Roguelikes have increased in popularity over the past few years and it’s easy to see why. Many complain that modern games don’t offer enough replay value and that ‘tapped-on’ multiplayer modes often put you off extending your experience in some games. With roguelike titles such as Rogue Legacy, Eldritch and The Binding of Isaac pushing the boundaries, Spry Fox have released their own roguelike in the form of the charming and intricate Road Not Taken.

Learning its trade from Triple Town, Spry Fox’s first release, Road Not Taken sees you playing the role of a ranger who is set a yearly task of reuniting lost children with their mothers, while dealing with all the dangers in surrounding areas. While the premise of the game might not sound like much, the puzzle aspect constantly feels fresh and it’s all thanks to the roguelike mechanic.

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You are constantly met with the challenge of rescuing a set number of children and reuniting them with their mothers who are somewhere in the vicinity. You will often find objects obstructing your goal and you have to move those objects around in order move the child back to their mother. You are able to move up to 4 things which surround the ranger to the north, south, east and west, meaning that you have to be extra careful when planning which move to make. This can be frustrating at times, like most puzzle games, as you often come up against various conditions which can damage you and even send you back to the very beginning, but it doesn’t really explain a huge amount unless you are willing to sift through menu screens.

Of these aforementioned hazards, you often come up against blizzards which reduce your flame (health) by one point each time you move. You can come up against physical enemies which will reduce your flame such as warthogs, who charge at you, ghosts and angry bees who are hell-bent on revenge if you take their honey. The way in which the enemies react are very smart and sees you constantly trying to outsmart them. With the constant change in environment, no game feels the same and, no matter if you play games a lot or occasionally, you will be challenged with Road Not Taken.

To combat the loss of flame, you are able to combine various items throughout each area to create health, repellents and fire. This adds another dimension to the puzzles as you have to rescue at least half of the lost children in order to progress, but you may need a helping hand if you wish to throw caution to the wind and try to save all children. One interesting combination is that once you create fire, by mixing 2 pieces of wood together, you disable the attacks from ghosts. If you’re ever in need of wood, you can use an axe to chop down a tree to provide you with everything you need in order to progress. As you make your way through the 14 levels, the game becomes more intense and frustrating as early as the second level.

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While it does take numerous tries to learn how the game works, it is very rewarding once you collect all of the children and see them reunited with their mothers. There is great satisfaction in knowing that you persevered with the task at hand and followed it through. Once you have completed a level, you will be greeted with a short cutscene where you learn a little more about the lead character and why they he has been set with this task. Though as much as the roguelike mechanic offers the player variety and a fresh experience each time, it definitely not without its drawbacks.

The difficulty of the game, especially early on, can take some time to fully understand, but it is very rewarding. One aspect which I found frustrating was the constant return to the very start where the exact same dialogue was executed, time and time again. At first it makes sense as it encourages you to do better, but after you’ve seen it a few times it’s almost as if the game is toying with you, as you find yourself constantly back at the opening screen. As you steadily progress and hit the wall, you find yourself having the same conversations and unlocking the same rewards time after time. As much as roguelikes offer great replay value and overall variety, the long trip back to the start is made even longer with the amount of repetition which is involved at the very start.

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The game is very pretty to look at and revels in a beautiful colour scheme and fine character design. The environments look as though they have been plucked straight from a dream and it greatly benefits the tone of the game. While you don’t really know a lot about the game in terms of story and what everything means, you are made to care for these children that you are rescuing and the ideas are more than suitable for the art style. As much as the visual aspect of Road Not Taken is powerful, the audio side of the game isn’t great. While it is common for games to adopt a narrative silence and stick to text, it doesn’t work as well as it could in Road Not Taken. It feels as though the game suffers from it missing voice narration and a true musical score. While there is a subtle melody playing as you makes your way through a level, it’s all too subtle and needs a bit of variety to help keep your immersed.

Road Not Taken is a charming and well thought out puzzle game. While many may not see it right through to the end, it does force you to think on the spot with its ever changing puzzles and evokes a great feeling when you fully complete a level. In order to progress through this game, you will have to give it time, so that you can learn about every different item within the maps as it can be overwhelming to begin with. With the game being free on PlayStation Plus right now, I’d definitely suggest it’s worth downloading as everyone can take something positive from this game and may just be a road worth taking.



Author

Simon Marshall