As someone who instantly gravitates towards the sound, style and energy of rhythm games, No Straight Roads immediately sounds like my jam. However, this isn’t the arcade-style rhythm-tapping that we’ve come to expect - instead, this is actually a full-on action-adventure with larger-than-life boss fights and a hell of a story sticking it to The Man.
You play as guitarist Mayday and drummer Zuke, a rock duo hoping to make it big in Vinyl City. This city runs on energy generated from musicians provided by the NSR corporation, a cross between record label and energy conglomerate if you will. At the start, your plucky band Bunk Bed Junction is trying to get through an X Factor-type audition (which also functions as the tutorial) in a bid to be the next musical act to take on that enormous privilege. But you soon find out that rock-and-roll is essentially outlawed while Electronic Dance Music (EDM) reigns supreme. It’s a good old-fashioned genre war of rock vs dance music then, as our underground heroes fight back with their music.
This demo didn’t really get to showcase the other platforming and exploration elements that the game also promises but it did feature a boss fight with an EDM DJ calling himself DJ Supernova, taking place on a dancefloor presented like a solar system with planets and asteroids spinning around in orbit.
In game terms, you might expect to be hitting buttons in time with the beat or notes, but actually, No Straight Roads functions much like a 3D action game where you’re free to move around and do what you want: jumping, rolling or bashing things with your instruments, as well as switching seamlessly between Mayday or Zuke. It’s rather the enemies who obey the rhythms of the music with their attack patterns, so you still have to be paying attention. But once you listen to the music, you can tell from the chorus that a wave of attacks is coming, which is also telegraphed by the visuals, so you can easily dodge out of the way or jump in time. And just like many platformers, you can also double jump, giving you more leeway when say jumping over an attack without the demand for super rhythmic reflexes. That makes No Straight Roads a more accessible music game, which is happier to flaunt its style over precision.
The visuals and art direction are particularly striking, and perhaps that’s not surprising when one of developer Metronomik’s founders is Daim Dziauddin, whose credentials include being the illustrator and concept artist for Street Fighter IV and V. It also feels reminiscent of early 00s games like Space Channel 5 and Jet Set Radio, as well as cartoons like Steven Universe, while the voice acting is also wonderfully expressive.
The era of clunky plastic instruments like Guitar Hero and Rock Band may be over, but it’s terrific to see new life in the music game genre that’s also changing up the rules of rhythm, and I can’t wait to play more when No Straight Roads releases on PS4 and PC in 2020.