reviewNSR

Review: No Straight Roads

Imagine a world where George Orwell’s 1984 co-existed with Jack Black’s School of Rock, and the national anthem of this world was Stan by Eminem.

I bet it’s hard to imagine, but that’s exactly what Metronomik asks you to do with their rhythmic beat-’em-up, No Straight Roads.

No Straight Roads is unquestionably original, full of heart and voice — even if that voice is somewhat disjointed at times — and yet, it still misses the beat in some sections.

Story of a girl… and that green guy who rocks with her

No Straight Road’s story genuinely deserves praise. As I mentioned above, it’s unquestionably original. You play as Mayday and Zuke — an underground indie-rock duo known as Bunk Bed Junction. While they suffer heavily from the opposites attract trope, the two are quite endearing enough to properly enjoy. Mayday is a free spirit to the point where it’s rambunctious, yet shes charmingly balanced out by Zuke, who is calm and collected, but unwavering in his support for the band.

The underground indie-rock duo title is quite literal as the two reside in a sewer in Vinyl City — a brightly colourful, Unreal Engine-developed city where music and fandom are legitimately a power source.

Vinyl City is powered by a Large Qwasa and countless Mini-Qwasas — power generators that require high-energy music to remain online.

No Straight Roads or NSR as they are referred to in-game are a Big Brother-like record label, power company and governing body — think Shinra — run by Tatiana, and serviced in each of the city’s districts by a musician.

Bunk Bed Junction starts off by taking part in the Light’s Up TV audition challenge where musicians get the chance to show why the should lead a district. However, Tatiana has made it clear that EDM is the most respected and powerful form of music and therefore all genres must exist in terms of that. Her District Bosses are masters of a discipline that they’ve incorporated into EDM.

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Maday and Zuke are told by Tatiana that they failed because they played rock, which has no power, even though they later see footage that they, in fact, powered the Large Qwasa to the max!

As the two are looking out upon Vinyl City, peeved by being played, a blackout happens. As the backup power kicks in, Mayday and Zuke discover that most of the power is centred in the NSR concert halls. Feeling that this is wrong, Bunk Bed Junction sets out to change things.

The story that unfolds from this point is all about ego and fan culture. It’s wildly imaginative and full of charm, yet what it delivers is admittedly simplistic.

The game’s curveballs are more than likely caught the second they are thrown at you. While the game is full of cheeky little jokes and joyful dialogue, there are moments where they just don’t connect. I would like to call back to one set of cutscenes where Mayday destroys Zuke’s TV in anger while Zuke comments that Mayday owes him a new one. Flash forward to NSR  Tower, where one of the district bosses comments similarly that Tatiana owes her a new TV after Tatiana smashes hers in anger. Tatiana retorts by asking why the TV is even in her office, which is full of others. It’s worth a chuckle, but it also just feels tongue-in-cheek.

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Similarly, a lot of conversations had between Zuke and several bosses as well as Tatiana and a fan of Bunk Bed Junction develop enjoyable story beats, but do very little to connect any of what’s happening.

Play the best song in the world

No Straight Roads offers solo play as well where you can cycle between Mayday and Zuke as well as two-player couch co-op. Both members of the Bunk Bed Junction handle differently; much like her bombastic personality, Mayday attacks strongly with here guitar, yet she does so slowly.  Meanwhile, Zuke hits are weaker, but he has the ability to chain combos for longer and faster.

There’s a skill tree for both as well as the band, a special move selector and a number of stickers found across Vinyl City that act as stat boosters. The ways that Mayday and Zuke play expertly goes into the way the overall game plays as it allows you to prioritize how you use each character’s functions. Mayday becomes a powerful melee damage dealer as Zuke gets becomes better at blocking and taking damage.

Bosses play out like they would in the Persona series. They each inhabit a district that is fashioned to resemble their personality and discipline of choice. However, that personality is quickly lost thanks to their minions. Each boss is protected by a number of security teams that you must smash on your way to taking over their concerts and districts. The security teams are in rooms that require light platforming elements to overcome. There is a total of three enemy types with some variation. As levels get harder, they will attack more frequently and require more hits to take down, but they grow repetitive quickly — especially when you have to do six to ten security rooms per boss.

No Straight Roads

If you die while facing a security room or a boss, you can retry from a checkpoint in exchange for finishing with a “C” rating regardless of how well you do. Ratings are crucial as they function as the means of upgrading Mayday, Zuke and the band. If you want to get a high rating, you will need to restart the whole process, which can create a slog — especially when you are challenging harder difficulties.

In terms of things like accessibility, this is also an undesirable gameplay mechanic as it makes the game a further slog for players who aren’t interested in significantly upping the difficulty. Later bosses require that you progress through the skill trees, but locking progress behind difficulty levels instead of pure grinding is sure to turn some players off of this game.

Lastly, while No Straight Roads purports to be a rhythm game where enemies attack to the beat, there’s really no need for this mechanic unless you want to use it as a way to avoid pre-programmed attack patterns. These patterns become painfully more pronounced during the boss battles.  You’re just as likely to be successful by simply memorizing how enemies and when enemies attack, you’ll do just fine. However, that brings us to the game’s music.

Face the Music

The message of No Straight Roads is that music brings us all together — even if we don’t like the same genres. By that extension, each boss and district functions as an advocate and a home for each. On display is EDM, pop, classical, Kpop, Jpop, Europop and rock. There are some absolute bangers that serve as the background music of this game — and it’s classic rock theme slaps!

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Although you don’t have to keep time with it, the music does do an excellent job of keeping things moving. The way tracks swell and speed up as bosses get stronger or enemies grow in number serves to amp you up effectively.

Meanwhile, as you begin to take control, rock music finds its way into the battles as well as the districts.

Metronomik undoubtedly succeeds when it comes to allowing music to bring about development.

Verdict

No Straight Roads is a delight to play if you are looking for a boss battler to keep you going for five to ten hours. Its story is both original and complex in its delivery, yet trope-heavy and simplistic in its outcome. The gameplay is enjoyable for the most part — if not a little repetitive. But what really shines here is the music and the message. Even if you are controlling or over-active in fandom, we can all live in harmony — quite literally!

[A copy of the game was provided by the publisher for review purposes.]