I don't remember ever reviewing one of my games where I didn't have to explain what a hideous failure it was, so I'm not sure what to do here. I guess I'll try to take it in three parts. I'll write an "objective" and "neutral" review of the gameplay, follow that up with a brief and emotional retrospective on making the damn thing, and conclude with an explanation of what the hell the LoveTester was all about.
Part One: Playing Fridge Racer
Note: There's two versions of this game, an easy mode and a hard mode. I went for the Hard One and found the margin for error to be pretty slim. It's beatable, I've seen worse, but it could be frustrating. Easy mode seems to be identical except the cars are a little faster and the time limits a little more lenient. Well, except maybe on the third stage. That felt a little harder in easy mode. I might be crazy
I'll never forget the first time I played Gran Turismo. At the start of the game you get 5,000 bucks to buy a car. There was this nimble, sexy little red thing, but I was in love with this cheaper black Nissan. By buying the cheaper car, I was able to upgrade the engine. It wasn't very good goin' around corners, but that piece of shit was FAST. After a little bit of getting to know each other, I was winning races left and right in that thing. With all the money coming in, I was going to upgrade the hell out of that car and tackle the tougher challenges. It wasn't meant to be. I upgraded the suspension and messed it up so bad that the corners were no longer a problem: I'd spun out into the sand way before getting to them.
Got plenty of other memories too. Going insane beating F-Zero GX's story mode. The arcade back home that had some kinda racing cabinet in it, I don't even know which one. But what I do remember is the feel of the gear shift and how it kinda rumbled when you popped it from low into high. I could go on and on, but the important thing is: I know racing games, I've played racing games and I love racing games. Fridge Racer is not a racing game: It is a rhythm game in disguise.
Make no mistake, it's a very good disguise. The game runs at a crisp 60 FPS, just like a racing game should. The road rolls by in pretty good 3D condition, like a racing game should. There's a weird "chunkiness" to the road, but somehow I know what the author was going for and at speed you don't notice it as much. But a racing game involves memorizing the course, dodging obstacles, learning the idiosyncracies of your machine. Due to its limited course geometry and the nature of its character select, Fridge Racer doesn't have any of those things.
By limited course geometry, I mean that the road doesn't really twist and turn so much as it wavers. It goes exactly X units right, re-centers and goes exactly X units to the left. It goes exactly Y units up, recenters and goes exactly Y units down. It shows off the "3D" effect nicely and it feels kinda like one of those "driving on a country road" ads you see the big car companies use. The issue is that it's such a perfectly rhythmic waver that you aren't reacting to the road, you're just cancelling it out to stay in the middle.
That wouldn't prevent it from being a racing game in a lot of cases. Car selection adds variables that can make it more interesting. Maybe one car is speedier than the others. It's more likely to go off the road, but it's better able to recover from mistakes and if you don't make any mistakes you're going to be going insanely fast. Have another car be the opposite of that. It's slower, but easier to keep on the road.. of course if you STILL end up off the road, it's going to be harder to recover from your boo-boo. Hell, maybe there's even a 4x4 that doesn't care about going off the road but doesn't like going uphill (Which reminds me, there's no slow-down on up hills or speed-up on down-hills. It's merely cosmetic). The basic idea is that by putting different cars onto the same course, you expose their differences and that can be interesting.
Fridge Racer has multiple vehicles (3 real ones and one joke) and multiple "courses" (variations in how far it waggles one way or the other) but the courses are locked to the vehicles. Vehicle 1 can only race on Track 1, Vehicle 2 on Track 2 and so on. Since each course requires you to travel a certain distance in a certain time it kind of makes sense, from a balance perspective. On the other hand, it'd be more fun to mix and match, and in so doing, the game's effective length could've been tripled.
So ultimately, the gameplay boils down to holding down Up, (there are brakes but there's never a reason to use them), and figuring out how long you need to hold left, how long you need to hold right to counter (there's a weird slippiness to the controls.. it'd probably feel better with a wheel to whip back and forth than a keyboard), to avoid going into the snow on either side of the road. Dipping one wheel into the snow slows you down a little and going totally off the road slows you down a lot. The screech of going into the snow is the only sound effect in the game and it alerts you that you're breaking out of your rhthym.
I've been pretty rough so far, but only because the game bills itself as a racing game. As a rhythm game, Fridge Racer does a lot of things right. The tire screech is a good touch, it's just annoying enough to make you want to fix it. There's no engine noise, which would be distracting and obnoxious in a long game session. I personally love the music, a track by RMSephy. It's the only song in the game, but it perfectly encapsulates the kind of hijinks going on and the high-speed balancing act the player's dealing with. There's an option to turn it off if it gets too annoying. The speedometer has a needle that moves rather than just a number, and in addition to a speedometer the game also shows you the time limit and distance to go. Between the three you can calculate whether or not you're going to make it on time and that adds a kind of tension, knowing that you're getting behind schedule. That tension can throw you off your rhythm. The snow effect is pretty neat too, and I'm all for any game with unlockables and autosaving.
There's a high score list too, but it's kind of pointless. Winning numbers in hard mode are going to tend to be the same due to the tight time limit. Easy mode allows a wider variety of winning scores, but who wants to admit they played on Easy Mode? I'd recommend this game to basically anyone. It's scripted pretty nicely, the graphics are decent. If you stay away from Hard Mode it won't take too much time out of your day. My only problem is that it isn't a damn racing game.