reviewed Riff Racer
You're the first to race this track!
You'll be enshrined as the track's creator for all time.
And you've earned 100 coins.
If you want a good frame of reference for how our culture adapts to change, consider that AudioSurf was released a full three years before Spotify came out in the United States. As one of the first independent titles to really use Steam's API on Valve's, at the time, infamously closed off platform, it was considered significant enough to come in a bundle of twelve other independent titles officially endorsed by Valve in 2011, with a fancy TF2 hat to go along with it.
AudioSurf is not a game that could be released today and have the same impact. Case in point: when AudioSurf 2 was released with YouTube functionality and had its already minuscule playerbase disintegrate into double digits when it had to be gutted with no replacement in mid-2018. Music Racer, a less popular alternative priced at only two dollars, was released a month later with YouTube integration. To Audiosurf 2's credit, it managed to maintain a small but dedicated playerbase two years after its launch. To Music Racer's credit, it did ten times that in only fourteen months. If you want further proof that these games aren't sustainable anymore, in January of 2023, almost seven years after its release and my favorite of these games, Riff Racer, shut its doors for good.
As all functionality is tied to online connectivity, you can longer purchase Riff Racer on Steam. To add insult to injury, without online connectivity, you cannot play any new songs. However, thanks to the efforts of a dedicated individual, Riff Racer is not entirely lost to time. Yet. But the competitive angle is gone for good. From here on out, all scores recorded in the replacement server were scores recorded before the official one turned off.
Racing along the bright neon colors with pulse-pounding music, causing the speed of the bar I'm chasing to outweigh my human capabilities without the ghost of another player to challenge me, Riff Racer begins to feel oddly hollow. But it would be wrong to blame the developers who couldn't afford to keep their servers running. It's the same issue with AudioSurf and its sequel, Music Racer, Beat Hazard, and any other game of this mold. In our current day and age of Spotify, Apple Music, Amazon Music, YouTube, TikTok—fuckit, Pandora—who's buying MP3s anymore? The market for that isn't nonexistent. You can still go on Amazon, find a brand new album, and then pay to own a digital copy of it that's not reliant on their servers. But you have to go out of your way to do that (e.g. Amazon forces you to go through their interface for streaming music, and then click on a small button with three bubbles, to even see the option to buy MP3s). The only websites that are marketing themselves on MP3s nowadays are the YouTube download sites not killed by Google, shady Russian ventures only frequented by the desperate, and Bandcamp. As much as I adore Bandcamp, its artists range in recognition from Carpenter Brut to The Skeletones Four. You can't convince me that it's a mainstream site when all of its most popular acts are on other services, and the ones that aren't are niche bands like Battery Operated Orchestra.
Whether or not the shift to streaming has been beneficial largely depends on perspective. From the perspective of an artist, royalties can be a pain in the ass. Spotify is notorious for paying their artists' jack shit, and Apple isn't much better. It's easy to say that the ideal solution would be something like Bandcamp, where you get to stream as much of the music as you like if you're online, but you can only access the album offline if you've paid for it. But that'd be like saying WinRAR's business model has paid dividends in casual markets. As a consumer, it's convenient; you don't have to slap down tons of money for something you may or may not like. But if you're a game developer working around music that the user has control over, I can only imagine the headache. Right now, these kinds of games have to be in an adapt-or-die mentality. The only reason Beat Hazard has had two successors is because it's been willing to change its model to whatever the user is playing on their desktop. This creates the issue that games might run in perpetuity instead of playing out as levels. Between that and having to pay streaming services or face the reality that you're working on something downright ancient, unfortunately, there isn't much of a middle ground.
I liked Riff Racer a lot, and I still do. Playing through the entirety of Jasper Byrne's 2019 album Night with outrun aesthetics is a vibe I didn't know I wanted to feel. And it goes without saying that the visual style, plus the drift-based gameplay loop, makes this perfect for synthwave music and the occasional goofy track like that one from Initial D and that other one from that Fast and Furious movie that makes Enter the Void look like an accurate portrayal of Japan in comparison. I'm sad to say that I can't recommend this experience to you because you are no longer able to buy it. I pity the developers, truly. I want them to be proud of the thing they've created because I think they should. But outside of a fan patch with its own expiration date, they've lost the race. In retrospect, I can see them patting themselves on the back. But it's dead, and unless some act of god intervenes, it's going to stay that way.
Fuck, if they added anime girls to this game, they'd probably have Osu big-bucks by now.
Reviewed on Feb 28, 2023