In No Straight Road’s dystopian future, EDM rules the world. It’s not only the most popular music genre, but it’s the social currency and power for Vinyl City, the monolithic city at the heart of Wan Hazmer’s musical action-adventure.
Playing as rockers Mayday and Zuke, you’re tasked with auditioning for the NSR, the shady organisation running the city and deciding what to do with the limited energy supply available.
Despite generating more than enough power and excitement to proceed in the audition process, Mayday and Zuke are unceremoniously disqualified. A later announcement decrees “rock is banned from Vinyl City” and anyone found to be performing it will be punished.
Moments later, Mayday and Zuke uncover a city-wide conspiracy to hoard power and keep it supplied only to the rich. They realise rock has been banned because it has the power to generate electricity for the entire town, destroying the dystopian class system denying basic necessities to the poorer people of Vinyl City.
The borough where Mayday and Zuke hail from has limited power supply and suffers most when blackouts hit. Certain areas in the hub world will be locked off because of this, but collecting mini-quasi energy cores littered around the world can restore these areas, gain Bunk Bed Junction new fans and let you explore more of the map.
The game is fairly linear and follows Mayday and Zuke through a variety of themed boroughs in their quest to overthrow the NSR.
As you roam free, you can take charge of either Mayday or Zuke. Mayday is a guitarist with a heavy attack while Zuke is a drummer with faster, lighter attacks and the ability to heal. As you progress through the opening chapters, you’ll be able to unlock special skills and build attack damage, speed and other stats based on how many ‘fans’ you accrue. Fans can be recruited by nailing boss battles and restoring power to impacted boroughs. The more fan power you have, the more you’ll be able to upgrade Mayday and Zuke’s abilities.
You’ll need to level up fast, too, because the game’s boss battles tend to be unforgiving.
The first boss battle in the preview Kotaku Australia played was against a phat DJ known as DJ Subatomic Supernova.
This boss fight took place in a cylindrical chamber where all the action orbited DJ. Playing as either Mayday or Zuke (or swapping between as needed), players are required to avoid rotating spheres as they speed past and destroy them to gain musical notes for long-range attacks. The first phase is fairly simple, but each one ups the ante and makes the action more complicated.
The second phase introduces rotating planets and speeds the action up a smidge. This time, you’ll need to pay more attention to the beat as objects and lasers will fly out in an unforgiving rhythm you’ll need to internalise to survive.
Music is central to the action of No Straight Roads and the best attacks and parries require paying attention to the toe-tapping beat.
In the final phase of the boss fight, players travel along a musical bar and time parries to teh song’s beat. If you have no rhythm, you’ll end up wearing every attack and dying before the end. You might need to play the fight several times before you get into the groove — but tapping or bopping along will help your concentration greatly.
The major quirk defining No Straight Roads is its reliance on musical beats and solid timing to advance. Thankfully, the soundtrack in the opening chapters is genuinely catchy and it’s easy to get into the groove of things. While it’s a concept proving to be very popular lately (Crypt of the NecroDancer, Sayonara Wild Hearts and Metal: Hellsinger spring to mind) No Straight Roads builds out its neo-fascist uprising story in quirky and unique ways.
It’s got ultra-stylish character designs and world reeking of cool. The hub world features a number of diverse terrains even in the opening chapters and there’s plenty to gawk at.
Protagonist Mayday is particularly delightful and has a cheeky, outspoken style and fashion-forward look. It’s easy to get behind her and believe in Bunk Bed Junction’s cause.
To overthrow the NSR’s strict regime, Bunk Bed Junction is tasked with travelling throughout Vinyl City and hijacking the concerts of prominent EDM performers like DJ Subatomic Supernova. Each successful takeover earns the band more fan power and helps them build their abilities for the next borough.
Be warned: Not every boss fight is a breeze. Even the game’s second boss ramped up the difficulty to near-unfair levels.
The second boss fight (and the final one for the preview) was against a Hatsune Miku-like program known as Sayu.
While DJ Subatomic Supernova was a fairly simple boss requiring only a few playthroughs to understand and defeat, Sayu presents a massive challenge. To get to her DJ set, Mayday and Zuke need to conquer a ten-area dungeon filled with hard-hitting robots.
When players finally confront Sayu, the boss fight takes place in multi-part, multi-arena battles. You’ll have to destroy the files controlling Sayu before you can face her, which unlocks larger files over several stages.
You’ll also need to avoid multiple enemies and obstacles while you go about erasing her files including a giant homing laser, several smaller homing arrows, giant data worms, waves of energy, bopping robots and data streams. You’ll need to be paying careful attention to this battle because resting for even a moment can lead to certain death.
While switching between characters allows them to heal, both Mayday and Zuke start out with fairly limited health and it’s very easy to die.
Eventually, you’ll unlock Sayu’s bad side and initiate the final stages of the battle where even more homing missiles come out of the works. It’s a frantic battle but also very frustrating. No Straight Roads does not feature boss checkpoints, so if you die you’ll need to head back to the very beginning of the Sayu fight.
This boss battle can take up to 15 minutes depending on how you play, so having to redo it all again was extremely rage-inducing. There was also no difficulty toggle in the preview, so there’s a fair chance it might be too difficult for some.
The key here was to play through the battle multiple times and memorise timing for enemies, obstacles and missiles. With enough skill (or dumb luck), you’ll get there in the end.
Both the boss fights in the preview were wildly different from each other and required unique tactics to get by. It meant every part of the preview felt exciting, with better and more useful tactics discovered in every playthrough.
So far, No Straight Roads feels like a unique spin on a genre quickly gaining popularity. It’s filled with tons of frantic moments, personality, a great visual aesthetic, and heaps of toe-tapping music. No Straight Roads should absolutely be on your radar.
No Straight Roads will release August 25 on PlayStation 4 and Xbox One. Version for the Nintendo Switch and PC will launch at a later date — but if you want to get in early, the Epic Games Store will have a demo available from Tuesday.