No Straight Roads Has the Right Ideas, but Not the Execution
Don’t Be Fooled! For $20, No Straight Roads Provides an Experience Worth Well More
As you’re playing “No Straight Roads”, there’s one thing that you will notice almost immediately; the overwhelming amount of heart poured into the game. NSR rocks groovy combat that’s unique and stands out from most games. In addition to that, it boasts vibrant graphics hard-carried by a bedazzling art-style. Its characters are charismatic and charming, with individual traits that make them stand out from one another. Last but not least, the game inherits an ample amount of Malaysian culture, which isn’t something you see often. If there is anything Metronomik succeeded in, it’s giving players a fresh and unique gaming experience.
For an up-and-coming studio’s first game, there’s plenty to praise, and plenty to criticize. Where the game lacks in polish and story-telling, it greatly makes up for it in other crucial aspects such as gameplay, characters, and more.
No Straight Story
The story of No Straight Roads is fairly to the point. It starts off firstly by introducing you to the protagonists, Mayday and Zuke. Mayday wields a heavy-hitting guitar, while Zuke rocks a pair of drumsticks that allow for quick combos. They’re the two sole members of the indie-rock band “Bunk Bed Junction”, and wish to reinstate the importance of rock music in NSR’s EDM-centric ruling.
Trying out for an audition to garner fame and reinstil Vinyl City’s love for rock, the duo ultimately fails as the elite leaders of Vinyl City reject their performance. As they leave the venue, the city blacks out, and only a few buildings relight with life. What starts off as a failed audition quickly turns into an attempt to overthrow the government when the duo realizes that the Vinyl City’s backup power supply is reserved only for the elites.
With that, Bunk Bed Junction embarks on a journey to take down the NSR, hijacking the elites and claiming their districts. Along the way, they meet new allies and fans who support them throughout their missions.
Exploring Vinyl City
You explore a vibrant Vinyl City, which serves as a decent size hub world. Here, you can interact with NPCs and restore dead appliances to help the lower-class inhabitants of the City. As you do so, you gain fans that cheer you on and progress your skill trees.
Aside from meeting fans, you’ll also pick up Stickers and Mods that’ll alter your stats and play style. At the start of the game, you can slap on two stickers that serve as buffs to your character. You can boost attack damage, movement speed, and a variety of other stats via this method. They are one-time use items, so it’d be wise to keep them for harder bosses.
Mods are basically special skills you can equip to your instrument. Bound to the two separate “special” buttons, you can have a mixture of offensive or defensive abilities to bring into battle. The variety in Mods gives players a lot to experiment with, and can even be swapped around for artificial replay value.
You have a total of three skill trees to progress; Mayday’s, Zuke’s, and Bunk Bed Junction’s which unlocks common skills for both of them to share.
The two characters are fairly different from each other, with individually unique skill trees to develop. In addition to the skill trees, Mods are also unique to each instrument. You don’t need to unlock any of these skills to beat bosses, but they will certainly give you a much-appreciated advantage.
A few minigames are thrown in the mix. Some of them, like the DK West saga, are great pace breakers. Unfortunately, some others, like the helicopter segment, feel cumbersome.
The Best Feature: Core Gameplay
No Straight Roads has a lot of heart put into it, and it’s most apparent in its combat. Fights with the environment and bosses are down to the beat, calling for sensory awareness and precise reaction times. Despite having access to skill-trees that are advantageous, what makes NSR’s combat so good is that levels are designed to be beatable with your vanilla mechanics, no matter the difficulty. Not to say that the game isn’t difficult, because it will kick your bass drums, but if you have a keen ear and precise pattern recognition, you can beat levels headbanging to the beat.
The game is pretty much a standard action-adventure with a decent bit of platforming thrown into the mix. You can hit enemies with your instruments and destroy them to acquire bullets. Bullets are important for damaging out-of-reach enemies and sometimes bosses.
There’s also a heavy emphasis on parrying. Enemies shoot a variety of projectiles, but players can only parry pink projectiles with precise timing.
Throughout levels, there will be weird contraptions with metronomes. Mayday and Zuke can rock their instruments nearby to transform them into offensive or defensive utilities depending on the character that activates them.
While most games rely on visual cues and utilize audio cues as support, NSR puts importance on both. Visual cues can be extremely short and impossible to react to unless you pay attention to the music. This calls for an extreme focus during the first few playthroughs. With a plethora of things to pay attention to; ammo, projectiles, etc., No Straight Roads will guarantee you chaotic fun.
You can access extra difficulties through Joey The Anime Man, allowing for even more chaotic experiences. This isn’t the only feature that adds replayability to the game, however. As mentioned before, equipping different Mods switches up the boss approach, allowing for gameplay experimentation.
The Boss Fights are Fun; the Journey to Them Less So.
While boss fights are spectacular, the journey up to them is less so. The abrupt switch from Vinyl City’s free camera to a fixed one disallows you to focus anywhere aside from the front. Since enemies have attacks that can spread towards any direction, you’re bound to be hit by something at the corner of the screen.
The platforming is also a severely weak aspect of the game. Levels are rather bland with a low to zero focus on verticality. The game presents players with moving or disappearing platforms. These are fairly easy to maneuver and are more annoying as opposed to challenging.
By progressing the game and defeating bosses, you gain large amounts of Qwaza that can be used to power up the city. By powering up the city, you gain the trust of the people and garner more fans. You can also restore power to individual appliances like vending machines scattered throughout the game’s world. These machines occasionally drop stickers after beating a certain amount of levels.
Mods and stickers are really useful for gaining high scores and defeating harder bosses. Not necessary, but great and convenient to have especially if you’re speedrunning. Adds another layer of strategy and freshens up the gameplay.
Crank Up the Difficulty, Crank Up the Fun
The first time you play No Straight Roads, you won’t think much of it. You can easily beat levels and just reload from checkpoints should you accidentally knock-out. As you pay attention to the smaller details, however, you’ll start to realize how immersive and engaging the combat is.
There is a heavy emphasis on paying attention to the music. As players’ visions will usually be focused on dodging the numerous projectiles and avoiding target markers, relying on audio cues will be crucial in perfecting runs and raking up S-rank scores.
You can replay bosses by meeting Joey The Music Elitist. From there he unlocks ‘Hard’ and ‘Crazy’ difficulty levels for the player to attempt. Unlike the main story, there’s no restarting these challenges from checkpoints.
Aside from the added challenge, another great feature you can access is music selection. NSR already has a beast of an OST as you’re playing the main story, but replaying bosses gives you access to three variations of their boss’ respective tracks.
Plot Delivery, Not The Worst, Far From The Best
It’s a solid plot, with its fair share of twists keeping it fresh, but the delivery can fall short at times. At first, it didn’t bother me too much, but the longer I played the game, the more irritating I found the experience. The ending has a somewhat strong message to deliver. Sadly, if you fail to connect with the characters by the end of the game, the ending’s impact will dampen immensely.
The English voice acting is charming at best, but mediocre most of the time. The unique manglish accent certainly is a treat to hear and it gives a sense of relatability when observing the interactions between characters. Unfortunately, that doesn’t make them immune to overstaying their welcome when it comes to the longer cutscenes.
Additionally, comedy bits can feel drawn out and longer than necessary, with too much awkward dialogue that just doesn’t sit well. Of course, this is a heavily opinionated take. Some people may find this cartoony sense of comedy enjoyable.
No Straight Roads’ Bosses Have Intriguing Locked Back Stories
You might not think much of the District Leaders when you face them at first. They have the campiest lines, and they don’t give themselves enough self-exposition to be likable from the get-go.
They do, however, have brilliant art designs that match their themes. You’ll also find that these characters have surprisingly intriguing backstories. You’ll know more about them by unlocking memorabilia.
As aforementioned, cutscenes can overstay their welcome, and the pace and story-telling in No Straight Roads aren’t the best, so it makes sense that these backstories were redistributed via other means. It’s a shame because these memorabilia actually convey the backstories of the bosses well, and make them better characters with depth by the tenfold.
Accessibility and Optimization Issues
The game doesn’t have game-breaking bugs, but it could have definitely be polished in certain areas. For instance, the UI has a completely different settings menu, and it still does the bare minimum. Sometimes clicking on the desired option doesn’t change the setting, forcing you to close and reopen the menu. It’s a small nitpick, but it leaves a dampening impression on the game.
You can’t conveniently change the controls on the fly, and they can only be done in the main menu. Additionally, changing some of these “main-menu” settings, like simply changing the resolution, forces you to restart the game entirely, which can be annoying.
While exploring the Hub World, Vinyl City, allows you to rotate the camera freely, this is abruptly taken away when you play a boss’ level. The sudden rigidness makes for the game more suitable to be played on controller rather than keyboard and mouse. To add insult to injury, the camera significantly worsens when playing two-player. A single camera is shared between two players, making the already limited POV even more limiting.
Environments tend to clip with the character models, and there’s no clear distinguishing factor on where you can or cannot go. Invisible walls are in abundance and can be very irritating. Sometimes you’ll see a block of Qwasa right in front of you, but you can’t get to it because of an invisible wall.
The game wraps up pretty quickly. Completing my first run in 8-9 hours, I still find myself opening the game to try and beat Yinu on harder difficulties. Facing the optional DK West boss makes for an interesting rhythm minigame as well.
No Straight Roads – TL;DR
No Straight Roads is a $20 game that will give you all that; a $20 game. It has great boss fights complemented with quirky mechanics to enhance the experience. The music selection across EDM, Rock, and Bass tracks are plentiful and a joy to rock and headbang to as you face-off against the menacing political titans of Vinyl City.
The segments leading up to the boss fights may be lack-luster and irritating at the worst of times, but they still carry the heart and soul of the colorful art direction of Vinyl City.
It’s not the most polished game and bugs are plentiful here and there, but for the most part they don’t break the game. To fully enjoy it, there’s much players need to overlook, and at the same time need to look for.
Behind subpar delivery, there is a bumbling and lovable cast of characters for you to connect with. Behind convoluted cutscenes and questionable pacing, there is a larger plot with perspectives and morals for you to appreciate.
No Straight Roads is available on PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Epic, Nintendo Switch.
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