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No Straight Roads: A Rock Epic with Some Untuned Strings

Credit: Metronomik/Sold Out Ltd.

So this is what a Tenacious D game would be like.

Classic rock has always been my first musical love. One of my very earliest memories is the legendary “Bohemian Rhapsody” scene from Wayne’s World. Rock is a magical thing with the power to inspire change and action. I’m running out of ways to gush here, so let’s just say rock is important to me. When No Straight Roads crossed my line of sight, I was immediately intrigued by a rock-centric music adventure. But while it does rock in the ways that matter for such a game, a couple of extra sound checks wouldn’t have gone amiss.

In the futuristic utopia of Vinyl City, music quite literally gives life to everyone and everything, powering all of the city’s infrastructure. However, the city is ruled by a massive record label known as NSR, which only allows the playing of EDM. When an indie rock duo called Bunk Bed Junction, composed of guitarist Mayday and drummer Zuke, attempts to inject some rock into the city, NSR swiftly bans all rock music, followed by siphoning away the city’s power for the exclusive use of NSR’s elite artists. Mayday and Zuke swear to break NSR’s hold over Vinyl City the only way they know how: by rocking out in their rival artists’ faces.

Credit: Metronomik/Sold Out Ltd.

When you first start this game, you may quickly notice that while the dialogue is in English, many of the characters have somewhat heavy accents. This is because the game’s developer, Metronomik, is actually based out of Malaysia. I’m all for diversity in the industry of course, and after some initial culture shock, I quickly grew to love the characters and their interactions, with Mayday constantly charging ahead and Zuke casually following along, but if you find the accents annoying, the game is dubbed in several other languages. The trade-off to that, though, is that the other dub tracks aren’t properly synced up to the character animations in cutscenes, which is a little disappointing.

In order to hijack the NSR artists’ stages, you first have to fight your way through several waves of security bots, followed by a musical duel with the artist themselves. It’s your pretty standard button-masher action affair, though with the added twist that all enemies attack to the beat of the soundtrack, telegraphing their moves with either a visual hint or an auditory cue. You can switch on the fly between Mayday and Zuke, with the former’s combos slower but stronger, and the latter weaker but faster. Basic enemies aren’t too much trouble once you’ve got the pattern figured out, but the bosses will mix things up on you a bit as you wear them down. It’s not an especially difficult game, at least not on purpose; usually, whenever I started taking large quantities of damage, it was because the hitboxes on my attacks went wonky, causing my strikes to whiff repeatedly and giving enemies a few free hits. You can play your instrument near certain objects to transform them into helpful constructs like weapons and items, though standing there and playing opens you up to enemy retaliation, and the actual benefits of these constructs aren’t always immediately apparent.

Credit: Metronomik/Sold Out Ltd.

But even with the jankiness of the general gameplay, this game still got me through the whole thing thanks to one major element: style. The bosses run a gamut of different EDM types, including standard dance techno, cutecore, neoclassical, and boy bands, and let me tell you, this game’s soundtrack absolutely slaps. The music shifts dynamically, escalating throughout the fight; when you’re on the defensive, the bosses lay down some incredibly catchy beats, and when you’re in control, the guitars and drums come roaring forward. I also really love the game’s art style, with squigly, multicolored characters reminiscent of Psychonauts.

Credit: Metronomik/Sold Out Ltd.

No Straight Roads is Metronomik’s first game, and it is, unfortunately, a bit of a case of style over substance. The regular gameplay isn’t particularly deep or epic in a vacuum, and it’s also a bit on the short side. If all you want is an action game, there are more interesting games to play out there. If you’re an old school rock buff like me, though, the style is definitely enough to carry the whole experience, barring a few immersion-breaking gameplay frustrations.