No Straight Roads (Switch) Review
No Straight Roads is a bizarre little game. It’s a game that attempts to mix its music with gameplay (and vice versa), and it punches well above its weight as an indie game. The result is a game that is incredibly unique and interesting, but is also quite flawed, and spends almost its entire runtime verging on overstaying its welcome. And unfortunately, the Switch version highlights these flaws better than most.
But let’s start at the beginning. No Straight Roads — which I’ll be abbreviating to NSR from here on in — is a quirky action adventure game in the vein of something like Kingdom Hearts. Set in the depths of a monolithic, music-dependent society called Vinyl City, you’ll take control of rock duo Bunk Bed Junction as you rock, run, and whack your way through the city’s various districts. Each of these districts houses an EDM superstar, and it’s your job to take them down, primarily by drowning out their electronic sounds with some good old-fashioned rock music.
It’s these boss fights against EDM producers that takes up the bulk of NSR’s runtime, and they’re easily the best part of the game. The game’s battles are built around the music, with attacks and enemies tightly timed with the beat, meaning you really have to pay attention to not just what’s happening on the screen, but what’s happening in your headphones — and you’ll definitely want to wear headphones. It helps, then, that the music is so damn good, and in these boss battles you’re getting two songs for the price of one; each song has both an EDM variant and a rock variant, and the mix of those sounds will change back and forth with your performance. It’s all very clever, and the developers have done an excellent job of making the music the very core of NSR. Perhaps not quite as well as something like Sayonara Wild Hearts, in which music and gameplay are so tightly integrated that they’re near-inseparable, but it comes very very close.
The combat itself is fairly solid too, with a few caveats. As mentioned above, it’s a little bit like Kingdom Hearts, with a little twist of having two playable characters to switch between in combat, each with their own unique play style. As Mayday, Bunk Bed Junction’s guitarist, things are very straightforward — you press Y to whack, and that’s about it. Zuke, the duo’s drummer, is a little more interesting; he does less damage than Mayday per single hit, but his damage increases with each hit in his combo, which can be expanded in length with upgrades as you progress with the game. Both characters do have access to a common set of skills, however, such as jumping, dashing, and firing projectiles, but they also have unique attacks that can be unlocked later in the game to separate them a little further
Unfortunately, while all the right pieces are there, NSR’s combat tends to fall a little flat at times, and it’s primarily due to fluidity — or rather a lack of fluidity. One of the things that makes Kingdom Hearts’ combat so enjoyable is how fluid and snappy it all feels, every action naturally flows into the next action. NSR lacks this fluidity, each action feels distinct, detached, and combined with a little bit of indie jank and the less-than-ideal handheld controls of the Switch, combat can end up feeling stale and at times, unfair, after just a couple hours of play. This is particularly an issue as the game ramps up, with a very steep difficulty curve starting right after the game’s second boss fight.
What’s in-between the boss fights isn’t much to write home about either. You’ll spend a decent chunk of your time wandering around Vinyl City, collecting trinkets to unlock areas that give you… more trinkets. Admittedly this is a good way to get stickers — a type of temporary power-up that lasts until the end of the next boss — but a lot of it just feels like unnecessary busywork. The main spectacle here is the game’s boss fights, they’re a dazzling display of music, stylish visuals, and interesting and varied gameplay elements. Everything else just feels like it gets in the way, a middling gate between chunks of truly extraordinary experiences. In a game called No Straight Roads, I found myself wanting nothing more than a straight road to progress along, feeding me from boss fight to boss fight.
So let’s talk about the Switch-specific attributes of NSR, because there’s a few things worth mentioning that might sway your purchase. The game is packed with stylish visuals, but they’re not done any favours by the Switch’s lacklustre visual prowess. It’s not unplayable by any means, but there’s no overlooking the game’s low resolution, with jaggies galore and soft edges littered across the screen in both handheld and docked modes. That seems to be a result of prioritising performance, which has been mostly solid across the board in my experience; for an music-focused action game, that’s a trade-off worth making, even if it’s a little disappointing.
The other major concession is text size — most text is almost unreadable in the Switch’s handheld mode, and that problem is even worse on a Switch Lite. This is something that could be addressed in a future update, as adjustable text size is an extremely important accessibility feature, but as of right now, if you’re planning on playing handheld or only have access to a Lite, you’re going to have a hard time of things.
No Straight Roads is a little hard to recommend on Switch. It’s a solid enough game at its core, with some neat ideas and a very solid soundtrack, but its visuals are lacking, its text is too small, and its controls lack the fluidity to make it a truly great experience. It still may be worth picking up on another platform, but for now the Switch version is more miss than it is hit.
+ Banging soundtrack
+ Lots of interesting ideas
+ Boss fights are fun
- Unreadable text in handheld
- Visuals aren't great
- Huge difficulty curve