I saw Music Racer in the "coming soon" section of the game store about a week ago, and it looked interesting. I tried to look up some gameplay footage, but very little was available for a game that hadn't been released yet. Little did I know, this game has already been released on Steam and removing "xbox one" from my search terms probably would have given me more insight on what I was getting into.
Anyway, Music Racer is, uh.. a video game. It doesn't feel like your typical music game and it doesn't feel much like a typical racing game. Sure, you play as a car and you are driving your car on a track and music is involved, but it doesn't really seem to scratch either itch. You're not racing against any opponents or against a clock, the "race" takes as long as the song is. And you're not so much "playing" the song like a music game as you are just moving around a car while the song plays.
Your goal is to drive into what the game calls "beats" to earn points that are able to be used to purchase new cars to drive with or new tracks to drive on. The controls are simple, you either use the left analog stick or the d-pad to press left/right to move your car from lane to lane. I had the desire to change the controls to LB/RB, but there is no option to change the controls at all. You are able to use "advanced" settings, which instead of just pushing the analog stick left/right, your car goes in the direction you are pushing depending on how hard you're pushing in that direction. It makes the car's movement smoother, but playing that way is definitely more difficult.
As far as the cars go, there isn't much to say. There are a handful that you can pick from, including one with Santa's sleigh as the inspiration but it will cost you a pretty penny. There are some neat cars, and one nice thing is that all of them are customizable in at least one way. Body color and rim color. You can even be a bird or use a TRON-style motorcycle.
The game comes with 23 songs that you can play, all unlocked from the start. Only cars and tracks are purchased. I think this is a good choice, having more music variety to start with sounds better than only having a few songs that you have to play over and over to get some currency for more. 12 songs belong to an artist Tobu. In general, I like most of them a good bit. Rollercoaster, Cruel, Calling and Candyland are some of my favorites. Blue Neon by Projekt F is okay, but in general I find most of the 10 songs by Isafold to be a bit basic and lengthy, not as fun as the others to play through.
There are 14 tracks to choose between, 12 of them needing to be purchased. 13 of them have 3 lanes on the track, but one of them has five, adding a little bit more variety to movement. There is a solid amount of variety between them, between visuals, style, and mechanics. But this can be a good or bad thing. Some tracks are nice, but others have a lot of hills and curves that makes upcoming beats nearly impossible to see. I wanted to give some brief thoughts on each track below in the spoiler section, if it interests you to read.
For the most part, I would say that I didn't dislike the visuals of any track and they all look nice in different ways. If a track breakdown doesn't interest you, I'll just say that Distant Lands is my preferred track to play on because for me it has the least amount of issues. Playing with the settings may change your mind about different tracks though, the Bloom and Screen Shake effects can be a bit distracting.
The game has four modes that you can choose between when playing a song.
[Standard] - The standard modes. Has beats, but also has barriers within the song that you need to avoid or you will break your combo.
[Zen] - The same as Standard, but there are no barriers on the track, you can just play freely.
[Cinematic] - There are no beats, and you don't have control of your car. You can move the camera around, but this mode is to simply just leave on like a music video. Will not get you any points.
[Hard] - Standard, but hitting a barrier will immediately end the song.
Although it is nice that the game has different modes, there is absolutely no incentive to not play on Zen. Playing on Hard does not award you any more points than Standard or Zen, which seems pointless. You could play on Hard for personal preference, but I don't see that happening often. The amount of points you get at the end of a song is your beat points, plus your current combo. Not your highest combo. If you hit a barrier near the end of a song on Standard, your points will be cut almost in half.
Another thing that this game is missing is score tracking. Once you finish a song, you can see how many beats you hit and what your combo was. However, there is nothing to reflect this anywhere else. A simple score breakdown on the song list would go a long way. I don't see anyone writing down or taking a picture of their scores to keep track and improve. It seems like such a basic, given feature. Not sure why it would be left out. The game doesn't have online leaderboards, but that doesn't bother me as much as not being able to compete against your own scores.
The achievements are very simple. You will unlock all but 3 by just purchasing all of the additional cars and tracks. Those other 3 just require getting 3 different star levels in songs. Getting 3 stars on a song should only take some getting used to the controls, not long at all. This game does not track played time, so I don't have a good estimate for completion. I imagine with active play and a solid player, you can knock it out in less than 12 hours. There are different ways to do it faster, but I won't mention them here. You shouldn't find much difficulty in unlocking them all, it's just a grind.
Even after completing the game, I'm not entirely sure how I feel about it. I'm not angry that I paid $5.94 for it, but even at that price point this game leaves a lot to be desired. The visuals can be a bit overwhelming, some of the tracks make seeing the beats almost impossible, no score tracking, sometimes beats straight up don't register, and the song catalog is pretty small. In general, the game does have a nice look and some of the music sounds pretty good. However, it's a bit too basic and lacking to give a higher score. It's not a music game, it's not a racing game. It's just.. a game. And it's not a knockout. For the low price, or even during a potential sale at some point, you could do worse. But you're not missing a lot by giving this one a pass.