wed 21/10/2020

Road Not Taken | reviews, news & interviews

Road Not Taken

Road Not Taken

It looks cute, but this puzzle game has a chilling heart…

'Road Not Taken': Rescue the children, or avoid looking their parents in the eyes…

Don't believe the cute visual style – Road Not Taken is a cold, dark and punishingly cruel puzzle game. It will challenge mentally and emotionally too.

You, an unnamed ranger, walk out into the snowy forest each winter to rescue children lost while picking berries. For 15 years/levels you must return these shivering bundles to their parents or suffer their grief.

Don't believe the cute visual style – Road Not Taken is a cold, dark and punishingly cruel puzzle game. It will challenge mentally and emotionally too.

You, an unnamed ranger, walk out into the snowy forest each winter to rescue children lost while picking berries. For 15 years/levels you must return these shivering bundles to their parents or suffer their grief.

In the forest you dodge creatures and pick up and throw objects – trees, boulders, children etc – in a grid. Initially, Road Not Taken feels like a fairly simple puzzle. In order to reach a parent, you might need to lob a log one way, sidestep an angry bee, then throw a child to their mum's arms. Quickly, though, the game ratchets up the complexity of puzzles and its emotional heft.

Road Not Taken roguelike puzzle gameThe first and best additional layer is your own energy supplies. Lifting anything costs you energy; carrying something costs more; enemy attacks reduce energy also. As the game adds more objects into the forest and more children each year, it becomes a serious puzzle trying to work out how to move around each tableau without expending much vital energy.

Energy is truly vital. Each child you rescue boosts your energy. And you get nearly half again of your remaining energy stocks at the end of each level. Preserving energy, while rescuing children, almost immediately becomes a delicate balance of risk and reward. As the years tick by, you soon get to the point where it's nigh-on impossible to rescue all of the children with the energy stocks you have.

Now the town starts to sour on you – disappointed you aren't doing your job well enough. You can drop below half the children rescued once. But once only, and the Mayor refers to that as the "bad year". Fail twice and you have to start all over again.

Road Not Taken roguelike puzzle gameThe result is a game that sends shivers down the spine – you don't want to fail, but chances are you are will, slowly, eking it out to make it to the 15th level if you're good enough, aware of the children gone, the grieving parents increasingly cluttering the town.

If Road Not Taken had left it there, it would be spectacular. Sadly, it adds several extra unnecessary layers on top. You can curry favour with townsfolk for information and gifts through a rather opaque and arbitrary-seeming system; you can use charms they give you to ease difficulty levels; and by picking up and throwing items at each other, you can combine them to create new items.

This last addition means a lot of delving in your book of "secrets" for item combinations to help you out. But checking combinations is fiddly, and the price of experimentation too steep in terms of energy. The result frustrates and flattens the emotional impact you'd otherwise feel. A shame, as the underlying game is brilliant.

You don't want to fail, but chances are you are will, slowly...

rating

Editor Rating: 
4
Average: 4 (1 vote)

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