August 25, 2020
The first thing that stands out in No Straight Roads is the vibrant neon world of Vinyl City. An urban playground filled with bright lights and futuristic architecture. It’s a perfect setting for the battle against electronic dance music at the hands of the Orwellian organisation known as NSR. They’re not a very nice bunch of oppressors, obviously, but as Mayday and Zeke, you’ve got plenty of opportunities to take back the city and remind everyone about the power of rock.
No Straight Roads is all about taking down various musical icons in layered boss fights. You may be facing a 9-year old prodigy, a boy band, or a digital megastar, but each one offers a much different experience than the last. Between each fight, you’ll go from one district to the next, collecting new upgrades and gaining fans to give each of the protagonists new moves. Whilst the exploration is rather bare and uninspiring, it is the battles with NSR’s finest that really stand out.
Both Mayday and Zeke are part of Bunk Bed Junction, a rock band that want to save Vinyl City from those who control it. Mayday is the lead singer and guitarist, whilst Zeke is the drummer. Each has specific moves that can be used at any one time. You can switch between them by pressing the shoulder button, which definitely helps in the heat of battle. Mayday uses her guitar to do more damage, but Zeke’s quickness is useful when moving between multiple enemies. On top of that, you can collect musical notes to use as bullets, incorporating long range attacks as well as melee.
As you fight enemies or bosses, your power gauge grows and once it’s full, you can use your equipped special move by pressing the left trigger. Once both Mayday and Zeke’s gauges are full, you can initiate a dual move to do more damage. Not only are these specials useful, but the animation looks great. There’s also the option to use certain objects to your advantage. By playing your guitar or drums at the press of a button, they will come to life and act as a huge weapon that fires at a boss.
To earn new moves and abilities, you need to find fans. During the exploration setting, you can find electricity vials that can be used to power up parts of the city. The more you do this, the more fans you’ll gain and these can be used back at your home in the sewers where you can spend them on your skill tree. You’ll also find stickers than can be equipped, and these will give you buffs for the next boss fight. Mods and dual moves can be equipped as you find them, giving both Mayday and Zeke the upper hand.
The sewers act as your base of operations. From here you can listen to a briefing of your next boss battle, play a retro arcade shooter, decorate your home, play with your pet alligator (who also becomes playable exclusively on the Switch), and more. You can also do radio interviews with a pirate DJ once you interact with him in Vinyl City, and this will give you an impressive amount of new fans.
Once you’ve listened to the new briefing, it’s time to get back into the city to locate the new boss. After every successful boss fight, you’ll use their record to unlock a new area, as well as earning some decorations, stickers, and mods. These boss fights are the jewel in No Straight Roads’ crown, but they can be just as annoying as they can be enjoyable. The second boss is a real pain in the behind. Sayu is a digital creation controlled by four nerds, and you must travel through a series of areas whilst avoiding her attacks. What makes it frustrating is how distant you are on the screen at certain points, appearing even worse in handheld.
It’s hard to see where you are, where the enemy cursor is, and with all the enemies and obstacles threatening you, it can be hard to keep track. One big issue with No Straight Roads is the platforming elements, both during a boss fight and also in the platforming sections where you must break through a series of security panels. Jumping on moveable platforms often leads to you falling into the abyss below, as there seems to be a weird drift whenever you leap. Running is also rather loose, never giving you a real feel of control. When you’re trying to take out the enemies, attacking isn’t tight at all, making the whole process frustrating.
The soundtrack is excellent in No Straight Roads. Each boss has a specific track, and the tunes playing elsewhere offer a range of genres through the pantheon of EDM and rock. Whilst fighting, there’s a rhythm to your attacks as well, and enemies move to the music. It’s not on every beat however, but it does help to know when a robot fires a fireball or pounds the ground. Whilst the music is great, the voice acting becomes irritating, especially Mayday. Her shrill voice goes right through you. I get it’s trying to be fun and over the top, but I cringed every time she started to speak.
No Straight Roads has a blistering soundtrack, and most of the boss fights are varied and fun to play. It’s a shame the controls aren’t as tight as they need to be, and the the fixed camera during the boss fights and the platforming levels is a huge problem because it isn’t always easy to see where you’re going or what’s around you. It’s a beautiful game that oozes vibrancy, although the bland exploration let’s it down.
Varied boss fights
Beautiful art style
Irritating voice acting
Camera angles aren't good during platforming and boss section
No Straight Roads is made with a lot of love, and the soundtrack is excellent. It's just a shame the gameplay isn't as tight as it could be.