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No Straight Roads

Platform(s): Nintendo Switch, PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One
Genre: Action/Adventure
Publisher: Sold Out
Developer: Metronomik
Release Date: Aug. 25, 2020

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PC Review - 'No Straight Roads'

by Chris "Atom" DeAngelus on Aug. 25, 2020 @ 12:00 a.m. PDT

No Straight Roads is a rhythm-based action-adventure title.

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No Straight Roads is set in the strange world of Vinyl City, a town that is quite literally powered by music. The latest and greatest EDM artists use their power to rock out to fuel the people, but EDM doesn't seem to be enough. When two indie rockers, Mayday and Zeke, from the band Bunk Bed Junction try out, they're instantly booted for the unforgivable crime of playing the outdated and dead style of rock 'n' roll. Bunk Bed Junction wants to help restore the city to full power, so it sets out to rock the faces off of the best EDM artists to make Vinyl City a town that's really built on rock 'n' roll.

No Straight Roads is mostly a goofy, lighthearted romp through various music styles. The concept seems particularly anti-EDM, since the game tends to emphasize that every style of music is valid, people should enjoy the music that they like, and it's OK to not like a particular music style. The characters are largely amusing and funny, but Mayday sometimes trends too close to irritating instead of endearing. I found the ending to be a tad weird and unsatisfying, but the overall message was strong enough for me to overlook a few oddities.


The basic gameplay in No Straight Roads is a standard brawler, but it's focused almost exclusively on boss fights. You have an attack, jump, and a dodge. The most distinctive features are the ranged and transformation mechanics. Ranged mechanics function differently in NSR than in most games. You earn ranged attacks by completing certain tasks during a fight, and you can use the attack to deal massive damage or hit a distant foe. The flow of combat generally revolves around collecting and using ranged hits. Transformations allow you to turn certain objects in the environment into something friendly by rocking out near them. Each transformation has up to three levels, with the longer transformations being more powerful but taking longer (and leaving you vulnerable).

Both characters are playable in single-player campaign mode, and the player can swap between Mayday and Zeke at any time. The two members of Bunk Bed Junction each have their own play style. Mayday is the heavy hitter with stronger and slower attacks and an emphasis on dealing damage. Her special moves usually involve heavy hits, and her transformations almost exclusively create turrets or rockets. Zeke, on the other hand, is the fast one, with a long attack string and moves that he chains together. His transformations create shields and distractions. Zeke is more durable, especially with his ability to easily regenerate health, while Mayday can spam special moves more often due to improved energy drain.

A key thing to understand about NSR is that it isn't really a brawler. There are combos and finishers, but most bosses don't allow you to use them that often. Instead, a good chunk of your time is spent figuring out how to weaken the boss or earn ranged attacks to damage them; beating them up is usually reserved for moments when they are weak and vulnerable. As such, neglecting transformations can hurt badly, as they usually contribute to a big chunk of your damage. It lacks the satisfaction of smashing in someone's metaphorical head with a not-so-metaphorical guitar, but the gameplay is engaging, especially as you fight to the in-game music, which is synced to the flow of battle so you can dodge and attack in rhythm — assuming you don't mess up!


In addition to regular combat, parrying is an important mechanic that you need to keep in mind. Certain attacks display with a purple indicator, and when the purple attack goes off, you have a split second to attack and parry it back. This isn't merely a nice bonus but necessary to master combat. Not only does it deal extra damage, but as you unlock upgrades, it also boosts your combat abilities. By the end, you recover 12 ammo every time you parry, and ammo is essential for cutting phases out of boss fights. Strictly speaking, you don't need to parry to beat a boss, but it is essential if you're hoping for a good score. Parrying is so central to combat that when you finish the game, you unlock the ability to take on bosses where they can only be damaged by parries — and more parry options become available to balance that out.

The parry mechanic emphasizes the rhythm aspect of NSR, since many parry options have little to no warning except within the beat of the song. If you learn when they're coming, you can react in time. It's still possible to learn the parry timings without the rhythm, but it makes it much easier. The game is fairly accessible to people who are hard of hearing, since it includes a built-in beat visualizer to provide a visual representation of the music for those who can't hear it.

The boss designs are pretty fun. Each boss is distinct, each with its own gameplay mechanics. One requires you to traverse a gauntlet and dodge attacks to strike its weak points, another requires shifting between Zeke and Mayday since they are trapped in different rooms that the boss traverses freely, and another throws the entire solar system at you. Each boss can be beaten on their own merits but has enough secret weaknesses that players who like to challenge themselves have some room to improve. NSR is very much a solid boss rush game.

The only real downside of the title is what comes in between combat, which is not much. You can wander around some interestingly designed but extremely small areas looking for stickers or items that you can repair to earn a few extra fans. It quickly becomes clear that the areas are small and empty, so it loses some of its appeal. The segments aren't bad, but you wish that there was more to it. The game goes on and on about the various districts, but they don't feel alive despite having some nice art design.


Additionally, most bosses have an approach segment before you fight them the first time, and they feel dull. You fight the same 2-3 enemy robots for the entire game, and all approaches are almost identical with perhaps one or two different platforming challenges. They feel relatively pointless and seem to exist so Bunk Bed Junction has something to do outside of boss fights.

If you're just looking at the story, NSR takes about five hours to finish, assuming you're looking around for collectibles and secrets. There's a good chunk of optional content, including multiple difficulty levels for each boss fight and the aforementioned parry mode. That can add another couple of hours of gameplay — possibly more if you're going for S-ranks, which require you to master each fight. With the addition of couch co-op, it's a decent amount of extra game for the price tag.

As for the visuals in NSR, the simple character models are well animated and amusing in motion, and each of the boss arenas is memorable. Some of the attack animations for the protagonists lack oomph, and few of the special moves feel "special" in terms of appearance. The voice acting is effective and uses Malaysian voice actors instead of the standard Western ones. There are a few duds but also a few excellent standouts. The villain Tatiana (voiced by Priscilla Patrick) does a standout job and dominates every scene she's in. The music, as you might expect, is largely excellent with blends of EDM and rock that work well together. No matter what Mayday may think, it's clear the developers enjoy EDM.

No Straight Roads is an enjoyable romp through a weird world of colorful characters. It almost has a Psychonauts vibe to it, and not just due to the art style. NSR provides a cute adventure with some fun boss fights, but it doesn't redefine the genre or do anything extraordinary. If the in-between areas had been stronger, they might have elevated the game, but they don't currently detract from the experience. All in all, NSR is a charming title that is worth a look. As the developers say in the ending credits, "We like EDM too."

Score: 8.0/10



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