“Every year we lose a few.” The tone of Road Not Taken is an odd one. Cartoony, beautifully hand drawn visuals with a simplex yet complex puzzle game sit over top a very dark themed environment.
You are a Ranger. Your goal is to help a village rescue their children; every year they go out hunting for berries in the winter and get caught in a blizzard. You must rescue them and return them to their families. If you get them all, you’re rewarded and continue to keep rescuing every year for 15 years. If you only manage a few, well you still get a reward but the families will be upset at their lost loved ones and the town will “have to grow some more”.
The controls are dead simple. X picks up an object, and X throws it. You pick up stuff you are next to, and throw them up/down/left or right depending which side you pick them up from. If you’re next to two things, you pick them both up. This includes children, which you need to throw to parents.
That’s pretty much it. What complicates matters, and takes a queue from Spry Fox’s iOS hit Triple Town is that to progress through the woods to find the children you encounter lots of different types of objects, some which need to be placed next to each other to unlock doors. You can carry items but this costs energy (use too much, you die) and if there’s a blizzard, every move costs energy. Added complexity comes from putting certain items next to each other to make new ones. Two logs makes a fire, which means you can carry items without using energy. Throw a sleepy raccoon, it attacks you and costs energy. Throw a raccoon at a fire and it makes a nice soup, giving energy back. And so it goes on…
There are 200 recipes to discover, some of which don’t just make new objects but potions to help you, such as ones to be able to lift heavier objects. Over time you can also discover coins, rice and berries to give to people in town. In exchange they can give you other items or share secrets as you become more in favour with them – which is useful although each person has their own preference to gifts. You can also unlock charms which can influence your play (start with extra energy for example) or ban certain items from appearing (such as moving flowers) but you can only ban a few.
There’s a lot of hidden depth to this simple puzzler, which is a lot of its appeal but also its barrier to entry. It quickly can become overwhelming and persistence with an understanding of the recipes is needed to drive forward past the first few years. As you get deeper into it, so does the game. With more types of objects and characters appearing, your persistence is rewarded – but lose all your energy and it’s back to year one, a new ranger and the roguelike element requires you to draw on your knowledge to better your progress.
So, a beautiful looking puzzle game, with hidden depth and a persistence needed to eek out all of the goodness. Each ‘game’ is probably a bit long for a roguelike type, and the simplicity meets complexity won’t be for everyone, but it’s a neat little experience and warrants a bit of time to explore it.
Reviewed on PS4