Geek Review: No Straight Roads

Music has always been an evolving medium. And the fact that, as an art form, it is a subjective thing means there will always be the question of whether one form of music is relevant with the passage of time.

That is the core question of No Straight Roads, a musically-charged action-adventure developed by Malaysian studio Metronomik. Here, players slip into the shoes of rocker duet Bunk Bed Junction, featuring the guitarist Mayday and the drummer Zuke, as they attempt to revive the rock scene in the EDM-ruled metropolis of Vinyl City, by wresting control over its various districts by hijacking the concerts of various musicians under the tyrannical NSR label.

The story of No Straight Roads, while interesting in concept, is fairly straightforward. A dictatorship-like presence in NSR is controlling the society by establishing EDM as the only form of music in the city, and it falls to Mayday and Zuke to challenge that authority and dismantle that order piece by piece. They encounter some hurdles along the way, but they eventually overcome them with the power of rock music. There doesn’t seem to be any interesting twists along the way, which makes this a straight up action title.

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What mars an otherwise enjoyable story is its presentation, which is a rather divisive element in this game. On one hand, No Straight Roads is jam-packed with really loud and vibrant colours, and is especially present in the design of the two main characters. Their bold and over-the-top designs, when juxtaposed against the more monotone and uniform ones of the backdrop, creates a really interesting contrast that shows their displacement in the current society. It’s a nice reflection of their plight within the narrative, and complements the story really well. Even the various boss fights look wildly different from another, utilising their own unique set of colours and hues to set different tones which mesh with the music beautifully.

On the other hand, the 3D graphics look super muddled at times, especially on the 720p Nintendo Switch screen. Even hooking it up to an upscaled 2K screen doesn’t do it any favours, as character models look rather unpolished, especially up-close. The general surroundings also look a little bland and lack depth. Perhaps Metronomik wanted to adopt a minimalist aesthetic, but that execution probably didn’t go as well as they had envisioned. Even The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, which came out in 2017, still holds up much better than No Straight Roads. In all fairness, that game was developed with Nintendo’s massive budget, unlike Metronomik, which had to work on a fairly limited one, so it’s inevitable that No Straight Roads’s graphics suffered a little as a result.

But what they could probably have exercised a little more control over was the voice acting, which together with the direction, feels a little flat. We imagine the studio had to use local Malaysian voice actors, because their supposed American accent occasionally saw dips into local slang, which easily takes one out, especially for those living in Southeast Asia. And mind you, this game is about 70% voiced, so it’s hard to get involved in the narrative when the characters sound like they’re switching between accents. Additionally, given how a full playthrough of No Straight Roads runs for about 10 hours, give or take, these voiced cutscenes take up about a good 40% of the overall playtime, and it doesn’t help that some of the dialogue is a little cringe-worthy, so we won’t blame you if you suddenly want to skip these cutscenes.

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Thankfully, the music in this game is something you wouldn’t want to skip. As a game that hones in on music, there is no excuse for No Straight Roads to not deliver on that aspect, and thankfully, they have done it justice. 

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This is most prevalent in boss fights. They not only look distinct from one another, they all sound really unique as well, and bring their own flavour (and challenge) to players. From an astronaut-looking DJ, to a child prodigy pianist, to a K-Pop-esque robot boyband, they all bring their own distinct thumping tracks to the table that will make you bop your head with glee as you bash their heads in.

To complement the theme of revolution, the music evolves as players slog through combat. As players reach various phases of the fight, the music gradually incorporates more plug-in-and-play guitar and drum tunes to the blaring electronic soundtrack at the beginning. Eventually, as they overcome the fight, the rock music slowly takes over in poetic fashion. 

The transition is subtle but you’ll notice it if you hone in on the music a little more. While it has its technical faults, Metronomik has done a solid job incorporating music in No Straight Roads, and it shows. That said, however, their overall sound design leaves much to be desired (voice acting notwithstanding). 

The general overworld of Vinyl City, while already looking a little bland, sounds incomplete. While there is music playing in the background to reflect the multitude of ads playing by NSR, there is an inherent lack of diegetic sound in the players’ immediate vicinity itself. Vinyl City feels rather empty despite being filled with NPCs and people walking about, with the lack of background chatter or sound effects. It’s as if Metronomik already prepared those soundbites, but seemingly forgot to include them closer to launch. Hopefully this gets patched later on, but at present, the game outside of combat feels generally stale.

Speaking of which, combat in No Straight Roads plays generally well, but ultimately feels like it could’ve sat in the incubator a little longer. It’s as simple as it gets; players have the option of switching between the more heavy-hitting Mayday, or the combo-focused Zuke, while dodging projectiles and telegraphed attacks that are timed according to the music in play. 

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While both characters are melee-focused, ranged attacks can be performed by collecting musical notes that occasionally drop from striking items in the environment, or by defeating minions. Players can also Transform various items in the environment by holding a button, which will then fire a massive projectile at the enemy for big damage, or heal them. When one character is low on health, players simply have to switch to the other in order to heal the injured character.

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The controls are also straightforward, and make it really easy for non-gamers to pick up. Telegraphs for enemy attacks come with both sound and visual cues, which is great for those with hearing and visual impairments to get in on the action too. That said, combat feels generally limited and lacks depth, which owes to the fairly simplistic controls. Perhaps what Metronomik could’ve considered was to use unique combo chains for each character, given that there is a combo counter in the gameplay. 

The camera also feels a little underwhelming, as in certain fights you’ll be awarded some control, and in others you won’t even be able to do so. Thankfully, the game isn’t that challenging to the point where the camera will lead to a Game Over screen, but it is a quality of life aspect that Metronomik could have considered fixing too. Otherwise, combat in No Straight Roads is a relatively solid experience throughout, though it probably won’t warrant subsequent playthroughs because it just feels too simple.

No Straight Roads presents an interesting issue of relevance in the music industry that probably no other game has attempted to tackle, and one that certainly has potential to be something truly special. Unfortunately, Metronomik’s execution of various other technical aspects bogs down the overall potential of this title.

No Straight Roads is now available on the Nintendo Eshop for US$39.99.

GEEK REVIEW SCORE

Summary

No Straight Roads is one of those games that struggles to strike a balance between style and substance. While it does dazzle on the occasion with its thumping soundtrack, it is also rife with cringe-worthy voice acting. Similarly, while its story concept is really interesting, its quality is marred with sub-par dialogue writing. That said, one can’t decry Metronomik’s efforts at making something unique with this title.

Overall
6/10
6/10
  • Gameplay - 6.5/10
    6.5/10
  • Story - 6/10
    6/10
  • Presentation - 6.5/10
    6.5/10
  • Value - 5/10
    5/10
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User Review
5 (1 vote)


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