Review: Road Not Taken (PS4)

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Title: Road Not Taken
Format: PlayStation Network Download (486 MB)
Release Date: August 5, 2014
Publisher: Spry Fox
Developer: Spry Fox
Original MSRP: $14.99
ESRB Rating: E
Road Not Taken is also available on PC.
The PlayStation 4 version was used for this review.
A copy of this game was provided by the publisher for review purposes.
PS Nation Review Policy

Gameplay:
Many of the buzzwords and phrases associated with today’s indie scene can be worked into a description for Road Not Taken.  It’s a roguelike puzzler with procedurally generated environments and light RPG elements.  This unique blend of genres and gameplay features coupled with the checkerboard, grid-based movement serves to differentiate this title from its puzzle-platforming and permadeath-promising predecessors.

The story begins with our protagonist stumbling upon a quaint and inviting village after a seemingly treacherous journey through uncharted territory.  The villagers that you encounter are unequivocally hospitable as their eccentric generosity makes your avatar feel right at home.  You quickly learn that your objective is to rescue the missing children that have wandered into the forest and lost their way amidst the blinding winter storms.

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A push of the Left Analog stick or a button on the D-pad moves your character one tile in that direction and the significance of strategic movement is apparent right from the beginning.  There is no apologetic cloaking of the difficult puzzles that will define your quest and gameplay experience.  An immense level of depth is added by the two-hundred creatures, statues, and oddities that make up the procedurally generated, infinitely mysterious forest.  Shrouded in secrecy, most of these items can be bumped, moved, combined, or modified to help you navigate the forest and rescue the children.  The in-game notebook helps players keep track of everything discovered and proves to be the handiest tool at your character’s disposal.

Carrying and moving elements of the forest to clear your path comprises most of the gameplay and doing so expenses your finite energy supply.  There are also animals and other dangers that can deplete your life at a much quicker pace.  Alternatively, finding the right combinations can increase energy, thus allowing players to spend more time and moves in the forest as they figure out ways to get the children back to their parents.  You can choose to end your day and start fresh at any time and you can also teleport to the forest entrance if you’ve trapped yourself in an unsolvable position.  The number of children you’ve saved, the amount of energy you’ve used, and other factors determine your overall success.

Visuals:
The 3/4 overhead view highlights the varying scenery of the forest and the cartoony animation gives the story that fairy tale touch.  Each of the screens are still and the only movement comes from your character and the forest inhabitants.  By not using any technically taxing graphics; screen tearing, glitching, dips in frame rate, or any other visual hiccups are a rarity if not non-existent.

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Brightly colored vegetation and beautiful backdrops come to life through the sharp resolution.  Items like bees, logs, and stones mimic images seemingly taken from children’s flash cards and exaggerate defining characteristics to make such objects easily identifiable.  This caricature-esque animation accentuates the overall playable bedtime story style of this puzzler.

Audio:
The developers opted to lose the looping melodies that would normally provide the thinking music for a game like Road Not Taken.  Instead, the howls, growls, and grunts of the forest creatures blend with the whistling winds and swaying plant life, taking center stage to create a melodious mesh of pure sound effects.  The menu music is light and whimsical, befitting both the story and gameplay while easing players into the experience.  It does not however possess the earworm characteristics that cause involuntary humming long after the PS4 is powered off.

Online/Multiplayer:
This game is single player only.

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Conclusion:
Road Not Taken has joined the ranks of the limited, exclusive group of games that were free for PlayStation Plus users the day they were released.  It is definitely worth checking out for free but it isn’t a game for everyone.  Players should expect no hand holding, a ramped up difficulty, and an off-putting period of discovery which possibly hurts the accessibility of an otherwise aesthetically inviting game.  Overall, I’m glad I ended up taking this road and I thoroughly enjoyed its scenic route.

Score:
7.0

*All screenshots used in this review were provided by the publisher.

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  • Keith Dunn

    Nice! I like it but there’s so much else to play!