No Straight Roads: Review

In one fight, I’m taking down a DJ in a planetarium with my guitar, and in the next one, I’m firing musical notes at a Hatsune Miku mermaid. You control aspiring rock stars Mayday and Zuke, members of the band, Bunk Bed Junction, as they take on NSR, the EDM empire that’s outlawed any other type of music in Vinyl City. Along the way, you face off against minions whose attacks sync with the backing track before facing bosses who are affectionate parodies of boy bands and piano prodigies. No Straight Roads is an ambitious effort from Malaysian studio Metronomik, and music is at the core of everything in this action-adventure game. However, there are multiple areas of the game where I felt as if the development team could’ve done more.

Audio

With the game’s focus on audio, I figured it’d be best to start there, as its soundtrack is admittedly what got me to check the game out in the first place. There’s so much care put into the sound design and the music, and it’s by far the strongest aspect of the game. Boss battles will start with an electronic track, but as you progress through the fight, guitar riffs and drum beats will begin to play as the song seamlessly transitions to a rock version. Three versions of the boss battle songs are also available for you to unlock after completing these fights for the first time, as you can replay them with full EDM or rock tracks. There’s also a mechanic in the game where you can transform items around the battlefield into weapons through the use of guitar or drum solos, and these are weaved masterfully into the existing track regardless of when they’re played.

The only real nitpick I have regarding the sound design is that the tutorial level slightly exaggerates how gameplay affects the audio. The tutorial level’s song begins with a guitar leading the track while you’re playing as Mayday, the guitarist, and transitions to a drum filled section the first time you switch to Zuke, the drummer. The game makes it appear as if the band member you’re currently using will influence which instrument is more prominent in the background music for the rest of the game, but this doesn’t end up being the case. That being said, I love what Metronomik did with the soundtrack and how it changes depending on how you’re progressing, and it was the main reason I wanted to finish the game.

Gameplay

Combat mainly consists of you dodging enemies’ musically synced attacks before bashing them in with your own and repeating until the fight’s over. You can switch between the duo in battle, and each one offers slightly different playstyles. Mayday is more of a heavy hitter while Zuke has weaker hits, but can time consecutive attacks to create bigger combos. Occasionally, you can also use ranged attacks by picking up musical notes left behind by enemies you’ve beaten, as well as the aforementioned item transformations through solos. It isn’t anything exceptional, but I thought these boss fights were fun, especially when factoring in the parry mechanic.

Certain enemy attacks appear pink and can be parried if you attack them in time with the music to send them back at the opponent. It’s the game mechanic that feels the most fitting for a rhythm-game, and it does feel satisfying to land one of these. However, these don’t appear regularly unless you’re on the higher difficulties, and you’re unable to change a fight’s difficulty until you beat the boss for the first time. It’s not uncommon to miss these on your initial run as they appear so infrequently on the normal difficulty. The game isn’t particularly hard, to begin with, especially since you can also upgrade both characters to gain more abilities, such as upping the maximum ammo capacity for ranged attacks or allowing you to revive if you run out of health. I feel as if this could be solved by simply giving the player the option to choose their preferred fight difficulty at the start of the game.

Additionally, there are only four other types of enemies in the game. “Approach” sections, gameplay segments after you enter a level but before you fight the boss, consist of you bashing in these four enemies, and while they might have a different color or a slightly different timing for their attack, seeing these same opponents is a bit of a letdown, especially when comparing them to how unique and varied the boss designs are.

Arguably the most frustrating aspect of the fights was my point of view. During approach sections and boss battles, you’re unable to rotate the camera. The game usually sets it at a decent angle to begin with, but it makes some of the platforming sections and boss phases chores to get through. On one level, it forces you to go back through the area multiple times, and the lack of camera controls could mean getting blindsided by an enemy out of your view. It’s a weird design choice, especially considering that you can rotate the camera in the hub world.

Presentation

The world of No Straight Roads oozes style, with a colorful, vibrant setting that’s reminiscent of titles such as Jet Set Radio and Splatoon. Billboards are plastered with advertisements and commercials for the artists you’ll face off with. Subsections of the city, or districts as they’re called in-game, are adorned with statues and artwork matching their former head’s appearance and personality. The story’s dialogue is funny and charming and has a distinct Malaysian influence, which makes sense considering where Metronomik studio is based out of. Malaysian culture is one that I don’t see represented much in pop culture, so I’m thrilled to see it on a bigger stage.

That being said, the game’s style only appears to be surface-level, as intermission areas get repetitive quickly. The billboards display the same videos on a loop until you defeat the featured artist. As fun as the story dialogue is, most of the hub world NPCs only seem to have two or three lines throughout the entire game. While a few characters gain more lines as the game progresses, multiple NPCs simply repeat what they said at the beginning of the game. There isn’t enough variety in their dialogue, and after about midway through the game, I started avoiding most NPCs in the overworld.

While you can explore the main hub city, the most you can do there is talk with NPCs and search for collectibles, as there are only two optional side quests. If you’re not on the way to the next story section, most of your time traversing the city is to satisfy your curiosity. This isn’t bad on its own, but the lack of a fast travel option for the first half of the game makes this dearth of content in the hub city even more apparent since you’re going to retrace your steps through the first few sections numerous times. The story isn’t anything exceptional either, and while gathering collectibles expands on the background and origin of some of the bosses, it’s entirely optional. Much of the game’s replayability relies on you going out of your way to redo boss battles and scavenge the city for these collectibles, and if a player isn’t enthralled by the game or just doesn’t care much for the boss background or lore, there isn’t enough of a motivation to do so.

Final Verdict

As a first attempt from Metronomik, No Straight Roads is a game with several flaws, and most of them boil down to not having enough. I loved the soundtrack, the setting, the main characters, and antagonists, and I liked seeing Malaysia, a lesser-represented country in the video game industry, attempt to make their mark on it. There’s a lot of love put into the artistic and aesthetic areas of the game, but the story and gameplay aren’t anything groundbreaking and you can plow through the game in a few hours due to a noticeable lack of side content. I also experienced a couple of bugs during my playthrough, and while they weren’t game-breaking, it did cause some minor annoyance as I had to quit the game to temporarily resolve the issue. While I do like a lot of ideas from this game, I find a lot of them don’t reach their full potential, and I believe you should wait for a sale before picking this up.

I played through the game on the PS4.

No Straight Roads is currently out on PC, PS4, Xbox One, and Nintendo Switch.

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