There are twenty-four tracks in total; if you’re a fan of EDM or any kind of electronic music, you’re going to flip when you hear this soundtrack.
The gameplay itself is fairly simple; you pick your vehicle, then a level, and then a song and then it’s off to the races – except it kind of isn’t a race? There aren’t any cars you’re racing against, you just have to guide your car between the different lanes in each track while making sure to hit the notes lining them. In a pretty cool twist, the speed of each run is determined by the speed of the music; when the beat slows down, so does the car, and when things go up tempo, you’ll be tearing around the track. It’s a pretty cool mechanic, but I wish the songs were marked to sort of delineate the difficulty levels a little better. The fast songs are overwhelmingly fast, and new players who are just picking the game up – like, say, me – who unwittingly pick a faster song could find the harsh difficulty right off the bat a little off-putting. I recommend starting with the first song “Wait For Love” since it eases you into some faster portions later in the track. Maybe a smarter player would suss out that the first song on the list is the one to start with, but the game doesn’t make it clear in any way that the songs are sorted by difficulty already. Maybe a star rating to show difficulty or something?
Music Racer features four different game modes, although one isn’t really a game mode as much as a demo for the graphics and music. Standard sees players navigating across lanes to the beat with some obstacles placed throughout the track. Hitting an obstacle breaks your combo, which impacts how many points you get to unlock new cars and tracks at the end of a level. Zen is the same thing except without any obstacles; it’s a pretty cheap way to rack up points, since your combo literally can’t be broken. It’s basically the game’s easy mode. Hard is – like the name suggests – pretty hard; if you hit an obstacle in hard, it’s game over. It’s the only mode that has a game over. Finally, cinematic mode just lets you watch as the car you selected drives along the track while the music plays. You can’t get any points this way, it’s just there to show off the game’s gorgeous graphics and hot soundtrack.
I did have one major problem with the way the game plays, however; you can’t really see what notes you have to hit when you go around a sharp turn or when you crest a hill. If you’re in the far right lane and when you go over a hill and see the note all the way over in the left, it’s pretty much already too late to do anything about it. It’s not like you need to hit every note to rack up the points, but if you’re trying to get a perfect score you have to pretty much memorize the level, and most songs have over 1,000 notes. Between this and the fact that I initially picked a song that was too fast for a first-time player, I would have put this game down and never picked it up again if I wasn’t supposed to be reviewing it.
Just based on the gorgeous graphics, bangin’ soundtrack, and the unique mechanic that varies the speed of the game based on the speed of the song, I would have loved to recommend Music Racer to anyone who loves the art of games. Its biggest problem, however, is a hard one for new players to overcome; the game just doesn’t do enough to acclimate new players to the game. After the first track I tried, I felt completely overwhelmed and discouraged. It was only after discovering a few slower songs that I finally began to find a groove and enjoy the game. How many players will try the game and then put it down immediately just because they were overwhelmed after picking the wrong song? With a little reorganization this game could be a gem; as it is, it’s a collection of great ideas marred by a potentially harsh barrier to entry.
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*A game code was provided for review purposes.