Around about a year and a half ago I played No Straight Roads for the first time at EGX Rezzed. In my hands-on article about the game I declared thus;
;No Straight Roads is the kind of experience you could only have in video games, and that’s what makes it so appealing I think. It’s the pure definition of the what the industry is hoping to accomplish. Blurring the lines between different entertainment mediums to create something wholly original’.
A – very- long year and a half wait later, and Metronomik’s utterly bonkers action adventure game is done and dusted and whilst it may not have reached the lofty heights of that original demo, I’m still buzzing writing this, so apologies if I get really rather enthused about the game as this review goes on. It may happen, is all I’m saying. Be prepared.
No Straight Roads begins as it means to go on. You’re quickly introduced to the games main protagonists, Mayday and Zuke who are part of a rock band duo called Bunk Bed Junction. They have a simple goal; bring rock music back to the masses of their hometown Vinyl City, who have turned their back on distorted guitars and glam synth hooks for the heartless noise of EDM. Bunk Bed Junction sign up to a Lights Up audition – think Britains Got Talent, but less cruel – in the hopes to be signed up to NSR, the ‘big-bad-corporate-entity’ that towers over Vinyl City. Alas, their hopes are dashed upon discovering that EDM is all that matters now, and rock is dead. It’s a bad time for Bunk-Bed Junction.
Following the audition – which essentially works as the tutorial for the game – all the power is cut in Vinyl City, and it’s only NSR who have back-up generators and they aren’t sharing with the rest of the population. Only Mayday and Zuke can save Vinyl City and with the power of rock and roll, that’s exactly what they set out to do.
There’s plenty of fun to be had in these early moments. The script is sharp and the performances of Mayday and Zuke in particular are a huge part of why No Straight Roads is so engaging. The narrative is as bright and breezy as the characters and the colours that are shooting through your retinas at any given moment and the first couple hours really sets the tone for what’s ahead.
It shouldn’t be a surprise at this point, but music is a huge driving force of No Straight Roads, and as you learn how to adapt to the combat (which is all rhythm based) along with transforming various objects around you into additions to your arsenal in the major boss fights with the power of rock music, throughout rock and EDM are fighting off against each other to create a symphony of colliding soundscreens that work with you as a way to eliminate your enemies.
It’s not an easy game by any stretch of the imagination. As it’s all primarily boss fights throughout – taking on various NSR-contracted musical artists at their concerts in order to bring power back to separate parts of the city – there’s never really a moment to wrap your head around it all before you’re back fighting a beautifully designed pain in the ass all over again. The pacing of the boss fights can be a little off. They tend to last an awfully long time but there’s not exactly any grunts you can take on inbetween to hone your skills. Certain boss fights have enemies to take on before you reach the big bad but as you explore Vinyl City for these areas they’re scattered and rather empty, save a few NPC’s that want to help you on your way.
The grunts are robots who have been programmed to attack at the sound of the EDM created by their musical overlords. They hardly move and once you become accustomed to the rhythm it’s rather simple to take them down. They’re backed up by flying drones that can be taken out with musical notes that can be found in various items, again, all to the beat of the EDM. It’s up to you to work out the attacks by following the beat of the music, ensuring you’re attacking between each drop or projectile.
Mayday and Zuke play in rather similar ways but their unique combat options mean each bout becomes more tactical than you may have expected. Mayday strikes with her guitar, unleashing a hellstorm of metal to her foes, along with swinging her guitar as a heavy strike. Zuke meanwhile plays the drums, so he likes to hit people with drumsticks. His attacks aren’t as strong but much faster, so if you’re in a tight spot against these galactical bosses he’s handy to use in a pinch.
The boss fights then are the game’s bread and butter, but they’re not perfect and simultaneously showcase No Straight Roads at the height of its powers and where it feels the most frustrating.
The boss fights are the most spectacular set pieces. Full of colour, beautiful to witness, oftentimes hilarious demonstrations of No Straight Roads kicking ass left, right and centre. There are moments that had me actually proclaim ‘this is the best game I’ve ever played’ and genuinely mean it, only for it to come to a grinding halt once your feet is back on the ground.
The clearest instance of this is a segment before the second boss fight, which tasks Mayday and Zuke with tearing through levels of security before reaching Sayu, a digital EDM artist controlled by four humans hidden away from the world. The segment features various platforming and grunt battles, and effectively created the opposite effect on me I think the game was going for. Each boss in the game is loud and enormous and completely over the top, so you want to be in a real hype mode each time you take them on because, at least visually, they’re absolutely stunning. At any moment there’s always so much happening on screen you don’t know where to look, and this insanity really brings home what No Straight Roads should be all about.
I digress. Before Sayu the aforementioned security levels are a slog, and there’s far too many of them with hardly any variety whatsoever and their design felt generic and rather boring. By the time I was through I felt like I had wasted all the energy the game had built up in me for the boss fight on levels of security that weren’t any more difficult to progress through than finding eggs in New Super Lucky’s Tale. The tonal shift really knocked me for a loop, and I couldn’t enjoy the boss fight like I was perhaps supposed to. It was still a visual treat for the eyes and was funny in places – the quick cuts to the humans controlling Sayu are a delight – but why take all the buzz away with mundane platform sections? It felt like an odd choice. NSR does such a great job of hyping you up for these enormous musical battlegrounds, it felt like a bit of a rugpull.
In between the megatron-esque enemies there’s a little downtime where you can hang out at your living quarters – essentially an underground basement – where you can check out you collectibles, check out your upcoming objectives, add custom stickers you collect along the way to your instruments as a way to level them up by adding bonus effects or modifications. There’s even an arcade in there with a game called Master Wolfe, a two colour shooter that’s also timed to music and far more fun that it probably should be. Leaving ‘Home Sewer Home’ will drop you in Vinyl City, where you can explore and collect power canisters – of which there are many.. – and bring power again to various electrical streetlights and such scattered around the city.
As mentioned above, it’s fun to run around Vinyl City, it’s bright and full of colour with some gorgeous architecture that really brings the world of No Straight Roads to life, it’s just a little barren. If I was to compare it to anything, it would be Jet Set Radio.
As you’re tearing it around the city picking up power or stickers/mods, I was instantly reminded of exploring Jet Set’s levels, picking up spray cans and jumping all over the place with no real idea of where I was going, it was just fun to explore.
And I think it’s funny that Jet Set Radio is where I land when I think of games No Straight Roads reminds me of. Whether or not it was directly influenced, the early-2000’s SEGA era is exactly where No Straight Roads feels like it was born out of. It’s a blistering mix of Jet Set Radio, Space Channel 5 and dare I say, Samba de Amigo.
It’s a cocktail of Dreamcast heavies presented in glorious technicolour, full of live and vibrancy. It got to a point where I had to check and see that it wasn’t a remake of a rare Japanese only release of a video game I never played. Fans of SEGA’s swansong will get a huge kick out of No Straight Roads. I’m pretty sure this is why I’m such a huge fan. It’s nostalgic without being a remake. The most bombastic collection of SEGA offerings that SEGA never made.
That’s where I ended up landing on No Straight Roads. A throwback to a bygone era of video games and a celebration of the wonders of our favourite medium through the power of good old fashioned RAWK. The soundtrack is naturally the very best part of the game and deserves an immediate place in your vinyl collection. It’s by no means perfect and particular issues have dampened my initial hype level somewhat, but I’m still overjoyed with the final product.
I hope it finds its intended audience, there really is nothing else out there quite like it right now.
It’s not perfect then, but I highly recommend you play No Straight Roads on the biggest, loudest TV you can find and get completely lost in a staggeringly good,
unstoppable psychedelic rock n roll extravaganza.
No Straight Roads is available now on PC via the Epic Game Store, Xbox One, PS4 (reviewed on PS4 Pro) and Nintendo Switch.
Publisher: Sold Out Games
Disclaimer: In order to complete this review we were provided with a promotional copy of the game. For our full review policy, please go here.
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