I love a good music game. Having grown up on DDR and Pump It Up cabinets in the mystic age of the arcade, for many of us it’s a blessing to come upon a movie theater or a barcade that still houses a setup, and these days we live in the world where Japan’s arcade franchise Round 1 is slowly opening up shop at Malls in North America. Even a little before and during, music & action meshed in titles like Parappa The Rapper and Gitaroo Man, where button-timing got the protagonists through different scenarios in order to tell the overarching story. Since the 2000’s era though, it’s hard to think of a title that’s touched the main stream in the same way those console entries had, revolutionary for their time. In a way, that’s changed in 2020 with a game that positions itself in between the indie and AAA universes, both inside and out. From Malaysian indie studio Metronomik comes No Straight Roads, a mash-up of different music genres as well as a love letter to both the gaming and music industries.
The Pitch; Indie duo MayDay (Guitar) and Zuke (Drums) bring their band Bunk Bed Junction to audition at the Lights Up contest held by NSR, the conglomerate that runs their home of Vinyl City. Being denied due to their genre of choice, the two take the fight to each of NSR’s EDM artists in order to claim their place within the ranks and bring Rock back to their metropolis.
Daim Dziauddin and Wan Hazmer, cousins as well as game developers for most notably Street Fighter V and Final Fantasy XV, bring this music/platforming game to life in an open world-type atmosphere, setting up an action-filled but purposeful story about that drives artists to strive for the top. Much of the execution consists of levels getting to the artists, using musical timing off of NSR’s wonderfully diverse soundtrack to dodge & strike enemies, then applying that same method to the artists themselves in multi-phase boss battles. Even within the levels themselves, every piece of the world is unique, inspired by the tracks that surround them. Casually serious at times, yet oozing with comical bits and outlandish characters, NSR continuously keeps the audience captivated.
Even among some of the goofier moments replacing TV’s to some of the more tender exchanges with a certain rapper, there isn’t a time where the message isn’t on music. In the opening, the general idea laid out by the duo protagonists is sharing their sound with all of the other genres present, not just trying to bridge across the hierarchy from indie to mainstream. Much like then we’ve seen touring bands play to headline acts in our cities, or side-by-side with local acts at small venues across the world, it’s that gift of culture that touches audiences and artists alike, whether just starting out or being long-time veterans in producing work.
As many of us live in this current era where the bonds we held out at shows are tested, these creators out of Malaysia send us a reminder that we can still share our work with each other and become much more enriched from those unions, and it’s as easy as a quick search on Bandcamp if you know where to look. As someone that lives to frequent their city’s night spots, the fusions between the game’s tracks give me that warm feeling I miss so much right of witnessing acts on stage from 10pm to 2am can play so well off of each other.
While the adventure was incredible, it unfortunately is a short-lived ride, clocking in at about 10 hours even with the difficulty spiked Hard & Crazy fights between NSR’s varied cast, which players unlock after the initial battles. As well, in our playthrough as well as a few of our collaborators, certain fights have been known to glitch midway against the bosses. Thankfully, this factor is repairable as of the time of this writing, just barely a week after the worldwide release, so fear not, players. If there was a wish-list I’d have for NSR, it would be more spots to spend my “Qwasa” energy, which are the items spread throughout the landscape that earn players “fans” and cool extras that tell more of the story, as well as more fights to get into if DLC becomes an option. Of course, we still have one of the biggest challenges to finish out against DK West, so there’s no rush, at least on our end.
No Straight Roads is a send up to indie artists around the world, and while the game doesn’t completely translate to the real world of musicians, being in the role of Bunk Bed Junction for a while made for an epic escape while eagerly awaiting our venues in the USA to open up safely again. Fans of both music and platforming titles will be pleased in how each genre is thought of in terms of gameplay, where the developers took a painstaking amount of care into translating notes into attacks to be used in challenging players exploring all that Vinyl City has to offer. The soundtrack by itself sticks around well after the adventure ends, whether the audience sticks with the base tracks or switches to their B-Side Rock & EDM forms. At the asking price of $40, NSR beams with so much that would give other AAA’s a run for their money, but that’s the point, right? Tonight, as it is every night in the bars and small venues in our towns, is all about the little guys. ~
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