The music industry is a fickle beast. It goes with the popular vote and talent rarely beats money. Songs have the power to move us, and they connect with us in a more meaningful way than words ever could. They often divide communities and you’ll argue until you are blue in the face about why your style is superior. However, music is rarely at the centre of political turmoil, but when it is, it causes a divide between the rich and the poor. No Straight Roads runs with this idea and integrates it into its colourful world.
Developed by Metronomik and published by Sold-Out Software, this is a vivid action-adventure game. Set in a bizarre futuristic landscape, this coins itself as a rhythm adventure title, but truth be told, the beat makes up only a small part of its gameplay. This surreal story is full of banging tunes, whacky characters, industry stereotypes, and many jokes.
No Straight Roads teases you with wonderful mechanics, but it fails to evolve.
I never know what is more disappointing, an outright poor game with no direction, or a title with an interesting concept that fails to evolve beyond its basic premise. No Straight Roads sits in the latter category and is a game that has such great potential. Many of its layers worked brilliantly, but sadly it just didn’t take off. With the story revolving around fights and capturing districts, it gets stuck in a monotonous loop of repetition. A lack of enemies and the same type of battle give this a distinct Deja vu feeling.
Though I was disappointed with its shallow gameplay, I still found plenty to entertain me. If you are a fan of the industry, you’ll love the in-jokes and digs at the culture. The comedy runs deeper than that with amusing one-liners fired between the two protagonists throughout. This approach helps the loose story flow from district to district, giving you direction and helping you to focus. There is a ranking system for each battle, collectables to be found, and fans to win over. So, on a basic level, there is a lot to do.
Vinyl City is a place where the rich always win.
The game is set in a sprawling metropolis known as Vinyl City. You control the Rock duo Mayday and Zuke, one is OTT and craves fame, the other is so laid back he’s horizontal. Their band Bunk Bed Junction wants to return Rock to its former glory, but the evil EDM empire known as NSR (No Straight Roads) disapproves. While they control the music scene, they filter the power to whomever they chose. The EDM favour their rich backers and allow the poor to suffer in the darkness.
The Rock duo will not stand by and watch their beloved Vinyl City fall under this tyrannical ruler. Together they battle to capture each district, overcoming the boss in charge and loosening the grip the NSR has over the people. Rock must live on, and Bunk Bed Junction is the band to make it happen.
A semi open-world with a linear focus.
When you first look at the surrounding environment, it appears vast and daunting, as any major metropolis should. As you play you quickly realise that this large space is devoid of life and the game linearly funnels you to how it wants you to play. You are free to explore “hub” areas, searching for energy sources to power broken equipment. In doing so you’ll increase your fan base, which is used to help with upgrades to each character. However, finding all the damaged equipment is no easy task, and repairing them all offers a reward and an interesting alternative challenge to the main plot.
As you move through the zones, you note a distinct music style for each location. I loved this small detail, and it reflects the developers love of different genres. Each district follows the same pattern and here unfortunately is where the repetition begins. You must battle your way past security, rinsing and repeating the same few moves against the same type of opposition. Once you overcome the predictably easy minions, you’ll face the big boss. This would have been an exciting experience if it wasn’t for the rehash of the same fighting mechanics.
No Straight Roads fails to hit the high notes.
The tone is one of sorrow and negativity, but that’s not because I didn’t like what I’ve experienced. No, it’s out of sheer disappointment! This genuinely has so much potential that I wanted it to kick on, however, it never did. There were so many great moments that made me smile and laugh throughout. Yet, its core concept of the battles dragged it back down to earth.
Yes, the stages that the fights take place on are unique and interesting to look at. Also, the bosses all vary in stature to match their song and their environment. But, this doesn’t take away from the tedium of the overall event, sadly.
There are highlights peppered along this weird rhythmical journey. The characters that you interact with are warm, full of emotion, and are well designed. They add such depth to a loosely written story it’s hard not to love the effort put into each one.
There is also the concept of a skill tree that is powered by your fan base, the ranking system for each event, and many stickers that give you temporary buffs. So, there is a lot to consider before taking on each mission. It’s simply unfortunate that it’s all held together by a hollow mechanic that fails to go anywhere.
A vivid yet unusual trip from start to finish.
No Straight Roads smacks you right between the eyes with its incredibly unusual art style. Bold characters, sharp contrasting lines, and retina-burning colours make this an acid trip of a game. I fell for its style instantly and loved how the characters were designed and how they matched the world they lived in. The variety between the areas was incredible, with every element creating a surreal atmosphere. It’s rare these days that a game can be unique and original, yet that’s exactly what you get here.
When a game is all about music, you know the audio will be spot on. Metronomik loves everything about the industry and this shows in their eclectic mix of sounds. From Rock and electronic to rap and more, there is a vast selection of styles. As you battle off against the bosses, you’ll have to endure their taste in music. But, as you win over the crowd and reduce their health, the tunes start to have a Rock undertone. This gets stronger the further you progress, and this was a marvellous touch.
When you look at how great the graphics and audio were, you can see why I’m frustrated. So much care and attention has been placed into making this sound and look great that it’s annoying the core concept fails to flourish.
Easy to pick up, frustrating to use.
At first glance, this appears quite complex to play. Two characters to control, combo attacks, melee and ranged weapons, dodging, and finally parrying. All of these must be mastered to the beat of the songs. It sounds like a nightmare, right? Wrong! A thorough tutorial teaches the fundamentals and everything else falls into place with a little practice. You soon become a master of the beat and your only challenge will be the unresponsive controls when changing players. This wasn’t a big thing, but I would have liked it to be smoother.
Where No Straight Roads excels is its volume of tasks to complete. With multiple collectables to find, electrical equipment to repair, a skill tree to fill, and S ranks to obtain, there’s plenty to keep you playing. There is also a large achievement list that requires perfection in the boss fights. So, this will help keep you busy if you are that way inclined. Yet, the issue doesn’t lie with how much there is to do. No, it’s whether you can stomach repeating the repetitive fights, again! This is one for the true completionists among us. The player who likes the accolade of completing a game few others have.
I loved No Straight Roads, but its failure to reach its potential holds it back.
Ironically, I feel like a stuck record after my time in Vinyl City. I’m stuck playing the same piece of music knowing there should be more, but it never materialises. This is No Straight Roads, in a nutshell, such potential, but it never quite gets there. With so many great elements, this could have been phenomenal. Sadly, its safe and repetitive core concept holds it back.
I enjoyed my time with it, mostly and loved many of its components. It’s a shame its lack of adventure stops it from becoming the game it’s destined to be. I recommend it but be warned you’ll only play it casually. A copy can be purchased here if interested. Will Rock music endure and save the day? Or will the NSR be victorious? Grab your instruments and remind Vinyl City what they’re missing.