During their skint as the James Bond license holder, EA released the deeply flawed 007 Racing on PSone. Much to the amusement of the gaming press, it featured no racing whatsoever, being a mission-based affair. Some twenty years later, developer Abstract Art is trying to pull a similar trick – Music Racer features cars, bikes, and psychedelic rollercoaster-style tracks, but no actual racing.
If you were expecting something similar to Horizon Chase Turbo or Neon Racer, you may want to lower expectations. Now lower them further. Without exaggeration, we have no qualms in saying Music Racer has gameplay on par with a generic ‘80s LCD racing game.
Acceleration is handled automatically – the only interaction comes from switching between three lanes to collect score-boosting pellets. Never mind being played with one hand; Music Racer can be played with one thumb. There are combo-ending pillars to avoid, which sometimes appear out of the blue due to the bendy nature of the tracks, and that’s the whole game in a nutshell. No AI, no checkpoints, no lap times – nothing.
Oh, it gets worse. There’s no game (per se) to progress through – simply select a music track, and off you go. They aren’t ranked in difficulty, and backgrounds aside, you’ll be pushed hard to notice any differences in track layouts. This means there’s no learning curve, ergo no progressively challenging difficulty level, and certainly no drip-feed of new ideas and mechanics. It doesn’t matter if you miss a few pellets, or perform poorly – there’s no punishment or consequence whatsoever. This really is the barest boned experience we’ve played in some time.
Because scores aren’t saved and as there are no target scores, we can’t even class Music Racer as an arcade-style score chaser. Every time you revisit the track menu, you’re back to a blank slate.
If perceived solely as a rhythm action game Music Racer still falls short as the only way the music affects the “gameplay” is that vehicles accelerate faster when basslines kick in. When this happens collecting every pellet becomes an impossible task, lost in a psychedelic haze.
The music selection – a mixture of Euro-style electro and trance, with a smattering of female vocals – suffers from repetition even though it features three different artists. Allegedly, at least – we have our suspicions. But despite one track sounding as if it features a sample of somebody coughing (!) we never felt the need to turn the volume down. That said, it hardly had us ‘pumping up the jams’ (as the cool kids presumably still say) either.
Another odd design choice is that the tracklisting menu doesn’t provide music samples, so you’re forced to go in ‘blind’ when making a selection. Try and imagine if Just Dance, or any other music game for that matter, had a silent music selection screen and you’ll realise how peculiar this is.
Just to hammer home Music Racer’s simplicity, not only can it be played with a flick of a thumb, but the Zen Mode effectively plays itself. Here, the pillars are removed and so it’s impossible to break a combo chain. Put the joypad down and return a few minutes later and you’ll see the car whizz through the finishing line with a hefty combo and enough points to bag a 1- or 2-star rating.
We’re all for self-driving cars. Autonomous games? Not so much. Welcome to 2020, the year the humble Tiger LCD game experience is born anew as a music visualiser.
The only aspect we can lavish praise on is that there are dozens of vehicles and alternative backdrops to unlock, with several lifted from the world of pop culture. A pastiche of Horizon Zero Dawn’s Stormbird also makes a guest appearance, which we initially mistook as Michael Bay’s interpretation of Transformers’ Laserbeak. Sorry, Horizon Zero Dawn fans.
Although low poly (and ignoring the visible seam down the middle), the vehicles look decent enough. This is obviously where the bulk of development time was spent. In fact, Music Racer is far from ugly, repetition within the forever scrolling backdrops aside. The neon-hued grid-based retro world resembles the intro to a typical ‘80s cartoon; messing around in the photo mode allowed us to grab some MASK-esque screenshots. This, and the fact that the music isn’t entirely awful, accounts for much of the score below.
Ultimately though, Music Racer misses every beat. It’s an experience so simplistic that if it wasn’t for the score provided at the end of each run, I don’t think it could even be classed as a game. The fact that it doesn’t even keep track of said score speaks volumes about the amount of thought and effort displayed here. I never felt like I was ‘playing’ Music Racer; it’s a passive experience I had to tolerate while slowly working through the unlockables list.
If you require background noise with a side order of clashing colours, neon grids and pilfered pop culture icons, step this way. Some call it a lobotomy, others may know it as Music Racer.