What is it? A music action game focused on bombastic boss battles.
Expect to pay £35 / $45
Publisher Sold Out Ltd.
Reviewed on i5-2500K, 8GB RAM, GTX 670
Multiplayer 2 Player mode
Link Official site
Have you ever been to a live concert so loud that you feel like your brain is bouncing around inside your skull? The music overwhelms you and it's thrilling, exhausting, and disorientating all at the same time. That's what playing Metronomik's music action game No Straight Roads is like. Everything about it—outrageous character designs, grand boss battles, wacky humour, animated cutscenes, dynamic music—all crackles with eccentric energy.
Ever since I had my socks blown off by the demo, I've been shouting for an encore and although Metronomik has majorly upped the ante for No Straight Roads' full release, the rock vs. EDM adventure, unfortunately, suffers from some major distortion.
In No Straight Roads, you play as Mayday and Zuke, a musical duo who form the underground indie rock group Bunkbed Junction. Although both their hearts belong to the chaotic power of rock, they live in a city powered by electronic dance music, quite literally. Vinyl City is able to convert music into electrical energy, and EDM is the most popular genre and the main power source.
This power source is controlled by the elite music organisation No Straight Roads (NSR for short) who control each musical district. After witnessing a city-wide power outage where the backup energy is only supplied to the NSR elite, the duo decides to take down the EDM empire defeating each NSR artist one-by-one in hopes of bringing power back to the entirety of Vinyl City. It's a strong set-up for what essentially is one long boss rush in a literal battle of the bands.
Each NSR musician rules over their own district within Vinyl City, and you'll be seeking each one out and battling them in theatrical boss stages. These music battles are the lifeblood of No Straight Roads, and each boss encounter is more over the top than the next, flaunting their musical talent and ego through their performances.
DJ Subatomic Supernova is a flamboyant EDM musician obsessed with the solar system and he's your first brush with the musical elite. His performance is in a giant planetarium where his stage sits at the centre of an intergalactic revolving record. In this battle, you need to bash open giant disco balls collecting ammo to fire at Supernova whilst dodging incoming asteroids. This encounter is wonderfully designed and feels like a cohesive collaboration of music, theme, and fun.
Combat is a mix of hack-and-slash attacking and rhythm-based evasion. You can switch between characters on the fly with Mayday's thrashing guitar attacks being slower but more powerful and Zuke's combo drumming being faster but not as hard-hitting. Both characters are well balanced and I liked playing as each of them, switching from one to the other when a character's health was low.
A good sense of rhythm will help you dodge incoming attacks, although keeping in time with the beat isn't vital. Unlike other rhythm games, you're not punished if you lose your timing, and the music acts more as a guide for timing your actions. There were a lot of moments when I completely lost the rhythm—and my cool—and resorted to panicked button mashing, or as I like to call it, chaotic improvisation.
Each battle is designed around a different genre and always feels like a cohesive collaboration of music, theme, and fun. A lovely detail is a dynamic soundtrack where the pulsating rhythms of EDM slowly get taken over by thrashing guitar solos as the fight goes on.
Although these battles are bursting with chaotic energy, it can get quickly get overwhelming and it feels like the core of the battle loses direction. I think the DJ Subatomic Supernova battle was the best at keeping to a cohesive whole, but other encounters can slip into feeling like an explosive clutter of ideas.
There are missiles to collect, enemies to bash, attacks to dodge, and tricky platforming elements as you try to work out which boss move is coming next. You also need to listen out for the rhythm of the music—it's a lot. At any one time, my attention would be pulled in ten different directions. It's both exhilarating and draining.
Thankfully, you're not expected to go all out 100 percent for the whole game, and in between boss fights you get some down-time. Vinyl City serves as a loose overworld that lets you explore each NSR artist's district. You can chat with different NPCs, collect helpful items, and upgrade your abilities in Bunkbed Junction's underground sewer base. If a certain boss is giving your grief, you can repeat battles to earn more fans and unlock extra abilities.
I'm reminded of Psychonauts, and even Banjo-Kazooie, as I run around the city, hopping from district to district and enjoying No Straight Road's cartoon visuals. The humour and art are reminiscent of the zany comedy games of Tim Schafer.
A great example of this humour is the boss battle against Sayu, a Hatsune Miku-like Vocaloid who radiates cuteness. The way of defeating her is by taking out the voice actor, programmer, artist, and mocap actor which make up the very introverted team behind this cutesy idol persona. You're dashing around a pastel, underwater dream world being attacked by a giant magical mermaid as a colossal crowd of neon glow sticks cheer her on. The whole performance is completely bonkers and I'm enthralled. It also helps that Sayu's song is an absolute banger, so I'll link it below.
Fighting a piece of Vocaloid software is just another part of this oddball world. The animation and character art are an explosion of shapes and colour and the great voice acting brings these zany characters to life. Cutscenes include 3D models and 2D illustrations that create a vibrant Saturday morning cartoon vibe. Be prepared for dreamy robotic boy bands, frantic rap battles, and eccentric pop artists who look like they've jumped straight out of Björk's brain. I would love to see an artbook with sketches and development designs of each character.
Although it's easy to get overwhelmed by the raw energy of No Straight Roads, but it's a refreshing, stylish take on the rhythm action genre. It's a debut game from Metronomik and a bold statement of creativity from the Malaysian game development scene. It's exciting to play and wildly different, and that's what matters most.