Review: No Straight Roads (PS4)


Platforms:

  • PlayStation 4
  • Xbox One
  • Nintendo Switch
  • PC

Platform/Hardware Used:

  • PSN Download
  • PS4 Pro
  • 4K HDR

Extras:

  • DualShock 4 Required (1)
  • Move None
Title: No Straight Roads
Format: Blu-ray Disc / PSN (21.69 GB)
Release Date: August 25, 2020
Publisher: Sold-Out Software
Developer: Metronomik
Original MSRP: $39.99 (USD)
ESRB Rating: E10+
A code for the game was provided by the publisher for review purposes.
PS Nation Review Policy

Gameplay:
No Straight Roads is the first game by a small Malaysian development studio, Metronomik. I didn’t know that this was a first-time production when I started the game initially, but it became apparent as I played. There’s a real rough edge to the game that is fortunately overshadowed by the clear joy and passion that went into this debut album.

The story of NSR sees Mayday and Zuke as aspiring rock musicians in the town of Vinyl City, which runs on the power of music. After failing an audition on the big talent show, the ruling body of the city, NSR, decides to outlaw rock music in favor of EDM. Mayday and Zuke, upset by their loss and the ban on rock, decide to take on the NSR to free the city from their oppression. And, to spread their love of rock to everyone.

On the narrative side, NSR certainly isn’t going to really wow you. It’s pretty much the usual showdown against a progression of opponents, as the protagonists take over sections of the city. In this case, each specializes in a different type of music, which forms the basis of their level of the game and the fight against them.

On the other hand, the characterizations are pretty good, especially for the protagonists. It takes a little bit to settle in, but their personalities start to shine around the time of the second (of six) major fights, and there are a lot of little quirks that come through. The foes, save the final one, don’t get nearly as much time to show off, but several have relationships to the protagonists that help give context to both characters. And most foes have added characterization through their music or levels to help accentuate their personality.

Gameplay is probably where the game is the roughest. The basis of the game is third person action combat, which never completely gelled for me. I got used to it, and even enjoyed it to some extent, but I definitely felt like I was working within some confines, rather than being allowed to explore a deeper system. Which isn’t to say that the gameplay was bad, just that I never quite fell in step with it like I would have hoped.

The most unique aspect of gameplay is that the enemies move and attack based on musical cues, which can greatly aid in allowing the player to dodge or parry them. Outside of that though, this is pretty standard stuff: light attacks, combos, switching between characters, etc. There’s a decent sized skill tree to unlock new abilities, and some stickers you can slap onto your guitar/drumsticks to give bonuses for a few fights.

Structure wise, I’m almost tempted to call No Straight Roads a ‘boss rush’ game, though they add just enough other stuff to skirt that classification. There is an overworld to connect the levels, but there’s no fighting in it, just a little bit of searching around for collectibles. And once you get to the boss areas, you do have to fight through a few quick areas of mobs before getting to the boss themselves.

If my review sounds a little negative, I will say there’s an overall level of fun that does manage to score the more rough parts of the game. I can feel a lot of love in the characters and systems, despite the clear signs of this being a debut album. Even when all the components didn’t harmonize to the full extent, I was still enjoying myself. If I had to put my finger on it, I’d say the characters, the look, and the audio are the primary reasons I still felt drawn into the game, despite some of the clunkiness in gameplay and story.

Visuals:
In what is definitely the correct choice for a new studio and for a game like this, NSR goes with a very stylized art style that’s an absolute joy to watch. There’s just so much life in the characters thanks to the way they look and act that it really helps serve as the anchor to the world of NSR. Some real subtle touches of the 2D stills and the 3D animation help show off character quirks or slight gameplay cues.

Sure, this isn’t a full AAA production, and there are some infrequent small issues, mostly in the form of some attacks being tough to gauge, or the camera sometimes not quite cooperating (you don’t control the camera for the most part). I’d still say that I like the look though, and this game has such a solid art direction that I could see it standing the test of time thanks to the hyperstylization and strong art direction.

Audio:
For a game about music, you really need to nail the audio, and I think No Straight Roads does very well in that arena. One of the coolest features of the boss fights is that there’s a gauge that goes back and forth depending on your performance. And, depending on which side it is on, you’ll either hear more of a rock version of the song or an EDM version of the song. When you re-challenge, you can even choose to just play a single version for the whole fight, though I felt like the audio was a little empty when I did that.

The soundtrack itself is very good, with some catchy tunes. The refrain from the rap battle in particular was stuck in my head for a while after playing that one. Every once in a while, I did run into some music that looped a little too quickly and got repetitive, but this was usually when running around the overworld, and the boss fights themselves didn’t usually have this issue.

Again, there is a slight rough edge, and in this case it is in the voice acting. I actually liked the characters, and the voices were a big part of that, but it does give the impression of being put together, and even possibly voiced, by people for whom English isn’t a first language. Not that that’s entirely a bad thing, and in fact I think it just made the game even more charming to me, but occasionally some word choices or pronunciations seemed just a little off. I don’t know even a single word in Malay so I commend the team for only being a little off. The character’s mouth movements also don’t quite match the voice acting, which can be distracting at times.

Online/Multiplayer:
Surprisingly, NSR offers local co-op play. When playing like this, rather than being able to switch between the two characters, each player controls a single one. I didn’t play too much like this, but it was a pretty fun way to retry a boss fight on a harder difficulty. It does make the game slightly easier, since you can revive your ally if they get knocked out.

Conclusion:
No Straight Roads hits most of the right notes, but does have the occasional dissonance that keeps it from being truly great. The gameplay didn’t fully jive for me, though the fun characters, strong art style, and slick tunes kept me invested through the end of the game and even into some post-game trophy hunting. It’s short enough that the flaws don’t have much time to take over and the strengths can overpower and carry the tune through the outro.

I certainly hope that the studio can learn and grow and that we see more games from them. NSR is a strong first performance and already stands on it’s own merits so I can only imagine where they can go from here. I’d recommend No Straight Roads to anyone who loves rock music and would love a little quirky and off-beat adventure.

Score:

* All screenshots used in this review were taken directly from the game using the Share functionality on the PlayStation 4.

Written by Andy Richardson

Andy Richardson

A longtime PlayStation fan who enjoys JRPGs and rhythm games when he’s not tweeting about his parrot.

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