When I first heard about No Straight Roads a little while ago, I was immediately sold. With a distinctive, eye-catching style, quirky characters, and the promise of leading a musical revolution with rhythm-based action, I jumped at the chance to get stuck right into this colourful, rockin' adventure on the Switch. While it sometimes stumbles when it comes to combat, developer Metronomik presents an interesting fusion of musical action. All brought to life with some very catchy tunes, it's hard not to be charmed by its bright blend of goofy humour.
In No Straight Roads, music is power… literally. Vinyl City runs on the power of a good beat, and an empire known as the NSR has a monopoly over the city's power supply by converting EDM music into energy. Enter indie rock duo Mayday and Zuke, who form up the underground band Bunkbed Junction. Together, they set out to fight back against the NSR with their own brand of rock music to bring change to the system.
You first meet the harmonious pair as they head to take part in a Lights Up audition held by the NSR, who are looking for skilled musicians to lend their talents to powering up Vinyl City. Using rock music as their weapon of choice, you learn the ropes of the combat against enemy drones during the audition, and despite delivering a large dose of rock-infused energy during the performance, NSR boss Tatiana turns them away and declares that rock music is "no longer relevant." The gall!
Everything in the world runs on music, and that includes combat. With a third-person setup, the rhythm aspect truly comes into play when your dodging attacks. Each enemy has their own attack styles and timings. Landing hits, on the other hand, doesn't need to sync up to the music, so you don't have to strike a blow in time to the beat. As a solo player, you can switch between Mayday and Zuke, and each character has their own distinctive fighting style. Mayday is a heavy-hitting guitar player, while drummer Zuke delivers faster combo hits. Both characters can also deal ranged damage by hurling musical notes. As a single-player, you can switch between the two, and the one you're not in control of will slowly regain health, so tactically swapping between the pair can sometimes save you if you take a few too many hits.
For the majority of the game, you're going up against NSR megastars in big boss rush battles by hijacking their concerts. Each boss has a different creative design that reflects their music of choice, from the DJ Supernova to the child prodigy pianist Yinu, and a heart-throbbing robot boy-band 1010, each battle is made up of different stages that get progressively faster and more chaotic. Towards the end of a stage, with a barrage of attacks from various directions coming my way, I find myself getting overwhelmed at times as I try to keep track of everything happening on the screen as the pace picks up.
You will have to adapt and have quick reaction times as different kinds of enemy fire gets thrown your way. If you die at any point during your attempt to best the megastar, you'll have to be prepared to do the entire boss battle all over again. In a lot of ways, mastering some of the trickier fights feels a bit like learning a dance routine in that you start picking up what moves work against what attacks, and when it's best to dodge out of the way with musical cues or visual indicators. While the combat doesn't always click thanks to the many attacks you have to contend with, the boss fights are packed with creativity and character.
In between all the boss rushing action, you get to explore parts of Vinyl City, and it's a welcome spell of down-time to give you a breather from the fighting. After each NSR performer is bested, you earn fan power, which can be used to upgrade and unlock skills for Mayday and Zuke individually, as well as universal skills for the Bunkbed Junction band overall in your underground headquarters. As well as adding mods and stickers to your instrument for buffs and special moves, the progression system can give you some helpful advantages such as healing powers and more ammo.
For all of its creative ideas and its interesting mix of music and action, the life and soul of No Straight Roads comes directly from its expressive characters, who are all brilliantly voiced. Mayday and Zuke have their own lovable quirks and balance each other out with their opposite personalities, and each and every boss brings their own level of eccentricity and flare. While I sometimes found it challenging as a solo player, I can just imagine how much fun it'll be to take on the NSR with a pal in local multiplayer. If you're after something quirky that's full of songs that will get you moving in your seat, No Straight Roads hits those notes.
No Straight Roads is out now on PS4, Xbox One, PC and Nintendo Switch.