The demo version for No straight roads features an interesting world with charming character designs and writing with music that keeps the presentation strong throughout the game’s first hour and a half that the demo build encompasses. Unfortunately, the gameplay itself isn’t up to the same standards.
Right away, No straight roads has a lot of assets, namely, the lead game designer of Final Fantasy XV, Wan Hazmer, and the concept artist of Street Fighter V, Daim Dzauddin. Much of their prowess as game leaders shines through, especially Dzauddin, with interesting level and boss combat concepts and charming character designs. From the protagonists, Mayday and Zuke, to the members of an antagonistic power company who want to replace all rock music with EDM, each character has unique and interesting designs.
The bosses, in particular, sport interesting designs that are reflected in their respective fights. The first boss could only be described as a love child between disco-ball Neil deGrasse Tyson and Marshmello – both in design and writing. He’s a pretty stereotypical brainiac villain, so naturally he’s obsessed with space. His boss fight music reflects this. It’s a funk-techno mashup with a sci-fi twist that had me tapping my feet the whole time.
The second boss I encountered in the demo is a digital idol (think Hatsune Miku) but she’s a cute mermaid run by a team of programmers, so her level was a mix of underwater themes and jokes about the fact that it is not real.
Unfortunately, everything that happens between boss fights lacks the same charm and energy. The hub world feels largely barren and bloated, with only a few things to interact with that rely on the game’s often janky, floating platform that ultimately feels pointless given there’s a different location in the hub. which functions as a place where characters discuss strategy and select where they go next.
In many ways, the scrambled hub feels like a representation of the game as a whole – it makes some interesting design choices, but it frequently stumbles upon itself and hampers whatever rhythm the game has built.
The concept of a rhythm-based action game is exciting because of how punishing and precise both genres can be. No straight roads doesn’t feel punitive or precise. Somehow, every enemy move and attack in No straight roads is timed to the beat of a typically high bpm genre like EDM and still manages to feel slow. Mayday and Zuke feel the same way, each with a single attack that feels slow and unsatisfying.
The underlying problem with the game’s combat is that if your enemies depend on a beat, you don’t, which misses an opportunity to add a level of depth and satisfaction that the gameplay lacks in its current state. games like Cadence of Hyrule: Crypt of the Necrodancer, for example, encourage playing to the beat by dealing damage and other similar bonuses to players who manage to attack to the music of the game.
Instead, combat feels like an action game like the devil may cry Where Bayonet this has been reduced to a one-button beat-em-up with a combo counter that forgets that character attacks are too slow to make building combos feel like anything but luck.
Unsurprisingly, the best part of the demo is the final stage of each boss fight. In a last ditch effort to make boss fights satisfying, the endgame of each boss becomes much more rhythm-centric, not just in the boss’ attacks, but in how the player attacks them, allowing them to adopt the same rhythm-based constraints. what the game’s antagonists are doing. That doesn’t do much to redeem the rest of the gameplay, but it does show that the team behind it knows how to create systems that reward rhythm play more.
On top of the already aggravating combat mechanics, I got stuck in accidental combos that would destroy my health bar in later stages of boss fights. It’s never for lack of telegraphy or attention to detail either, it’s because I ran into one of the demo version’s many technical issues. Often these types of issues stemmed from being stuck in a model or not being able to see the indicator that there would be an attack because the fixed camera was not positioned correctly.
Overall, these issues were relatively minor. The biggest bug I encountered happened when I paused the game right before the tutorial and the event never happened. After two more tries without interrupting the game, still nothing happened. Luckily, without doing anything different, I got to the tutorial on my fourth try.
The demo version of No straight roads worry. The game touts both promise and concrete potential in its gameplay and presentation, but it feels like a game from a decade ago, with unsatisfying combat and game-breaking bugs. Unfortunately, I don’t see myself getting excited about it right now because it needs more finishing.
No straight roads is set to release on August 25 on PS4, Xbox One, Switch, and PC.
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