When I previewed No Straight Roads, I said that it felt like a game that was made by looking directly into my brain and combining a bunch of things that I love whilst having its own flavour that makes it feel special. I also expressed some concern about combat depth, saying that it seemed a bit too simplistic. After playing the full release, I can happily double down on the positive and sadly can’t shrug off the negative. No Straight Roads is an incredibly artistic, heartfelt adventure that is only let down by some middling combat and its short length.
No Straight Roads stars Mayday and Zuke, the duo behind the indie band Bunk Bed Junction. After a failed addition to join NSR, the company controlling the city and using music as power, Mayday and Zuke decide to fight against the hierarchy and bring rock back into attention against EDM. The story and characters are easily one of the highlights of the game, with Mayday and Zuke easily being the highlight. Mayday’s endless optimism and Zuke’s permanent chill is really well done, and I’ve come out of the game seeing them as some of my new favourite protagonists. Their relationship feels genuine, and I loved learning more about their history and seeing how they interact with each of the NSR members.
All of the NSR members are interesting and fun in their own way too. None of them feel throwaway, which is surprising considering the relatively small amount of time you spend with each one. The actual plot has some interesting twists and turns as well, even if you can see some of them coming from a mile away. Some of the line delivery and story beats can be a little clumsy at times, but NSR’s heart comes through even in the awkward moments.
By far the biggest strength of No Straight Roads is its presentation. As you’d probably expect from a music-focused game, the soundtrack here is absolutely awesome. Both the EDM and rock tunes are fantastic here and really catchy. I wish there were a few more songs with lyrics and a few more genres, but what’s here is great and genuinely worth playing for. The graphics are incredibly stylish and I never stopped getting excited to see the next bit of Bunk Bed Junction album art. No Straight Roads drips with style and for me it was completely worth playing the game for.
Considering how high the bar is set by the game’s presentation, it wasn’t likely that the gameplay could match it. In some ways, the phrase “style over substance” is applicable to No Straight Roads, as it’s simple combat and movement never really go beyond just being okay in the fairly short 6-8 hour play-time. The basic gameplay loop has you performing basic third-person brawler gameplay and engaging in some light platforming. Some enemies move to a beat but it honestly doesn’t change gameplay as much as you’d hope and I found myself searching it out rather than engaging with it naturally. These enemies only appear before boss battles, which makes them feel a bit underdeveloped and only here to pad out the game.
It’s in these basic fights that you’ll see some of the combat weaknesses, such as some floaty combos and poor hit detection. When you’re actually hitting enemies it feels good enough, but the combat never goes further than just moving the other elements along. This problem is also shared by the platforming, which feels a little imprecise and floaty. It works well enough, but it doesn’t stand out as much as a main gameplay mechanic should.
Combat is helped by the fact that Mayday and Zuke both feel like their own unique character. Mayday is much more heavy hitting, whilst Zuke can combo his attacks. They can also be customised with skills and temporary buffs in the form of stickers. The stickers are pretty pointless but the unique skills each character unlocks from boss battles are implemented a lot better. There are a good range of them, but the most useful are the ones that let you heal, as enemies and bosses can deal a lot of damage if you aren’t dodging effectively. Both characters also have the ability to transform some objects with music but this mechanic feels especially underdeveloped with only one item each character can affect. It’s a cool idea in theory, but it isn’t used much throughout the game.
The highlight of No Straight Roads’ gameplay is the boss battles. Not only do these contain the best character interactions and moments, but they also showcase the awesome music and play around with the gameplay mechanics a bit more. All of the bosses use different attacks and have unique elements that make them memorable, such as splitting the pair up or having you perform a rap battle through rhythm movement. Some of the fights actually give a fair challenge too, as I saw the game over screen a few times more than I had expected to. Honestly, No Straight Roads probably would have felt better if it focused entirely on these boss battles and put more focus on a higher number of them. The fights with the basic enemies are only passable, whereas the boss battles are actually really fun.
These boss battles also have a bunch of different unlockable modes, like parry-only battles or higher difficulties. You can also unlock different music tracks for each fight if you’re interested in hearing more of the soundtrack, although these fights don’t feel quite like replaying.
In regards to the game’s performance on Switch, everything is good enough there too. The resolution and image quality isn’t the best but the style shines through anyway. The framerate can get a bit choppy in heavier moments, but it never drops enough to be anything more than a little annoying. The whole game can also be played in local coop which…
I may sound like I’m really down on some of No Straight Roads’ gameplay elements, but it’s just that it’s generally very forgettable. Everything functions well enough, but it doesn’t evolve beyond that at any point besides the boss battles. Even with these issues, No Straight Roads is one of the most heartfelt and stylish games I’ve played in a really long time.
Version Tested: Nintendo Switch
Review copy provided by Sold Out