STAFF REVIEW of Music Racer: Ultimate (Xbox One)

Wednesday, March 9, 2022.
by Adam Dileva

Music Racer: Ultimate Box art Music based rhythm games are one of my favorite genres. Name it and I’ve probably played it, or at least listened to its soundtrack. So whenever a new musical game releases I always take note. The latest, Music Racer: Ultimate, developed by AbstractArt and Light Road Games, is an updated version of the 2018 game with the same name without the Ultimate suffix. Given that they also advertise the game with a Lamborghini Countach, my favorite car of all time, I had no choice but to check it out.

Music Racer: Ultimate is essentially the original game but with some more content and features built in, and yes, original base game owners will apparently get a 50% discount if they choose to purchase Ultimate. The rhythm game was played by many, but the PC version at its original launch was the clear superior version, as it allowed you to import and play your own music, something that was a glaring omission from the console versions. That’s what Music Racer: Ultimate aims to improve, finally giving us console players the same ability, with some unique caveats.

So you’ve played the original Music Racer and wondering what’s exactly new in this Ultimate version? You can expect new vehicles, new backdrops and of course the main reason you’d upgrade, for the ability to play your own music. A music game with a set list of songs can become stale in time, so the ability to add any from your library makes the game infinitely replayable. Don’t go in expecting any sort of narrative, career or campaign at all, it’s simply picking a song and playing it with your vehicle, that’s it. It’s as barebones as it comes, not even offering any sort of tutorial or explaining anything in the menus.

So how do you play your own music you ask? On your PC, Mac, or Mobile device you’ll need to setup a WebDAV server, essentially a way for the game to talk to your external device and stream the music from. Once you’ve installed one of the supported apps, you’ll find your appropriate music folder(s), find your device’s IP then tell Music Racer: Ultimate exactly where to find your server hosting your songs.

Currently the supported server apps are as follows and also come with a complete setup guide:

[Windows] Easy Web Server
[macOS] WebDAVNav Server
[iOS] PocketTheater WebServer
[iOS] Amerigo File Manager
[iOS] File Sharing Manager - Transfer videos & photos over WiFi
[Android] WebDAV Server
[Android] WiFi File Transfer

There are a few technical restrictions though, as you can’t simply import your gigabytes of stores music library and have it sitting in your game. Instead, you actually only download one song at a time since it’s stored in the console’s RAM for the duration of that level, so no permanently saving your audio to the system unfortunately. There’s also a 100Mb size limit and a 40 minute length restriction as well. Going through the FAQ and walkthrough was quite basic to install, setup and get running. I’m quite a techy guy, so things like this are second nature to me. After an hour of trying everything I could, I simply couldn’t get the Web Server’s to work at all on my PC or Mobile, and I exhausted all of my options. I’m not sure why Music Racer: Ultimate was unable to locate my shared folders and files, as I followed every step exactly as described and even reached out for assistance.

As of the time of this initial writing I was still unable to import my own songs with the servers listed above, which greatly deflated my excitement to play Music Racer: Ultimate. That said, it turns out I wasn't doing anything wrong, but instead was an unforeseen restriction with retail Xbox Series units and how it pulls outside data. Developers have since made a 'fix', a different type of work around, but it's not the easiest or user friendly solution out there. In the end though, I was finally able to play my library of MP3's, one at a time, which was the whole point of my excitement for Music Racer: Ultimate. There is also other ways to play songs, with the included tracklist and the awful offerings you can stream from the Audius platform (, another new addition to this Ultimate version.

Also new are a handful of language translations and the game feels super smooth in 4k 120FPS. While the biggest addition is clearly the song import options, it does take a bit of external legwork and technical knowhow to actually do. There’s nothing even in-game that explains this really or walks you through the steps, so you’ll need to do some research yourself.

The premise of Music Racer: Ultimate is simple; collect white notes and dodge red pillars as you make your way down a three laned track that moves and changes based on the musical song being played. What’s unique is that the track itself and the notes react and are placed based on the song being played, so every song is a dynamic and unique experience. As you collect notes you’ll earn points which can then be used to purchase and unlock new levels and vehicles. The premise is simple and the gameplay even more so. Simply pick a song, drive along the track to collect white rectangles and repeat.

The tracks themselves change based on the song, so a higher tempo means the notes and vehicle will move much quicker, a lot of bass might make for some large hills and dips, and certain audio will cause a screen flashing bonanza that will test anyone without any epileptic seizure history. You want to collect as many points as possible, but the lack of any sort of online leaderboards makes it feel like a lonely and forgetful experience.

All of the level designs vary, unlockable with your saved up points. Most are very colorful and vibrant, with my favorites being the overly saturated neon 80’s aesthetic. Gameplay is done across three lanes; a middle and two sides, though oddly enough there’s one stage backdrop that adds a fourth lane for some odd reason, changing the default note placements. You move your vehicle between the lanes to collect the notes with a flick of the Left Stick or the Bumpers should you prefer. That’s it, that’s the whole gameplay aside from avoiding red pillars that stop your combo in Normal and Hard Mode.

With over a dozen levels to unlocks, there’s always new backdrop to play in, but there’s no real major differences aside from their aesthetics. Some levels are clearly easier than others, as some play out on a much ‘flatter’ pathway whereas others have much higher hills, dips and valleys. The reason I say some are ‘harder’ is because the stages that have more hills makes it impossible to see what lanes the notes coming up are in, even with the semi transparent highways you can see through. Gameplay can be so frantic and chaotic at times that you’re going to miss a bunch of notes because you simply have to guess what lane you should be in as you’re coming up to the crest of one of the hills. This could also apply for the obstacles you’re trying to avoid. There’s no indication of what levels are in what type of style, so it’s a lot of trial and error if you really want to play levels to gather the most points possible. I thought zooming the camera out would help, and it did slightly, but the default camera is basically on the rear bumper of the car and the furthest the camera can zoomed out didn’t help all that much.

There’s a decent amount of cars and vehicles to collect and unlock, clearly trying to replicate their real counterparts without infringing on copyright issues. I loved the default Countach, but you can also find sports cars, Knight Rider, a DeLorean, a Light Cycle and a bunch of other iconic cars. Given that the vehicles play a large part of the gameplay, I initially thought there would be differences between each of them. Sadly it all just comes down to an aesthetic choice. There’s absolutely no difference from one car to the next aside from how it looks, so choose your favorite, change its base and rims color and have at it. With vehicle differences simply being cosmetic, it really deflated my want to unlock them all. Unlocks can cost anywhere from 1000 points all the way up to 100K with seemingly no rhyme or reason as to their respective costs. Normal cars can be very expensive while super cars might be cheap.

Once you’ve chosen a level backdrop you then choose a song to play, and even this has zero descriptions. Choose from Local, Audius or Link. If you’ve not read this review prior to playing, you’re simply guessing what each does. Local are the songs that are included in Music Racer: Ultimate. This setlist has a bit of range from high tempo electronica to slower RnB beats, but don’t expect any licensed music here, just some cool tunes you might bop your head to. Audius is a streaming platform apparently, one I’ve never heard of, but you can choose to play Trending songs or search for an artist. Don’t expect many big names here, as this is definitely nowhere near the size of Spotify or Tidal for example. Lastly is Link where you could theoretically stream songs from your PC or Mobile device, but as described above, getting this to function is a pain and very non user friendly. If Music Racer: Ultimate added Spotify or YouTube support somehow, I could see myself playing quite long-term, unfortunately that’s not the case.

When choosing a song, there’s no artwork and no preview of what it sounds like, just a boring black screen with the song list, so you’re simply guessing and testing each song, hopefully keeping track of the ones you like and don’t. Once you’ve chosen a song you then decide to play Normal, Zen, Cinematic or Hard. Again, there’s no explanations as to the differences, so you have to simply try them out and see what they each entail. Luckily that’s what I’m here for. Normal will place notes on the track and the odd pillar obstacles you need to avoid to prevent your combo from being broken. Hard is just that, the same but music is harder where you’re unable to get hit or else you’ll fail. Zen Mode places no obstacles on the screen, so you can simply enjoy playing without any worry of failure, and lastly Cinematic Mode doesn’t even have you playing, meant to be used more like a moving dynamic background maybe when you have company over or something.

Music Racer: Ultimate’s greatest asset is its synthwave styled aesthetic, bringing those true 80’s vibes with the bright neon, flashing lights and polygon heavy models. Now, I’ve never had an issue with epileptic seizures and flashing lights have never bothered me, but damn, Music Racer: Ultimate seriously will put that to the test. I never got nauseous or headaches from playing, but I wouldn’t blame you if you did. With winding tracks, bright oversaturated colors, massive screen shake and more, it can become a bit much to focus on the gameplay when you’re being visually overstimulated. There are options to turn most of these down but it can still be far too much at times.

For how much I enjoyed Music Racer: Ultimate’s visuals, there were a laundry list of other problems I wasn’t able to ignore. First and foremost, for a music based game, it doesn’t feel like I’m driving over those notes to any sort of rhythm. I’m not moving my car from lane to lane based on the music, simply trying to capture them all somewhat to the music. It’s clear that the lead platform wasn’t console, as it feels like it was made for PC or Mobile and simply ported. Menus are horrendous to try to navigate, as there’s no indicator as to which option you’re currently on or trying to select. You have to simply try and toggle each on and off and hope you’re on the option you meant to.

There’s an option for more Advanced controls, again, without any description to what that means. When this is on, instead of flicking the stick Left or Right to swap lanes, you have to drive it more like a car. This combined with the visual difficulties makes it near impossible to do so. Sure it adds more challenge, but why if there’s no leaderboards? There’s a bunch of other options that can affect gameplay, but again, no descriptions means you’ll simply have to try them and figure out the differences.

The worst offender though has to be the bugs and constant softlocks I ran into while playing. Playing on an Xbox Series X and even with the Series X version of the game, I lost track of how many times my game would randomly softlock. By this I mean that all of a sudden my controller would stop working, kind of. I could still hear Party Chat, but my friends were all of a sudden not able to hear me. The buttons did nothing, even the Xbox Guide button, forcing me to pull out the battery and turning it back on. This fixed the problem some of the time, but not always. I've tried multiple setups with the headsets, wired and wireless but it seems random with the controller 'disconnect'. Sometimes I had no issues for like a handful of songs, other times it does the softlock, usually on the level select screen, but have also had it happen if you're choosing Local or Link modes. Once I've even had it do the softlock after a song was complete and you need to press Replay or Main Menu. Funny enough, I've not had a single issue yet while using the external speakers. I’ll give the developers the benefit of the doubt of an incoming fix since this was reviewed before launch day, but it frustrated me to the point of not wanting to play anymore.

That said, once you’ve played a handful of the songs, you’ve really seen all Music Racer: Ultimate has to offer. Sure you can strive to play repeatedly to unlock new levels or vehicles, but since they don’t alter gameplay at all, there’s no real reason to unless you’re a completionist since the unlocks are tied to achievements.

More a fancy visualizer with some light gameplay elements, Music Racer: Ultimate won’t impress with its basic and bland gameplay without much inspiration behind it besides being a visual smorgasbord overload. Since I spent well over an hour unable to get my own musical libraries working with Music Racer: Ultimate, I was unable to access its most important feature until an alternate fix came later on, one that isn't user friendly by any means. While it’s hard to fault a game when its asking price is quite low and fair, sitting around 7 bucks, it becomes apparent quite quickly that Music Racer: Ultimate is all style and no substance.

**Music Racer Ultimate (Xbox Series X|S version) was provided by the publisher and reviewed on an Xbox Series X**

Overall: 5.0 / 10
Gameplay: 3.0 / 10
Visuals: 7.0 / 10
Sound: 5.0 / 10


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