Road Not Taken Review
If there’s one genre of gaming that has seen a considerable rise to fame in recent years, its rogue-likes. Now more than ever it seems that everybody wants a slice of the success, and titles using the term “rogue-like” – however loosely – are popping up all over the place. As someone who has always been a huge fan of the rogue-like design style, this advent of increased exposure for the genre has been nothing but bliss. Games like Risk of Rain and Rogue Legacy have taken elements of the rogue-like formula and mixed them together in strange and wonderful ways to create games that are stunning in their own right – titles that take away from the “norm” of what’s expected in a rogue-like enough that they’re not just blatant copies, but still hold on to the traditional keepsakes to sit themselves firmly within the genre. Like many of the aforementioned games, Road Not Taken straddles a similar line between the rogue-like genre – but what it combines it with is something utterly different indeed.
Spry Fox, the developers of Road Not Taken, are someone you may not necessarily have heard of before. With titles such as Triple Town and SteamBirds, their background is one steeped firmly in the world of mobile gaming. Its no surprise then, that their first foray into PC gaming is one that not only brings a lot of colour and excitement to the platform, but also provides a lot of fun that feels as though it would play absolutely perfectly on a mobile device. In Road Not Taken, you play as a lone ranger adventuring through a harsh and unrelenting forest after a brutal winter storm has turned the world upside down. The nearby village – where you eventually set up residence – rely on the forest for much of their sustainability, and because of the significant winter blizzards, many parents have lost their children while trying to forage in the elements.
Although your story begins with the mission of rescuing as many children as possible with your limited resources, the game quickly transpires to be something much more than the sum of its parts. As time moves on, you begin to realise that your decisions in Road Not Taken not only affect your character and who you become, but also the people around you and the village you call home. The storytelling is fantastic and the characters are adorable; its very easy to get attached to particular individuals very quickly and feel as though you really have a role to play in their lives.
The story is accompanied by gameplay that combines the rogue-like aspect of survival with puzzle-solving akin to that seen in early Legend of Zelda titles; the player has only a certain amount of magic that allows them to pick up objects in the environment and manipulate them in all manner of ways, and different things can exacerbate or ease the situation. For example, enter a particularly stormy part of the forest and you might find your magic drains every time you move. In other scenarios, completing certain side-goals or non-critical objectives may reward the player with a boost to their magic the next time they enter the forest.
While the approach to gameplay mechanics is unique and something I’ve not encountered in a game before or since, at times it can feel like it does little but pad out sections between the story. This is fine, because the story is an absolute winner and it will steal your heart if you give it half the chance, but realistically I feel as though Road Not Taken could’ve featured next to no puzzling at all and still be a title worthy of your time. While there are situations that will have you scratching your head, you’ll also find yourself wishing that you could just solve the puzzle so you can get back to what’s really important – a fantastic story that deserves to be in the limelight for the majority of your time spent with it.
The gameplay does its job and there are no major flaws with the design – it keeps you wanting more and more story by providing an excellent “in-between” that divides things up nicely. If you’re purchasing Road Not Taken purely on the premise of it being a rogue-like with puzzling, you still should – as at its core, the title still holds up strong amongst its peers. I can’t fault what gameplay there is, it just isn’t what sold Road Not Taken for me.
Road Not Taken is a game that builds on the rogue-like genre not just in its obvious puzzle-based mannerisms, but also in its subtle attention to storytelling and its way of emotionally moving the player. What starts as a simple adventure to save children from harm quickly becomes an adventure that spans an entire lifetime and encompasses many different places and people along the way. Although its puzzle-solving can sometimes feel askew and out of place because it puts a block on the story ever fully spreading its wings, Road Not Taken is quietly brilliant in the way it operates. It is an adventure through a beautiful land with some of the cutest characters you will ever meet in your life; a title that – whether you’re a rogue-like fan, partial to a puzzle, or just a stickler for a solid, memorable story – deserves a place in your library.