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No Straight Roads Review

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1809655101_NoStraightRoadsboxart.jpg.f19c8078fe627e1e62f4011bd6791d31.jpgWith a combination of veteran experience and start-up ambition, indie developer Metronomik's debut game throws players into a futuristic world of music and rhythmic action. No Straight Roads stars an indie rock duo trying to make it big in a city that values EDM over any other genre, leading to clashes with the ruling musical elites and a rising swell of underground rock. Ultimately though this blend of action-platforming and stylish design is a bit out of tune.
Our protagonists, Mayday and Zuke, perform as the rock duo Bunk Bed Junction in Vinyl City, where music literally provides power to the electrical grid. However, the record label No Straight Roads decides that rock music is passé and only EDM should be allowed, spurring our heroes to fight back in the name of musical freedom. It's a fun setting with larger-than-life characters that are a little goofy but also undeniably charming. However, the story never feels like it reaches its potential. Maybe it's just because the game is relatively short, but the inventive setting is rife with possibilities that aren't fully explored by the game.
The gameplay of No Straight Roads focuses around big, creative boss fights with third-person action-adventure mechanics. You can play as either Mayday or Zuke with two-player co-op or you can play solo and swap between the two at any time (though if one dies it's game over when playing alone). Mayday has slightly slower but more powerful attacks with her guitar, while Zuke has weaker but faster, combo-driven attacks with his drumsticks. They also have special attacks and can transform objects in the environment with the power of music. Mayday's abilities tend to focus on offense while Zuke's are built for defense. You're able to upgrade their abilities via skill trees that unlock as you gain a fan following, as well as augment their stats with stickers slapped on their instruments. They make a solid team and even when playing alone the ability to swap between them helps cover their weaknesses.
Between boss fights you can explore a small hub area of Vinyl City then dive into each boss's district by fighting your way through a short level of minor enemies and barriers. It really feels like these boss lead-ups were an underdeveloped idea thrown in late in development. You only ever fight against a couple of different enemy types in these stages, they're incredibly linear, and are all structured in the same exact way which doesn't feel thematically appropriate for each boss. They at least give you an opportunity to practice your attacking and dodging skills, but overall they feel like busywork.
The real stars of the game are the boss fights which throw you into some insane and inventive duels that really test your dodging skills and endurance. These battles are over the top in a great way and show off some incredible arena and combat design. They're also pretty tedious at times, thanks to the unrelenting difficulty. You might not expect it from the game's colorful art style, but these boss fights can be downright cruel, whether it's from a barrage of attacks that forces you to do nothing but dodge or from the massive amount of damage you can take from a single hit. Early on the game gives you infrequent opportunities to rest or restore health through random item drops, though eventually both characters learn skills to recover health. Even then, boss fights really test the limit of your skills since every boss has multiple forms and there are no checkpoints, so dying restarts the entire fight.
The controls aren't doing much to help with the uneven sense of difficulty either. Your movements are pretty loose, which doesn't feel great for the precision dodging you need to do at times. The camera is a huge pain since it is either too sensitive when you have full control over it, or it's fixed during boss fights, oftentimes at an angle that makes it hard to dodge or land your own attacks. The Switch version of No Straight Roads also seems to have a handful of small technical issues as well, none of which were game-breaking in my experience but they were annoying. For one thing the framerate is a little inconsistent and the hub world has a lot of visual pop-in. I also ran into several small glitches like not being able to jump unless I swapped characters, or the health bar displaying the wrong character. At minimum the game clearly could have used a bit more polish.
No Straight Roads is also a fairly short game. The adventure is structured around the big boss fights, and there are only six in total—most players will finish in about six hours. There is a bit of variety to the game depending on what skills you pick from the skill tree or what sticker upgrades you use, plus there's a focus on replaying boss fights at higher difficulty levels to earn more fans, which allows you to unlock more skills. It's obviously repetitive to do that though, and some of these bosses are annoying enough to fight once. The Switch version of the game also has some unique features, including a touch mode and a three player assist mode which can help alleviate some of the boss battle frustration.

The game's presentation is obviously the highlight here—how could it not be, when the focus of the story is on music-based battles? The soundtrack is pretty fantastic, whether you favor rock or EDM, as both are represented with tons of great songs that you can't help but bob your head to, even if you're getting destroyed in the boss fights. The music is incredibly catchy and shows a lot of range even within the two main genres on display here. The voice acting deserves some recognition as well for bringing these wild characters to life, including in songs and rap battles. The visuals of No Straight Roads is also super stylish, with an exaggerated cartoonish design that is colorful and chaotic and somehow perfect for these characters and this setting. Even if the technical aspect of the visuals is a little lacking on the Switch, the art design is just plain fun and is at its full power during the massive, intense boss fights.

No Straight Roads' only real fault is being overambitious. Unfortunately that means a lot of gameplay elements feel unpolished or unfocused, and too much of the game plays like a rough draft rather than a fully realized experience. And although the Switch version comes with some fun extra features not found in other versions, it also comes with some technical issues as well. The game still oozes style and personality though, and for some players the rocking soundtrack and colorful, cartoonish visual design will be enough to justify giving No Straight Roads a shot on the main stage.
Rating: 7 out of 10 Bands
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