Sometimes I wish you could judge a game solely on it’s personality. If I were to attribute a score to No Straight Roads based on how charming and enjoyable all the gumpf that makes up the game’s aesthetics and atmosphere (and, y’know, if I actually gave games a score) it’d be 9/10. 4 stars. B+/A-. Because Jesus hopping Christ, I love everything about the game except the actual game play.
You play as Mayday and Zuke, a pair of rock and roll superstar wannabes who are fed up with the titular humongo corporation record company ruling Vinyl City with an EDM fist.
Note: Being old I had to google what EDM actually was. It’s basically the music that you wave your arms about to in Beat Saber. I quite like it in Beat Saber, but I couldn’t listen to it outside of sweating to death in a VR helmet. It’s like the soundtrack to a headache.
Anyway, CEO Tatiana fobs off Bunk Bed Junction (Mayday and Zuke’s WONDERFULLY named band) from the talent show they enter in an attempt to legitimise themselves and get rich and famous. They vow vengeance in the name of rock and roll and set out to remove No Straight Roads’ top acts from their ivory towers and give said rock and roll that god gave to them back to the masses. And also to give power to the lower classes of the city, because apparently NSR are hoarding all the energy for the rich and famous or something. The story is a little all over the place.
To do this they have to take the 5 districts of Vinyl City back from the NSR acts that control them by gate crashing their concerts, defeating them, obtaining their platinum disks and unlocking the next district until they get to NSR tower.
You can control either Mayday or Zuke (or both with a co-op partner) during the game, switching between them on the fly. Each has their own combat style, health bar, sticker load out (IE mods to enhance movement speed, attack, health etc) and special moves.
Mayday and Zuke are adorable leading characters. I really, really fell for both of them and it makes me incredibly sad that the game isn’t better than it is. Mayday is a hyperactive puppy on a mission to bring the rock and Zuke is a much more laid back kind of a guy, but also on a mission to bring back the rock.
To get to the boss of each district you have to fight through the 7(ish) levels of security, which are basically boxes filled with repetitive enemies who attack you in time with the music. This, ironically, means you must attack them out of time with the music. And therein lies the fundamental problem with No Straight Roads; the game presents itself as a rhythm action beat ‘em up but it isn’t actually one at all.
You spend the first few fights trying to find the rhythm of the game only to realise it just isn’t there. It doesn’t exist. The enemies will knock you out of your attack animation with theirs and the only way to avoid their blows is to roll or jump out of the way, which puts you too far away to really follow up with an effective counter attack.
The other major problem with the game is the camera. While in the levels the camera is locked and more often than not you’ll run into something or off something you can’t see as you’re trying to avoid the enemy attacks or just trying to reach a platform.
Along with the combat being far too simple to be enjoyable, you can breeze through the game by continuing where you left off when you get defeated. This means you can only get a C Rank on the levels and therefore limits how many ‘fans’ you get to spend on the skill trees. I basically finished the main game without even unlocking the bottom half of the trees.
The idea is for the C Rank to be enough of a deterrent to make you restart the level to obtain the higher ranks and therefore more fans, but having to go back to the beginning of the level to fight through the tedious rank and file was not a particularly enthralling prospect. At any point. Ever.
You can also gain fans by using ‘Qwasas’ you collect around the levels to power interactive points around the overworld (the premise being giving the energy back to the masses), but that didn’t provide me with enough fans to unlock the rest of the skill tree.
Once you get to a boss this is where the game shines, such as it can within the limits of its mediocre combat. It feels like the game was built to be a boss rush because each boss is distinctive and, in the main, interesting to play.
Each of the five acts is based around a different musical trope; the classical piano child prodigy, the eccentric bohemian pop star, the beautiful K-Pop boy band to name but 3. Each has unique patterns and phases and no two are really alike. These battles were the closest I came to really enjoying No Straight Roads outside of the story and aesthetics, in part because the combat shows promise outside of the incredibly limited levels.
Though the story is some hokum about evil corporations and the rebelliousness of rock n roll, the characters, story beats and dialogue are all thoroughly enjoyable. Vinyl City is a wonderfully garish metropolis, full of oddball characters and vast swaths of colour. Each area has a unique feel for it’s superstar act and there’s various interaction points which, while not doing anything special, add a brilliant flavour to the game.
For example there are art installations all around Eve’s district Dream Fever where if you interact as Zuke he gives some melancholy insight into Eve’s state of mind, as they have history. If you interact as Mayday she’s invariably oblivious to the point of the art and comes away confused.
There’s also the battle with K-Pop boy band 1010 where Mayday falls head over heels in love with all 5 of the robot frontmen and in the ultimate defeat of them she looks incredibly sad that she and Zuke have to finish them off with their Bunka Junka Shakalaka Bam finishing move, where normally there’s a look of victorious elation on her chops.
I can’t overstate how much I love the aesthetics of this game. I can’t. Well I could but you’d find it tedious and I’d look like a lunatic. The art direction and characters and the soundtrack and graphic design and all of that good stuff is wonderful. The interactions during the story between Mayday and Zuke are delightful, and I really like the fact that there’s no love interest plot between them. They’re friends and bandmates, and that’s it.
The game itself is all the more disappointing because the surrounding frame is so strong and unique. You can tell there’s potential in there somewhere as there are flashes of greatness when the combat is allowed to breathe with the boss battles.
The ‘end game’ of No Straight Roads bets on you wanting to go back through the boss fights as on completion you unlock new modes and harder difficulties and, again, you really don’t want to simply because the game just isn’t enjoyable.
I hope this game sells well enough to justify a sequel. Despite it being disappointing and overly simplistic, it has so much potential. With more care and attention given to the combat system it could be something amazing. You probably can’t expect Platinum levels of complexity from the debut game of a company, but maybe if they get another chance it could hit the heights it deserves to.