Despite its recent delay, there’s still a lot of anticipation and hype for Metronomik’s No Straight Roads, Malaysia’s major gaming contribution for 2020 that goes beyond assets-generation. And with the recent build of the game made playable to us, it feels like a road favorably traveled.
The premise to this indie title is simple: rocking protagonists Mayday (on guitars) and Zuke (on drums with snares and its kits popping out of thin air) are launching a crusade against the injustice of No Straight Roads’ EDM-loving big boss Tatiana and her cronies. Since the bad guys hold the keys to powering up Vinyl City, they don’t seem to want their position challenged by the power of rock.
Clearly there are a lot of interesting metaphors generated from this battle between these two genres in the game’s narrative; as subtle as a sledgehammer. However, the main crux is that it’s complemented with an appropriately loud and exaggerated art style, along with some distinguishably charming voice acting.
I’ll say this: so far, NSR’s look & voice is accessible yet uniquely Malaysian for anyone who wants an easy-to-follow tale of anti-establishmentism, with some lovely rock & EDM to boot. I won’t be too shocked if main rockers Mayday and Zuke get their own fanbase in the coming months.
Gameplay-wise, NSR is an action title with a huge, HUGE focus on music rhythm game mechanics. See, all enemies and obstacles follow the beat of the song when doing their attacks. So instead of paying attention to enemy telegraphs, you use the rhythm of the song to time your dodges.
Since most enemy attacks here have long reach and can semi-track Mayday and Zuke, you need to time your evades right and then attack. Mayday hits harder than Zuke, but the latter can do quick-hitting “drum beat” attacks that are easily canceleable. Both of them can also collect music notes and shoot them at airborne and unreachable enemies, usually highlighted clearly in white thin frames.
You can even use the power of rock to transform certain objects with metronomes to aid you in your fight. So far, we’ve transformed items into turrets that damage bosses and temporary barriers that protect you from homing projectiles.
It doesn’t stop there: the better you perform and fight, the higher the rank. And the higher your rank, you get more currency in the form of fans, which you can use to get upgrades. Examples of powerups include double jump and air dash for better evasion options, adding a finisher attack for Mayday and Zuke, and speeding up item transformations.
Stickers you find in the “open-world” Vinyl City bits -the parts where you talk and find MacGuffins to gain more fans- will give you buffs and stat boosts that work in one stage hijack. Guitar and drum mods will give Mayday and Zuke special attacks that can heal or deal additional hurting from afar.
There’s a lot more to unlock that is sure to beef up Mayday and Zuke’s music-making arsenal. And you’ll need it because as fantabulous as these boss fights look, they can get pretty challenging.
Play It Again, Sam
The first main stage is a duel with a space EDM DJ called DJ Subatomic Super Nova. His stage is laid out like a solar system, with rings that expand after each phase of the fight. Not only is it quite a lovely feast for the eyes with major layout and colour changes with each boss phase, but it’s a great introduction to how NSR’s fights will pan out subsequently.
The second stage, where you fight an AI idol construct not unlike Hatsune Miku -but more obnoxious- is where the kid gloves come off. We started off easy with a linear sections of a level where we clear bad guys to advance; standard approach level stuff. Then when it came to the mermaid-like AI, things got real.
From the get-go, Sayu’s stage progressively gets hard to keep track of obstacles that can actively hurt you: rectangular bars that zoom past you, Sayu’s lasers and homing “fishes”, and even a mouse cursor that occasionally hampers your rhythm. But once you get the hang of the song’s fast beat and how each obstacle moves, I was dodging everything in style while transforming objects that can help damage Sayu -or shield you from her barrage of physically-hurting “cute” beams.
You also get to see Sayu morph from cute sacharine pink mermaid to a fish-for-a-head and human-feet abomination, highlighting each stage of difficulty to humourous effect.
The uglier she gets, the more attacks she dish out. The only real trick to not get hit as much is to dodge according to the bass of the pop song in the background.
And just like any action game worth their salt, you can unlock harder difficulties. So far, fighting DJ Subatomic Super Nova in Hard mode equals more globes that can alter their directions mid-way and faster attacks. You can look forward to bosses having more attack patterns and additional moves if you want a steeper challenge. You can also share the love with the game’s same-screen co-op if you need some help, though be careful: if either Mayday or Zuke are KO’ed and aren’t revived on time, it’s game over.
On a scale from Jonas Bros. to The Rolling Stones, our experience with No Straight Road’s earlier stages is Led Zeppelin levels of fun. It’s not going to take it easy on you, and it may be an acquired taste in the long run.
I’m a fan of the “learn as you go” approach that NSR is dishing out here. However, I’m not sure if that applies to anyone else who assumes that this may be a breezy romp based on the vibes of its lanky art style and the sensory overload from the two major fights.
But if you come in with an open mind and a basic appreciation of action games of the Capcom Five or Platinum Games variant, we might be looking at a possible cult hit from the land of nasi lemak and Ramly burgers.
No Straight Roads will be out for PC (via Epic Games Store), PS4, Xbox One, & Nintendo Switch this 25th August on 2020. You can check the demo out here.