It can still play a good chord, but it suffers from a broken string or two.
As somebody that enjoys video game music a great deal, games with an emphasis on the musical aspect are always going to be the way to my heart. This was what originally drew me to No Straight Roads, the debut title of Malaysian studio Metronomilk founded by developers who had previously worked on games like Final Fantasy XV and Street Fighter V. No Straight Roads is an action-adventure game that seeks to put the genres of rock and EDM into a literal battle of the bands, fusing the clashing styles into a unique adventure all its own. The question is whether or not it nails its solo or if it might be playing a few notes off key.
In No Straight Roads, you take control of Mayday and Zuke, two indie rock artists who form the duo Bunk Bed Junction. The duo resides in Vinyl City, a city that has invented the technology to convert music into electricity. In order to recruit talent to power the city, the ruling record label NSR puts on an audition called Lights Up, which Bunk Bed Junction takes part in. Despite their impressive performance they are rejected by NSR due to the label’s bias towards EDM and distaste for rock. Angry at the injustice that has befallen them, Mayday and Zuke set out to topple NSR’s rule of the city and bring rock back to the forefront of Vinyl City.
No Straight Roads can be played single player or in co-op with up to three players, with both characters having their own signature way of playing. Mayday is more of a heavy hitter, with her strikes needing a bit more wind up but doing more damage, whereas Zuke is more combo based, with quick strikes that are easier to cancel out of but don’t do as much damage. Playing as either character feels good, with hits giving you a solid sense of impact when they land. Both characters can also play music to transform various props in the level, with Mayday usually creating ones meant for offense and Zuke tending to create defensive things like walls to hide behind. Each has their own skill tree through which they can unlock new abilities based on your number of fans, who serve as the game’s version of EXP. Fans are gained by defeating bosses or repairing various objects on the overworld.
In single player, you can swap between Mayday and Zuke at any time, but if one of the characters dies it’s an instant game over even if the other is at full health. In co-op, if you die you are given a brief window of time in which your partner can revive you, but if they fail to do so it is once again a game over. Health pickups can be found throughout levels, but often they only bring back a sliver of health, it rarely felt like the game was providing enough resources to truly make it through the marathon runs that are the boss fights. Even later on when I unlocked abilities that allowed me to heal mid battle, they always required me to stand still for a few seconds which was never really a good idea during any boss. And that’s the main draw of No Straight Roads: the boss fights. Each one has its own visually distinct arena, their own over-the-top personality, and their own unique method of fighting. The music is incredible in each and every fight, and they all manage to be spectacles that are truly impressive, which is what makes this next part slightly heartbreaking.
While the boss fights are all incredible visual exhibitions, they’re kind of too much so at certain points. In later phases, bosses felt like they were throwing far too much at us at once, making it very difficult to see what was happening. It looks nice, but often so many attacks and scenery changes were being tossed around that health bars began to melt and I couldn’t figure out how or what I was supposed to be dodging. This would be forgivable if not for the other problem that becomes far more prominent because of it: bosses have no checkpoints, and like I mentioned earlier they are very long. It is incredibly easy to game over because you couldn’t really tell what was happening in the late phase of a boss encounter, and once you do game over, you’re sent all the way back to do the whole boss over again. Checkpoints between phases would do a whole lot to relieve my main issues with the game, and I do hope this is something that gets addressed in a patch later on down the line.
Regardless of my qualms with it, it is undeniable that No Straight Roads is overflowing with heart and ambition. Many of the issues are things that could potentially be fixed with a patch, and I honestly hope they are because I want to enjoy this game way more than I do. Its soundtrack is potentially one of my favorites of the year, the writing is genuinely funny, and the character and boss designs are honestly top notch, but this is unfortunately not enough to counteract the many problems I have with how the gameplay itself pans out. There is a diamond trapped within this rock, and I truly hope the team at Metronomilk is able to polish it to the full potential that is so clearly there. For now, though, its problems are too hard for me to ignore and make what could be a great game into a game that’s just alright.