Music Racer: Ultimate races onto consoles to deliver dynamic rhythm-based fun. If you’re a fan of retrowave aesthetics and chilling out to dance beats then this is a game for you; but if you’re looking for anything with depth beyond a pretty vaporwave screensaver and the soundtrack of a late-night club then this is perhaps one to miss.
A Rhythm Game Without the Rhythm
At first glance Music Racer: Ultimate promises to be another flashy rhythm-based game in the vein of Beat Saber, though this time the novelty being that you hit notes by racing a car along a track, moving left and right between 3 lanes to match the oncoming notes. Where Music Racer: Ultimate attempts to differentiate itself is in its approach to the notes themselves, as the game purports to generate them in real time purely based on the song’s track. This is its advantage, allowing players to then play along to their own songs by uploading from a smartphone or computer, or from the Audius server which allows anyone to upload tracks for all to use; and it is also its disadvantage since the real time generation means that the notes you hit end up having no bearing on how the song actually plays, since the two are not entwined for gameplay.
What you are left with then is something of an empty husk with little else but a pretty, neon coloured shelling. Music Racer: Ultimate looks good enough, adopting the flashy neon vaporwave style, but as far as actually being a game to play it is little more than a vaguely interactive screensaver. Unlike other rhythm games hitting or not hitting notes has very little bearing on the song. There is no punishment to missing a note, and the only reward for hitting one is that you get a point which then goes toward allowing you to buy other cars and levels. These levels and cars themselves have no advantage or disadvantage either other than making your screen look different, or letting you drive around as the Knight Rider car, a Tron bike, Max’s car from Mad Max, or even good ol’ Dominic Toretto’s Dodge Charger.
It’s All Style, Very Little Substance
Still, however, it is oddly enjoyable enough just to chill out to for an hour or two. You’re not getting any challenge from it, but if you want to listen to some of your music with a cool looking music video in front of you then you’ll have a satisfying enough time. The lack of a fail-state in all but one of the game modes will allow you to just kickback and enjoy the game for what it is: a flashy rollercoaster sim set in a Daft Punk nightclub. The real time generation will have the track speeding up and slowing down with the song which can become quite thrilling if you’re into the beat, and if you’re playing on a PS5 the haptic feedback on the controller is a nice touch for immersing yourself in this vaporwave world.
The game comes with 4 modes: normal, zen mode, cinematic, and hard. Normal has you hitting notes and attempting to dodge pink bars which will momentarily distort your song, but there is no punishment beyond that. Zen has no notes at all, allowing you just to drive along a neon track while music plays, which isn’t all to dissimilar to normal mode functionally. Cinematic mode is quite literally a screensaver as you watch a car drive along a stylish track in sweeping camera angles while you possess no control.
If you want even a small modicum of what we call an actual video game then hard mode is for you. In hard mode hitting the notes still has no bearing on the song, but coming into contact with one of the pink bars will immediately end the song and force you to start again – hurray for gamifying a, erm, video game! For songs with faster beats this can actually become quite a challenge once the pace picks up, but again with the notes themselves not actually contributing in any way to the gameplay the entire rhythm-based component of Music Racer: Ultimate just simply isn’t there.
By all means, if you’re a SoundCloud DJ at a party and want to put on a show with your latest hot track then get yourself hooked up to Music Racer: Ultimate, but there really isn’t much to see here if you’re looking for an actual rhythm game.
Final Score: 5/10