Game Reviewed: Road Not Taken
Date Released: August 5th, 2014
Developer: Spry Fox
Publisher: Spry Fox
Platform: [Reviewed: PC], Mac, PlayStation 4
Rated: E for Everyone
Puzzles must have that eureka moment to them, and with that, must also be satisfying in its reward. Mixing rougelike elements into a puzzle game adds interesting outcomes where no two paths are the same and the risk-reward tugs on your very morality. Do I risk my life to save another? Or do I condemn others to death to save myself? Do not let the pleasant presentation fool you, underneath lays a somber journey of lost and death.
The story centers on the exploits of our protagonist who is simply known as a ranger. After making your way to a new village, you are tasked in rescuing children who have lost their way while picking berries, which is the village’s precious commodity. As the years go by, you call the small village your home, form friendships, and can even get married. But it is within the wilderness where your true character will be tested and your decisions will impact how your story will unfold, one brutal winter at a time.
Tackling the harsh winters in the forests is one that requires careful planning and calculating. The main objective each year is to rescue a certain amount of children lost in the woods and deliver them to a parent. The Mayor accompanies you and his idea of success is rescuing only half of the children. This is where the risk-reward comes into play. Rescuing all the children will leave you in good standing with the villagers and make your heart happy. But deciding that the risk is too great will save your hide, but the villagers of the children you let die will remind you that you’re their killer.
Your health is determined by a number in the upper-right corner of the screen, this indicates how much more energy you have before you collapse to your death. Many things can reduce your energy: being attacked by animals, walking into spirits, or moving objects in the cold. To help balance the loss of energy, rescuing children and consuming food will boost your energy.
Being able to complete a level will allow you to carry over all the items that you have accumulated so far, plus an extra bit of energy for the increasingly difficult levels. Dying however, forces you to give up everything you’ve collected and start again.
Along the way, dozens of objects and creatures, such as wolves, trees, bears, foxes, statues, and witches, will change the way to tackle each area of the map. As a procedurally generated game, no two playthroughs will be exactly the same; the layout of the map and objects are guaranteed to change, meaning that you cannot solve different puzzles using the same solution twice.
Rougelike games will have players learn through trial and error – always learning new things each time you play. Figuring out the mechanics behind each object lets you tackle them later on with a more strategic mindset, already knowing what they can do and how you can solve the puzzle at hand.
What I really liked about Road Not Taken is the ability to fuse 2 or more items into one useful (or sometimes harmful) item. Discovering these combinations changed the gameplay a little bit a time and can provide new means of getting yourself out of a conundrum without giving the player a complete edge over the situation; this is how the experience keeps fresh and intriguing throughout. And the inclusion of an in-game journal that keeps track of all the secrets and combinations that you discovered is a really nice gesture from the developer.
On the surface you could say that Road Not Taken is a delightful game that is cheerful and has lots of cutesy elements to it, and it does. The game is full of hand-drawn sprites that delight all the senses, with critters and that make you go “Awwww”. The soundtrack, as small as it is, is an incredible symphony of instruments and atmosphere. Walking through the woods, you are greeted by the howling of wind and moans. And entering an area with a bonfire soothes with a melodic tune of flutes and birds chirping – a stark contrast compared to the game as a whole that I felt like I could just stop and relax while I let it play.
But it’s the themes that paint Road Not Taken in a darker shade than one would have previously realized. Even when talking with the townsfolk, touches of vanity, greed, and jealousy can be seen. The pleasantness of the world’s design contradicts greatly with the dreary mood that surrounds it. It’s an unsettlingly strange quirk, but that’s the extra layer of charm that the game possesses.
Road Not Taken is a puzzle game unlike any I have played before. While you get that eureka moment when solving the games many puzzles, the reward lacks. After completing the game you begin the game all over again, and honestly, there is no real reason to go a second time. Once you’re done discovering all you need to complete the game, there’s nothing left to keep you coming back for more. Regardless of that, the art, the increasing challenge, the music, and even its saddening theme resonate together to create a unique experience. I thoroughly enjoyed my time with Road Not Taken and I would definitely recommend playing through at least once.
Overall Rating 3.75/5