It all begins with an audition.
Mayday and Zuke, collectively known as Bunk Bed Junction, simply want people to like rock music again. And so they sign up for the latest Lights Up audition, hoping to wow the judges and the people of Vinyl City who seemingly only care about EDM these days. Things don’t go exactly how they planned, however, and a power cut shortly after their performance demonstrates that Vinyl City has bigger problems than a poor taste in music.
If you haven’t already guessed, Mayday and Zuke are the protagonists of upcoming musical adventure No Straight Roads, developed by Metronomik and published by Sold Out. The pair feel they’ve been unfairly treated by the NSR, the EDM-obsessed force that oversees Vinyl City. And when they discover that only the NSR elite have access to Vinyl City’s backup power, leaving much of the city in darkness, the pair are tipped over the edge. With the power of rock music, they plan to free the people of Vinyl City, one concert at a time.
“…You can tell a lot of love has been put into it”
Music is central to No Straight Roads. Aside from being the backbone of its story, it’s also intertwined with its gameplay. Going hands-on with a demo of the game, we were able to get to grips with its core mechanics, before tackling two bosses and overcoming many more obstacles along the way. And while not everything we experienced during the 60 or so minutes wee played impressed us, the music was constantly a highlight.
Like any nefarious overlords, the NSR seem to like their robots. They were the brunt of the hostiles we faced as we blazed through Vinyl City in the name of rock. Unlike robots in other games, they’re not particularly threatening. In fact, they don’t even pursue you. We encountered three enemy types: one just jumped in time with the music, releasing a destructive wave when landing; another was air bound, forcing us to retaliate against its projectile attacks which it unleashed along with the beat with our own. The third type also fired projectiles but was ground-based, lashing out with a kick when we strayed too close.
The aim in No Straight Roads is to try and play along to the music. You need to get into the groove to anticipate enemy attacks, and then move in when safe to lay on some of your own pain. Mayday strikes with her guitar, doing heavy damage with her laboured swings. Zuke taps enemies with his drumsticks, doing less damage but hitting much faster. Ranged attacks are also available; collect musical notes and they can be used as projectiles, doing damage from afar.
No Straight Roads seemingly wastes no time in throwing players in at the deep end. After a rousing introduction complete with a tutorial, it wasn’t long until we were thrown into a challenging multi-stage boss fight. Out of range of our melee weapons, we needed to find ways of obtaining musical notes to fire at a pesky EDM DJ to cause damage. That mainly meant whacking the planets that revolved around him. It quickly became apparent that No Straights Roads‘ controls just aren’t as tight as they should be, however. You character doesn’t have any weight in the world and moves a little erratically as a result. Still, it didn’t stop us from having fun as we moved from one stage of the boss fight to the next.
“No Straight Roads seemingly wastes no time in throwing players in at the deep end”
As the fight progressed it got more complicated. New attacks caught us off guard, but to even the score we found that we could transform certain objects in the environments into weapons. By holding a button for a few seconds next to items marked with metronomes, we unleashed rockets on our aggressor, or opened up caches full of notes. You have to remain stationary while doing so, however, so you have to time it just right. And then, at the end of the fight, another one of No Straight Roads‘ mechanics is thrust upon you: parrying purple projectile attacks. Time it just right and you’ll avoid taking damage and reflect the attack back at the instigator. If you’d rather not risk it, however, you can just dodge out of the way.
After taking down No Straight Roads‘ first boss, the pace changed somewhat. From a base of operations, you’re able to tinker with Mayday and Zuke’s equipment, placing stickers to provide bonus effects or installing mods. You can also pay a visit to an arcade for a bit of old-school shooter action with a twist. Or you can leave your hideout and explore Vinyl City, progressing the story while interacting with other characters.
It was on our way to the demo’s second boss that we became a little less enamoured with what we were playing. Making our way into a new area of Vinyl City, it became clear that to reach the next boss we’d have to fight though multiple layers of security. What the game really meant was, we’d have to fight though many very short platforming stages that had very little variety between them. It was simply a case of activating a device which boosted us from one place to the next, dealing with a few robots, and navigating moving and/disappearing platforms. You know, the usual stuff.
Monotony soon set in, and even worse, No Straight Roads‘ flawed controls were further exposed. You don’t have much control of your mid-air movement when you jump, for example, and neither can you lock on to enemies, sometimes leaving you flailing your instrument into thin air. You also might find yourself frustrated by the fact that you can’t manually move the camera.
“Its soundtrack is something we’d buy in a heartbeat, but the gameplay’s just not there”
All of these issues came to a head when facing off against the second boss, a vocaloid which requires some thinking outside of the box to defeat because she isn’t real. What it basically amounts to is more of the same, however. More platforming and more defeating robotic enemies, only now with additional hazards and attacks to avoid. It all just gets a bit much considering the loose controls, and culminates in a showdown that is simply too hectic and too confusing to truly to be fun.
Set for release this summer, hopefully there’s still time to iron out some of these issues, otherwise No Straight Roads might end up being a disappointment. It would be a shame, too, as you can tell a lot of love has been put into it. It looks absolutely beautiful, has good voice acting, and its soundtrack is something we’d buy in a heartbeat, but the gameplay’s just not there. Between the controls that just don’t feel quite right, the repetitive nature of some of its gameplay, and the absence of essential features such as camera control, No Straight Roads lets itself down. It looks and sound like a game that would be released in the year 2020, but it plays like a game from the early 2000s.
No Straight Roads launches August 25th on PS4, Xbox One, Switch and PC via the Epic Games Store. Check out some gameplay below.