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PAX WEST: No Straight Roads Hands-On Impressions

Music is love, music is life, and without music, there is no existence. Music is a great power of untold reach, but for a select few, they seek to control and manipulate the industry. When they are rejected by the music judges of the world, the band members of Bunk Bed Junction will come together to fight back against the EDM empire and save the world of music in this new game titled No Straight Roads. This is an action-adventure game where music isn’t a lifestyle but a weapon that can be used for both intimidation and liberation. Developed by Metronomik and published by Sold Out Inc, No Straight Roads, had a strong showing this year at PAX West and I was lucky enough to get a special opportunity to check out the game for myself. Featuring a unique visual style, a distinctive combat mechanic,  and an anime-inspired world, No Straight Roads is looking to be one of the sharpest adventures of 2020.

Mayday and Zuke have worked all their lives to have the chance to use their music to change the world. With their band named Bunk Bed Junction, they seek to change the world through rock and roll. After a stunning audition, they are instantly turned down by the judges, citing that the world has no place for the rebellious ideals and revolutionary viewpoints of rock and roll. For the judges, the world belongs to EDM. The Judges encourage Bunk Bed Junction to quit, but the youthful band is determined to carve their own path. If an opportunity cannot be created, they will have to make their own, even if it means destroying the opposition.

No Straight Roads struck me when it was first announced as it featured an interesting ensemble of creative choices. The imagined world focused entirely around music, was incredibly original and the characters felt inspired by album covers. When I first saw the trailer several months ago, the entire game felt like a love letter to the music genre of anime and Japanese music artists, such as Hatsune Miku and EGOIST. The music-focused combat always stays to the beat of the playing tracks which makes for a refreshing take on combat as opposed to mindless chaos. When I finally had the opportunity to play No Straight Roads, the game became a truly special experience.

In the opening segment of the demo, I was introduced to the combat basics of the game, which included the ability to dodge and use melee and ranged attacks. During the opening scenes with the judges, the tutorial walked me through step by step on how to fight and how to survive. The key is to pay attention to the beat of the music, as the enemies will move but always attack to the beat. Even in this tutorial, the game demonstrated a sublime animation style that could only exist thanks to a vivid and colorful imagination. Mayday attacks with her guitar and Zuke attacks with his drum sticks. As they attack, their instruments brighten with color, making each attack have stronger impact and become more stylistic. The game allows the player to seamlessly switch between the two characters as each of their attacks had differences in range and power.  The tutorial lasted a few minutes and clearly demonstrated the potential of the game. However, it wasn’t until the boss fight where the game truly opened into a rock and roll and dance experience unlike any other.

Following the tutorial, I was brought to Vinyl City, which is where the main story takes place. Governed under the tyranny of EDM, the duo head to their first boss fight. Deep in Vinyl City, Mayday and Zuke break into a club and encounter the first boss who is an EDM DJ. A massive robot who’s face is an electric orb proclaims himself master of the music universe. As the battle began, the level morphed into a giant disc, with the DJ in the middle. Like the rows of vinyl, the giant disc outlined its tracks and soon, the planets of the Solar System occupied each track. To defeat the DJ, I had to dodge the attacks coming from the planets, then use the ranged laser attacks to wear down the health of the boss.

The sound track, which is a pulsating mix of dance, EDM, and rock and roll weaved itself into the absolutely elaborate graphics and eclectic art style. The colors and particle effects were eye-popping and the animation and combat were smooth. The boss never felt terribly difficult but it was no pushover either. The combat was silky smooth, sublime, and clearly polished. Each strike against the planets and evey laser shot against the boss felt riveting and thrilling. It’s clear that the developers at Sold Out Inc wanted to portray a larger-than-life boss fight at the edges of reality, and in No Straight Roads, it truly felt like that. I was reminded of bizarre and colorful anime, such as Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure and Space Dandy while playing the demo.

As the battle went on, the DJ was enraged. His attacks became more extreme as he evoked the powers of the EDM universe, he even began to warp reality and a open up a black hole. In the cosmic chaos and fury, asteroids rained down on Mayday and Zuke. In this final stage, I had to avoid the asteroids, then strike back at the DJ, all while avoid being pulled into a black hole. The music became more intense. The action became over the top and the level truly transformed into a form of cosmic violence. With one last strike against the DJ, the boss was defeated and the demo concluded.

While this was only a small sample of what to expect, No Straights Roads was extraordinarily original, highly imaginative, and a blast to play. I absolutely enjoyed the soundtrack as well as the combat. The interesting world being depicted is mesmerizing and ambitious, with many music tracks yet to be unveiled. Like the title the game bears, No Straight Roads isn’t following the traditional tropes of other action games, but instead following its own path with its own characters and world. The concert date isn’t quite set for No Straight Roads, but the wait for the show will be well worth it.

No Straight Roads launches in early 2020 for PC and PlayStation 4.

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