by Matt Porter
reviewed on PC
Dark but light
Now here’s a game with a dark concept. In Road Not Taken you play as a hooded ranger tasked with rescuing children from the dark and dangerous forest. Every year, new children go missing. You might not be able to save them all, and your rewards are meagre. But it’s your job and the only way that you can stay living in this dreary - Oh look how cute that cuddly bear is!
Yes, the story is quite dark, but in a light, fairy tale fashion, and the visuals are so cute and charming that you barely even notice. Developer Spry Fox has created something that looks nice and simple at first glance, but there’s a huge amount of depth hidden beneath the layer of adorable content. It would be easy to be fooled by the art style. It might look like a game best suited for kids, but I had a hard enough time figuring out the tricky puzzles myself. A family game perhaps, but a game to buy for your children? Perhaps not unless they are a child prodigy.
Essentially, Road Not Taken is a puzzle game with some rogue-like elements. Each “year” starts in the town. You can talk to the residents that wander the streets, and gain their affection by handing out gifts. Some prefer money, others prefer rice, and some might like the cuddly embrace of a bunny rabbit. It is up to you to figure out who wants what. If they like you enough they will grant you some secret, or an item for you to use out in the forest, which is where the real gameplay begins.
The forest is a randomly generated series of areas which are each split up into a 6x8 grid. A square might be inhabited by any one of a great number of types of flora and fauna. Your job is to find children who are lost in the far reaches of the forest, and either guide them back to the mayor who waits at the entrance, or find them a parent out in the forest who will take them back home. However, your progress is gated by rocks which only lower if certain conditions are met in the current area. A simple example would be to put three rocks together. How, you ask? Magic of course!
Your ranger has a magical staff which allows you to pick up objects. Standing on a square of the grid and hitting a button picks up every item on the adjacent squares, if there’s anything there. Pressing the button again hurls them off in a straight line as far as they can go towards the edge of the grid. If you have an object held, you can move it around with you, but at the cost of energy. Energy can be replenished by eating food, but if you run out, you will die. This will send you back in progress to the last time you made an offering to a shrine. It all sounds quite complicated, and the game isn’t great at explaining things to you, so how it expects me to explain it in a review, I don’t know.
Lots of combinations
So, you pick things up, and throw them around until they are next to like-objects, and then the door opens to the next area. Got it? Well it’s not that simple. Say you are holding an object that is to the east of you. If there is an object to the north-east, you won’t be able to move north while still holding it.
Oozing with charm, decent original puzzle mechanics.
Random spikes in difficulty, some poor user interface design choices.