The great thing about Indie games is that despite many being part of the same genre they rarely fall into the trap of being identikit games. The same goes for Spry Fox’s latest release Road Not Taken.
What you have here is another Roguelike, but it does plenty different to make it a worthwhile addition to genre. Road Not Taken uses its Roguelike mechanics and adds them to a puzzle format. Anyone who has played Triple Town (we’d love a Vita release of this by the way) will have an immediate understanding of the puzzle elements here, but it isn’t a sequel to that and has more than enough differences to stand out from their iOS hit.
Instead of being a match three type mechanic as seen in Triple Town, you use the various elements around the map to open doors and rescue the lost children. The idea being that you enter an area and you may need to match a number of trees, wildlife, rocks and more to open access to another area.
How many items you need to match is indicated by a sign by each exit and the further you get the harder it may become to match the required number. In fact you may enter an area finding yourself needing to match 4 of one type of tree, but only having three available. Like in Triple Town, you can match different types of items to make new ones, or maybe you need to get the matching item from another area.
It really is a game about using your brain, figuring out the logic behind each level and how best to proceed. We are getting ahead of ourselves a little though. The main goal of the game is to work through your characters career rescuing lost children and reuniting them with their parents. You play as a Ranger who has been been given this at times seemingly impossible task.
The Roguelike elements come from your Ranger only able to take a finite number of steps whilst carrying children or items. Each step you take whilst carrying something will take one point from your health, get to zero and it is game over. There are way around this of course, as you can throw items away from your body saving your precious health.
Yet it isn’t always that easy, aside from basic items that need matching, there are also deadly spirits, wild animals and such that can cause you harm, also taking away from your health. So again, you enter a new year, a new area and you really have to consider your actions before making moves.
You are given a target number of children that you need to save and whilst it is possible to finish a level by reaching half the target number, you are often given one hell of a guilt trip by the mayor of the town. As you get further into the game the decision as to whether you want to risk carrying on to rescue more children, or sacrifice them to the harsh winter becomes harder to make.
At the end of each year you are rewarded with extra health, which equates to 40% of your remaining health from the previous year being added as a bonus. So finishing year 5 with 2 health remaining, won’t see you have very much to start year 6, thus making the task nigh on impossible.
However, you can use items you have earned as rewards to share with the town’s inhabitants to get yet more bonuses, such as extra health, or items that might make it easier to reunite children with their mothers, or even stop evil spirits from appearing until later in the level. It is a fantastic structure that again requires you to really think about your approach every time you enter a new level.
With the levels being procedurally generated it isn’t a case of learning a layout, attempting it may times then getting through with ease. In fact this is where the game sets itself apart from other Roguelikes, as instead of keeping upgrades and bonuses from a previous playthrough, you lose everything.
Whilst this may seem harsh as first, it works really well as there is one thing you keep from previous plays…Knowledge. If you bump into things in the game, their details will be added to your secrets diary, which is the only thing that remains after death. These secrets may tell you the way a certain creature moves, or what happens if you interact with it. It may tell you what happens when you throw a certain item into a fire, or how to create fire and so much more.
It is this knowledge that allows you to progress further each time, knowing that you can make an axe by matching certain items, then use that axe to turn a tree into a log, then matching that log with another log to create a fire, will see you get through levels, whilst not with ease, but maybe without losing as much health.
Road Not Taken isn’t a game that hits you instantly, it isn’t going to give you a great feeling from the start. Instead it is a slow burner, starting off a little frustrating as you know next to nothing, however growing on you the more you play. The slow paced nature of the game can be a little confusing too, as it rewards those who will take a step back and consider their actions and rewards planning ahead. It is possible to spend a lot of time moving back and forth between areas, working out the best way to approach another area that seems impossible from a first glance.
It is a game that looks beautiful too, the art style is very cartoony but it works. Everything on the screen is clear and there is no confusion over where you need to go and what you need to do and the sense of achievement you have when you progress further than you did before is fantastic.
Road Not Taken is a game that deserves a place in your collection as despite taking cues from two popular genres, there is nothing like it on consoles. It is a game that will take over your time, but one that you can also just pick up and play between other games. Spry Fox have a spectacular hit on their hands.