Road Not Taken is the newest puzzle game from relatively unknown developer Spry Fox (not to be confused with the Humongous Entertainment franchise Spy Fox). Named after Robert Frost’s poem The Road Not Taken, Spry Fox’s indie title embraces its artistic roots taken from the moniker. I went into this game not expecting to be dazzled or impressed, but Road Not Taken has definitely demanded a certain level of cognitive concentration from me.
Aesthetics (Story, Graphics, Sound)
You play as the new Ranger in town, charged with saving kids that wandered out into the wilderness from wolves, bees, raccoons, evil and benevolent spirits — basically anything that exists in the forest is a threat to you and the villagers. As you save more and more kids from danger and assure the town’s future workforce, you begin to learn of the town’s troubles and tribulations while also discovering the mysteries of the forest. The game’s story is presented in a basic premise format without a straightforward progression. It’s interesting to be sure and the atmosphere and setting definitely contributes to the wonder of the world. But the game’s connection to its namesake is limited at best, presenting a broad, vague connection to the Robert Frost poem if any at all. Characters and concepts don’t feel flushed out and many of the residents you work towards befriending are superfluous; they’re really just there for the added mechanic. It doesn’t hurt the game overall, but it doesn’t add anything either.
The visual aesthetics of the game are, however, perfect for the game’s tone. The simple, storybook style contributes to the game’s mystical, fairy-tale like presentation and draws the gamer into that older, rustic European ambiance. Comparatively, it reminds me of Theatrhythm Final Fantasy‘s art style and their 2-D storybook approach. It’s an amusing, appealing art style that fits the tone and gameplay of the title brilliantly.
Gameplay (Combat, Systems, Mechanics)
Road Not Taken is a roguelike puzzle game at its core with a few additional mechanics sprinkled here and there. The puzzles are based on a grid system with a one to one movement scheme, meaning whenever your character moves one tile, the other NPC’s on the board move accordingly based on their “personalities”. This is where Road Not Taken shines. The puzzles are deceptively challenging, asking the player to shift and throw pieces around in a very precise, planned manner if you wish to proceed. It takes calculation and cunning to bypass each room’s puzzle and by the end of the level, the sense of everything fitting together and completing the puzzle feels well-earned. On top of just pushing and passing through each tile, Road Not Taken introduces a robust combination system that gives you the tools to progress through each grid. The game is a true puzzle game, where the challenge is difficult but not cheap; with enough strategy,each room is passable without putting blame on the game for being unfair or overly daunting. However, the gameplay does get repetitive after a while, offering little beyond its core mechanics. With a little more substance, the game would be able to carry itself further without petering out a few runs in.
When you’re not traversing through the abysmal death labyrinth called the forest, the ranger spends their time roaming about the main town. In town, the player can equip gear that’ll either lessen or increase the difficulty of the puzzles which can be earned by befriending the townsfolk with gifts and whatnot. These features feel a bit tacked on as the minimum amount of attention is given to them. Extras in an already competent puzzle game again don’t detract from the overall product, but it doesn’t necessarily benefit it either. Although, there is one neat little feature I enjoyed in these extras that is a nice little nod to the roguelike genre: each time your ranger dies and comes back, there’s an option to remove their hood which ultimately reveals that each ranger is procedurally generated as well.
Road Not Taken is a charming, challenging roguelike puzzle game that offers the best of the puzzle genre: difficult obstacles that require clever maneuvering and not baseless luck. Calculating movements through each room while combining objects into tools brings a sense of creativity to the game that a lot of other puzzlers lack. However, despite the game’s brilliance in terms of design, traversing the danger-filled forest does become repetitive and tedious without the inclusion of new mechanics. The other RPG elements as well do little to boost the game’s charm and depth, but overall the game’s sense of challenge redeems it. I’d recommend this to anyone who likes a good, challenging puzzle or to anyone who enjoys roguelikes.
Final Score: 7.5 /10
Written and Edited by Tim Atwood