The power of rhythm in No Straight Roads

“I have a soundtrack for everything I do. Basically when I walk, when I travel, I always have a song in my head. I associate everything with music,” is what Wan Hazmer, game director at Metronomik, told me last year at EGX Rezzed. For the last few years, he and his team have been developing No Straight Roads, an action-adventure platformer rooted deep within the world of music and rhythm.

The story involves an indie rock duo, Mayday and Zuke, as they set out to free the futuristic metropolis of Vinyl City from the oppressive control of an EDM empire, who is using music to power the homes of the elite while leaving everyone else in the dark. The gameplay employs a rhythm-based combat style where you fight enemies to the beat of a soundtrack. Enemy moves correspond to this rhythm, and so it becomes about synchronising your attacks with theirs.

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For Hazmer, No Straight Roads couldn’t just be another action-adventure. It had to have a specific energy pulsating from it, and so turning it into a music game was the idea from the very beginning. “Everyone loves music, but not everyone can play rhythm games which saddens me because music can be so important to our lives. So the idea for No Straight Roads is to have it put in the joys of a music game without requiring the motor skills for a rhythm game. We made it in such a way that the enemies and bosses follow the music and you can anticipate their patterns based on the musical patterns.”

The label of ‘rhythm game’ has traditionally been reserved for music games focused on simulating a musical performance to test the player’s sense of rhythm and timing. When I think of a classic rhythm game, I picture Beatmania, Guitar Hero, or Just Dance. But more recently, rhythm games have branched out from being solely about music, and have incorporated aspects of other genres to flesh them out.

Brace Yourself’s Crypt of the NecroDancer takes the principal features of a roguelike dungeon crawler but has you explore it and fight enemies in sync with the soundtrack’s beat. Four Horses’ Kid Tripp is a side-scroller platformer which removes the ability to stop moving, meaning you’re forced to make every jump, roll and slide at the exact moment you’re supposed to. Even FromSoftware’s Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice should be considered a rhythm game, with its emphasis on perfectly-timed parries and repetitive attack animations which pushes the player into retaining a beat when fighting bosses.

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No Straight Roads’ interpretation of this is to include elements from beat ‘em ups or hack and slashes, where your goal is to defeat waves of enemies or a boss in an area before moving onto the next. As every move you make then corresponds to the music in the background, it becomes a game of timing and memorisation in order to clear the stage. Unlike Beatmania or Guitar Hero though, you’re never forced to make a specific move as you can freely move around the combat arena, and missing an action does not penalise you in the same way those games would if you missed a button or pressed it too late.

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Due to this, it still keeps the vibe and pacing of traditional rhythm games but makes it more accessible for players who may not be able to keep up with the amount of button mashing and split-second accuracy required by those games. The fast-paced action and electrifying soundtrack go together in delivering an experience that’s not only a tribute to the genre it strums from, but also a love letter to music as a whole.

As creative director Diam Dziauddin puts it: “We’ve loved music our whole lives. And I think for EDM specifically, if you were a gamer in the ‘90s you automatically grow to love that genre as it was everywhere. We feel confident this is exactly the type of experience those types of players will enjoy.”


Disclosure a copy of No Straight Roads was supplied by Sold Out

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