Imagine a brilliant, modern, mobile puzzle game combined with the artful intrigue of an indie console title. That is Road Not Taken. Spry Fox created the very successful mobile game Triple Town, and it seems like that was just a testing phase for their ideas in preparation for the bigger idea of Road Not Taken. Having played both, I would say that this game is a very well done rogue-like puzzle game with a lot of interesting story mixed in.
I usually get frustrated and quit playing puzzle games pretty quickly (I know, I dislike that quality about myself as well), but despite a constant testing of my puzzle skills, I actually kept going with Road Not Taken, just like I kept playing Triple Town. I was pleasantly surprised at my desire to keep playing, and the things that kept me starting another “life” over again. The things that kept me coming back were the intrigue of the quirky story, and the “secrets” you find you each time you play. The story is given to you in fascinating snippets and hints by talking to characters and building up relationships with them each year, which is essentially the division between levels.. This gives you items and perks as your relationships grow stronger, and if you shower too many people with too many favors you may run into jealousy which can hurt some relationships. You can even get married if you play your cards right. The banter with characters is more than just clicking through to get rewards, it is an interesting way to get a feel for the story and mystery of the game.
The design of this game is charming, as well. The cute style of digital painting is well-suited for a puzzle game, and it contrasts with the dark mystery of the story. The sound design is just as pleasing as the visuals, with much thought put into the sounds each one of the various items can make. I especially liked the controls for the game, besides just how to solve puzzles. Okay, I’ll admit, I just really enjoyed bumping into everything to see what would happen. But the way you have to solve the puzzles was pretty neat too.
You begin each year by agreeing to go look for the lost children who pick berries, which is the source of the town’s livelihood, in the forest. You have to figure out how to work with the random things that appear in each “room” of the forest, in order to reunite the children to the parents. You only have a limited supply of energy that carries over to each year, so you have to be tactful in how you move things around. Carrying things usually takes up one energy for every move you make, but can take up more or less depending on the type of object you are carrying. You can overcome this use of energy by throwing things in the direction you are facing. You can’t change directions after you pick something up, however. So it’s basically like a really complicated version of those photo scramble puzzles where you can only move one piece at a time, mixed with survival and roguelike games, like Don’t Starve.
You have to use the things in the puzzle and combine them in ways undisclosed until you discover them (ex: 3x evil spirit=axe). These “secrets” you unearth are the only things that carry over if you die and start another life, which makes sense because you could just remember them all yourself, but you get a handy book that remembers them for you. Each time you save the children, the mayor of the town gives you a reward. You can use this reward to favor a character in the town or forest, or you can use it to give to the forest shrine. This enables you to come back after you die, except you must sacrifice any of the helpful items any character has given you. It’s a tough decision, but one I usually made because this game gets pretty challenging. Every time I played I discovered new surprising things that would happen to me, like a tree suddenly turning evil and following me until it killed me. Throughout the life of the game, enough entertainment, intrigue, and puzzling happens that if you die you want to start again.
Some people might not enjoy this game simply because it is so difficult to do well and survive, and it is a rogue-like affair. Actually, when you think about it, those are really the only negatives to this game, but I don’t give those cons as much weight at all now that I’ve played it. It’s really fun to try my hand at the puzzles, always striving to go just a little bit further and find out just a little bit more of the story. Spry Fox did a good job in crafting a little game full of intrigue and mystery that drives you to complete many complicated puzzles, fighting against the scares of the forest to save the little ones and see what becomes of your own future. Being difficult is actually a valuable trait for a puzzle game so it won’t get boring. The puzzles are always going to be different, and they grow and get harder with each “year”. Restarting a life if you die lets you rethink your strategy, and will give you a new experience with the forest, characters, and gameplay.
Road Not Taken proved to be a very unique game for its genre, or genres actually. The interesting marriage of what could feel like a mobile title, with the punishing difficulty and creative narrative of a console indie makes Road Not Taken a great game to have in your PS4 library. Also, in the Book of Secrets, this is the note under goat says “Goats eat flowers and then poop. Why? Because they are goats. Stop trying to change the world,” and how can you go wrong with that?
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