Musical adventure No Straight Roads certainly got my foot tapping, albeit more due to frustration than the game’s admittedly catchy tunes. Set in the music-obsessed metropolis of Vinyl City, No Straight Roads sees you play as two wannabe rock stars fighting against the dictatorship of NSR records, which not only mediates the city’s music tastes, but also controls its power supply.
No Straight Roads has what it takes to be a pop sensation, namely a strong sense of style and a good ear. Vinyl City is a dazzling neon sprawl divided into multiple districts, from the kawaii-colours and anime billboards of Akusuka, to the leafy groves and neoclassical architecture of Natura. These districts are controlled by powerful pop stars you need to face in battle, with victory bringing you one step closer to NSR’s glittering skyscraper.
These battles are themed around different musical genres. In Akusuka, you take on an entirely digital K-pop star created and controlled by a group of geeky teens. In the Tron-like Metro District, meanwhile, you square off against a cybernetic boyband called 1010, whose chrome avatars are actually repurposed military robots. From an audio-visual perspective, these encounters are wonderfully designed. The vibrant and imaginative staging makes each unique and memorable. The accompanying soundtrack is fantastic too, cleverly fusing a wide range of styles.
If No Straight Roads were an album, it’d trouble the charts with ease. Unfortunately, it’s a video game, and as a video game it sucks. No Straight Roads can’t decide whether it’s a third-person fighter or a rhythm-action game, with the result that it fails at both. Your basic combat abilities involve hitting enemies with your instrument and firing musical notes at them, neither of which is particularly exciting. More powerful abilities are unlocked as the game progresses, but the standard enemies are so tedious to fight that it feels like a waste to use them.
Bosses, meanwhile, rarely engage you directly. Instead they keep their distance, unleashing lengthy strings of attacks that look impressive, but mostly involve you standing in the right place and waiting for an opportunity to get in a couple of hits. Using the music’s beats and rhythms to dodge and occasionally parry attacks is enjoyable, but the game and the soundtrack only sporadically intertwine, so you don’t get the sense of rhythmic synaesthesia that you would from playing Guitar Hero or the fantastic Tetris Effect.
Aside from collectibles and a handful of notes to read, Vinyl City is an interactively barren place. The writing is generally decent, but the main characters are difficult to like, particularly the petulant and annoying Mayday. And while I like how the game looks, there are times when its kaleidoscopic imagery works against it. Some boss encounters are so visually busy that it can be hard to parse what you’re supposed to be doing.
The idea of a literal battle of the bands is a good one, and I was always keen to see what the next encounter would look like. But the lack of substance to the actual fights was invariably disappointing. Despite some impressive sights and sounds, in the end No Straight Roads has too many potholes to make its musical journey worth recommending.