Video game trailers are big business. More than any other medium, most games require a degree of explanation in their advertising. Sure, I want to know what your game is about, but more importantly what do I do in it? How does the gameplay work? What features does it have? This is information that I need in order to know if I’ll actually enjoy a game. Sometimes though, a trailer will come along that doesn’t need to answer all of those questions. Sometimes all it takes is a two-minute glimpse into a game’s very essence for me to say “Yep! I need to play this game”. This trailer for No Straight Roads is one of those times:
I’ve been thinking about this one trailer for the better part of a year. It’s been a while since I’ve looked at a game and thought, “I don’t even care what this game is, I just want it”. My tune quickly changed when I recently had the chance to play a preview build of the game, though. Turns out I do care what it is, because what it is is fucking awesome.
In case you skipped watching the above trailer (honestly though, watch it), let me sum up No Straight Roads as best I can. You play as Mayday and Zuke, a pair of aspiring rock musicians living in Vinyl City as the band Bunk Bed Junction. As the name might suggest, music is the Vinyl City’s lifeblood and ruling force, but it’s currently under the rule of an EDM empire called No Straight Roads. The game opens with Bunk Bed Junction playing in an audition for No Straight Roads, but in an effort to eradicate any genre of music that isn’t EDM, the organisation denies them and outlaws any rock music in future. Thus begins the pair’s mission to take down NSR’s agents of EDM one by one and take their empire down.
So far, so already-spelled-out-in-trailers. What hadn’t been clear to me up until this point is how No Straight Roads actually plays. The preview build I played let me go through the game’s opening tutorial as well as two of the stages that task Bunk Bed Junction with taking down agents of NSR. The tutorial, which takes the form of Mayday and Zuke’s audition, briefly goes over the basics of the game’s combat. For all of its hyperactive musical energy and idiosyncrasy No Straight Roads’ fundamentals are nice and simple. Both characters have their own variations of standard attacks, a dodge, jump, projectiles and a couple of special attacks. The twist is that most enemy attack patterns are tied to the game’s music, and so success is determined by your ability to keep some kind of a rhythm as you move about your foes and lay the smack down on them.
Those are the basics, but basic is something that No Straight Roads is far from. Though I only played the two stages, both were wildly different in structure and gameplay. The first, a battle against a giant, self-important DJ with a galaxy for a head, played out on the rings of a planet and had me avoiding lane-based dangers while firing off projectiles and activating rocket turrets. The second saw me exploring a simulated underwater world in pursuit of a virtual mermaid pop idol named Sayu, with gameplay taking a turn towards more action-platformer territory. These are the first two big encounters, but based on glimpses of the game’s later content it can only be assumed that things get even wilder and wackier from here on out.
The key ingredient holding all of this together is No Straight Roads’ unapologetically over-the-top sense of style, and it’s something that will single-handedly draw a lot of players in. The game’s character designs and backdrops look straight out of something by Jamie Hewlett/Gorillaz, and despite being composed of so many disparate ideas and schools of design it all comes together into a cohesive whole with a ton of charm. Whether in semi-static 2D portraits or fully-animated scenes, Bunk Bed Junction and the many personalities they meet along the way exude so much energy and flair in everything they do that I almost couldn’t keep up, and I mean that as a compliment. In particular, I love the way that NPCs’ 3D character models spin out of the environment and into their on-screen portraits when you initiate conversation with them. There’s no need for it in the slightest but it looks damn cool.
Of course, this is a game about music and so it goes without saying that the game’s soundtrack takes center stage. More than just giving combat a rhythmic twist, the game’s music seeps into every part of its identity. Vinyl City is a lively and vibrant place and although the No Straight Roads EDM empire is technically ‘bad’, there’s no denying the thumping beats and moody synths make for great atmosphere. Both of the bosses I encountered had their own genre specialty, as I can only assume the rest will, with Sayu’s bubbly, pop-infused track being permanently burned into my brain at this point. During each encounter, a meter at the top of the screen shows the current lean toward either rock or EDM and the game mixes the audio toward one or the other accordingly while Mayday’s guitar shreds and Zuke’s drum hits rock along in time. No Straight Roads’ sound design is as infectious and effortlessly cool as its visuals.
Despite barely scratching the surface of what the game has to offer – there’s an entire home base and hub city to explore that I won’t be able to fully grasp until I’m playing the final build – I’m very happy with the taste I’ve had so far. No Straight Roads is exactly the kind of unique, personal and no-fucks-given experience that only the indie game scene can produce and I can’t wait to play it again.
No Straight Roads releases on August 25 for PlayStation 4, Xbox One and PC with a Nintendo Switch version to follow shortly after. A playable demo for PC is available now from the Epic Games Store.