STAFF REVIEW of No Straight Roads (Xbox One)

Monday, September 7, 2020.
by Adam Dileva

No Straight Roads Box art As soon as I watched the first trailer for No Straight Roads, I was instantly intrigued with its stylish and bright neon visuals, but its EDM versus Rock narrative as well. Plus, when you have the brilliant minds of Wan Hazmer (Final Fantasy XV) and Daim Dziauddin (Street Fighter V), you stop to take notice. After finally taking down the evil EDM Empire, NSR, I’m glad to have experienced No Straight Roads, even if parts of it aren’t anywhere near as perfect as its soundtrack.

You play as Mayday and Zuke, a duo rock group that call themselves Bunk Bed Junction (of which I’ll leave the origins of the name for you to find, because it’s quite an amusing cutscene). Mayday is the outgoing and fiery personality, which is probably why she’s the lead guitarist, whereas Zuke is the laid back and more level headed drummer. These two have polar opposite personalities, but work so well with one another that it’s near impossible not to become a fan instantly.

No Straight Roads opens with Mayday filming an interview, trying to get Zuke to play along and ham it up for the camera, giving you a first glimpse of their personalities and relationship. You are on your way to perform an audition for Lights Up, a reality show like America’s Got Talent, but specifically for bands to get signed onto the No Straight Roads record label, the same label who controls the whole city and governs nearly every aspect.

Bunk Bed Junction absolutely kill it in the audition, but they played Rock music, and Vinyl City is ruled by NSR who only will allow EDM to play. Tatiana, the CEO of NSR, dismisses you both regardless of your amazing performance and fan support. This of course forces the rock duo to set their sights on taking the evil NSR down and bring back Rock for the population to enjoy. Now it’s up to the two to initiate a musical revolution and take down the EDM Empire. While it may be a silly premise, given the gameplay and setting, it actually works quite well as you journey from boss to boss, getting closer to NSR headquarters to take Tatiana down, but more importantly, bringing Rock back to the masses.

My initial thoughts when seeing No Straight Roads for the first time was that its gameplay was going to be very heavily musical and rhythm based, much like a Space Channel 5. While it does incorporate some of those elements, as it is a musical game at its heart, it’s more a platform brawler than anything else. Half exploration, half boss battler, No Straight Roads is an interesting mixture of gameplay mechanics that works well in some sequences, but frustrates in others.

Half of your time with No Straight Roads will be exploring Vinyl City. Here you’ll be collecting energy and choosing to use it to restore power to the city at certain sections like lights, lamps, vending machines and more. NSR is hoarding energy for their own uses, so you’re a modern day Robin Hood, saving the general population from their tyranny. The platforming sections are functional but lack precision, as when you're exploring Vinyl City, you’ll get hung up on odd ledges and corners or hit invisible walls.

Like any good resistance group, you’ll make your base of operations underground in the sewers. Here is where you can relax and check out the collectables you find from defeating bosses, eventually adding more areas like a concert room, a tinkering room to add mods and stickers to your instruments, a radio room for interviews and even a dedicated place to feed your pet alligator. As you reach the end of each district, you’ll find the coolest and most rewarding part of No Straight Roads, the boss battles.

As you collect batteries in Vinyl City and restore power, you’ll gain fans, which levels your fan base, allowing you to unlock more in the skill trees to improve your combat and abilities. To be honest, these exploring sections, while relaxing, is the weakest part of No Straight Roads and feels more like padding to extend the gameplay more than anything else.

Combat is unique, as both Mayday and Zuke use their instruments as their weapons for attacking. Use the power of music to fight back their NSR enemies, trying to sync your attacks and dodges with the rhythm of the music. Robot enemies for example will jump slam on the beat, making it easy to time when they are going to attack if you pay attention to the rhythm. Interestingly, you never really learn new abilities and combos, but instead will have new enemy types thrown at you as you progress.

Flying enemies can only be attacked with the power of music, more specifically, musical notes you pick up during combat, and since you can freely swap between both characters, they each can only hold a certain amount of musical notes at a time. You’re also able to hold down a button to transform certain objects with your music to help you in battle. For example, a seemingly plain object can transform into a mini turret to help you in battles, specifically against bosses.

You’ll need to upgrade your abilities though if you want any chance at survival. As you defeat bosses and gain new fan base ranks, you’ll be able to upgrade certain aspects to both characters, such as Zuke being able to extend his combo, or transformations take shorter time to do. You’ll also find new sticks and mods along your journey to take down NSR, allowing you to improve base stats like melee damage, speed, health and more. Mods allow you to equip special abilities to your Triggers, and these vary from minor heals to different attack types, but these deplete your energy bar that slowly refills overtime and through combat.

The real crux of the gameplay is within the eight varying worlds that culminate in amazing, but frustrating, boss battles. Each world section of Vinyl City is defended by one of NSR’s henchmen, each with their own personality, design and musical genre. From DJ music, to concert piano, and even a pop boy band, each boss is really unique and the absolute best part of No Straight Roads. These battles make an interesting mash of their EDM versus your Rock music, but there’s one massively frustrating problem: dying.

Each boss fight has multiple stages or phases, each one adding some sort of new mechanic or enemy type. While this isn’t normally too big of an issue, the later bosses are quite lengthy, but when you die you start back at the beginning of the boss fight; not the beginning of the phase you’re on, the whole battle. On the final boss or two, this means you not only have to fight through 15 minutes or so all over again, but also watch unskippable cutscenes at times as well. While not a deal breaker, attempting a boss fight for the fifth or sixth time can take away from some of the ‘special sauce’ that makes the boss battles so great and really start to venture into frustration.

Couch co-op is an option, one that would make things much easier, but sadly there’s no online co-op, so if you don’t have someone come over to play you sadly won’t be able to experience it for an easier time as a Rock duo. Also, there’s no difficulty options, so if you’re struggling early on, it’s only going to become harder as you reach each new district and boss.

While the gameplay for No Straight Roads is decent at best, what really makes it stand out is its visual aesthetic and its absolutely amazing soundtrack and voice acting. All of the characters, not just Mayday and Zuke, are brilliantly unique and have a ton of personality. Each character has their own style and the world of Vinyl City of excitingly bright, neon and very pleasing to the eye. While there’s the odd graphical glitches, it was generally a smooth experience throughout and nothing major that was a deal breaker.

Where No Straight Roads excels is in its audio. The electronic-rock soundtrack is absolutely fantastic, from opening home screen to the credits and every boss battle in between. Each boss battle is unique in its musical genre and I’ve actually added the complete soundtrack to my favorited list on Spotify since. Artists like Falk Au Yeong, Andy Tunstall, Funk Fiction, Cliqtrack, Masahiro “Godspeed” Aoki, Az Samad, Clyde Rabatel, the Video Game Orchestra and more fill the soundtrack with amazing music from beginning to finish. Equally as impressive is all of the voice acting throughout, especially from Mayday and Zuke, as they truly bring life to the characters, heightening the clever writing, making me laugh on more than a handful of occasions.

No Straight Roads is far from perfect, but when it comes to everything related to its audio, from the soundtrack to the great voice acting, there’s really no better. It’s clear that No Straight Roads was made with passion and care, and it shows with its uniqueness and visual flair. While I wish the gameplay was equally as satisfying as its soundtrack which elevates the whole experience and more than makes up for its shortcomings, I’m glad to have been a part of Bunk Bed Junction’s fight at taking NSR down and restoring order to Vinyl City while rocking out.

Overall: 8.5 / 10
Gameplay: 6.0 / 10
Visuals: 9.5 / 10
Sound: 10.0 / 10


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