No Straight Roads E3 Impression
Developer Metronomik brought a unique combination of action adventure, rhythm, and character progression to E3 in No Straight Roads. I had the chance to play the demo and talk with Wan Hazmer, whose previous projects include Final Fantasy XV, to learn more about the game.
No Straight Roads features the musicians Mayday and Zuke, who are out to topple the evil EDM empire and take control of Vinyl City. The demo began with a straightforward, short tutorial to go over the controls, which initially seemed like a standard adventure game. Players can run around freely, attack, jump, pick up ammo for ranged attacks, and dodge. Fairly quickly, though, I found myself having to dodge and parry based on musical timing, the game’s unique twist. Because many enemy and boss attacks happen to the rhythm, dodging and parrying is much easier to accomplish when following the music. The game also features character progression through a full skill tree, upgradable abilities, and purchasable buffs. While enemy attacks are based on the soundtrack, player attacks are based on their own instruments. Mayday’s abilities require flicking the joystick and holding buttons to imitate a guitar, while Zuke’s attacks feature high combos attained in a manner more akin to playing the drums.
After the tutorial, I was thrown into the first boss fight. Bosses are other musicians of varying genres whose performances you crash. While players can move freely and somewhat ignore the music’s rhythm, boss attacks and movements happen in time with the music, and so it’s much easier to avoid damage by playing with the tune. Still, the boss arena was sizeable and I found it relatively easy to mostly ignore the soundtrack and still do well enough, even if not as well as if I played to the rhythm. There were some boss attacks which restricted movement to a tiny area and required playing with the rhythm to avoid damage, and this is where the game really shined for me, but unfortunately these attacks were few and far-between.
The second boss I faced really put the game’s unique art style front and center. The graphics are highly stylized, with simple polygons, vivid colors, and an almost clay-like cartoon look. Bosses take on abstract forms, with this particular boss taking the form a child musical prodigy and her overbearing mother who, rather than being human, appeared as a towering stretchy being able to envelop her daughter with spaghetti-like appendages and to move her around with what appeared to be puppet strings. This boss was a bit more difficult and required more use of rhythm to do well, but it was still fairly easy to make progress against it without relying on the rhythm.
Balancing the need for rhythm with more traditional action adventure play is, in my opinion, where No Straight Roads will face its biggest challenges, but will also be where it can reap its biggest rewards. If the rhythm aspect isn’t necessary to win, I suspect most players will ignore it and the effort put into the music will not bear significant gameplay fruit. If following the rhythm is too difficult, it may fail to capture the interest of adventure game fans. A good balance may be one where following the rhythm is a constant and definite necessity, but that the rhythm itself is a bit easier to follow than more traditional rhythm games. It’s hard to say where it stands on balance at this point; E3 demos are often tuned to the easy side so that players can experience the full content without wasting time on game overs and deaths, so they are generally not good indicators of games’ final balance. I see a lot of potential in this game if it’s able to nail the careful balancing act between rhythm and adventure, so keep an eye out for it on PlayStation 4 and PC later this year.