Who knew that throwing trees could save children?
But it can, in Spry Fox’s newest game The Road Not Taken.
The Road Not Taken is a game by the previously mentioned Seattle, WA game company – the same one that made Triple Town. Although it has more of a story line, this game is very similar to Triple Town at it’s core in it’s match-3 style combination-based gameplay.
The story follows a mysterious traveller who comes through a town. The town’s livelihood is through berry picking and they do so with their children. However, their children are getting lost out in the woods, and it is my job as the mysterious traveler to venture into the woods and reunite them with their parents.
The story is given to you in little bits. A small cut scene here, a lost child’s soul there, a quote from a ghost or a villager. It’s pieced together in a way that doesn’t overwhelm the simplistic puzzle gameplay – but it leaves you wanting more each time.
Those who have played Triple Town will recognize The Road Not Taken’s match-3 like quality. The gameplay board is made up of squares that you can travel on. Each square is a path to travel on or contains an item you can move or interact with in some way. To get through each board, the player has to combine items into groups of 3 or more to move them, open doors and get to children to return them to their parents.
Much like Triple Town, players can combine various objects to make new ones by picking them up, throwing them and lumping them together on the gameboard. Throughout the game, as you discover new combos or, “secrets”, they go into your logbook for later reference.
I have to admit, I was initially fooled by this games cutesy exterior and seemingly simple goal of finding children lost in the woods. Not only does the game have a little bit of a darker element with ominous music and the ghost of lost children, the gameplay is surprisingly more punishing than I expected.
To begin, at the beginning of every year (you go through several “years” searching for all the children which serve as each level), you start out with a certain amount of energy. Every time you pick up and carry an object, you lose energy. This means you can’t just go through carrying a tree to where you need to. Instead, you have to strategically throw it across the board as much as possible to avoid expending your energy meter.
Not all items are static objects either. There are living creatures that get in your way (including some familiar looking bears). In addition to that there are several forms of “ghosts”. These ghosts are different from the lost children souls you encounter on occasion. These ghost can be picked up and thrown as well as combined to make objects that are better or worse. At best you make a log out of one of them. At worst you get “doom” ghosts, who follow you around the board, attempting to trap you into a corner.
Walking into a ghost will make the character insecure about his past, whispering mean things to him as they drain all his energy. And if you lose all your energy – you start back at the beginning of the year, having to play the level all over again.
This combined with various animals that will “bite” you if you stand in the square next to them, I found the game very difficult to get through each level without having to start over several times, even with the most careful of planning.
You can help yourself a bit before venturing out into the forest to find the children. You can interact with the villagers by bumping into them (seems rude, but effective). If you chat with them, sometimes you can trade items to try and make a friend. If you’ve made a friend, they often times will give you something to help you on your journey.
You can also teleport back to the first game board to get back into the city at anytime during gameplay to get out of a jam. However if you go into the village, you will have to start the level over again.
As you well know, dear reader, I’m a sucker for a good game soundtrack and this game did a great job. It’s atmospheric and ominous, playing well into this idea of lost souls and troubled past they allude to in the gameplay. The audio producer of the game, Daniel Simmons, posted a blog post on the Playstation blog about how many of the sounds were made, showing how much care was taken.
The artwork in this game was a real shining point here. It was whimsical, having a very hand drawn feel.
In the end this was a fun little game to play. I played on the PS4, although it is also available on the Vita, which I think I would have prefered to play it on. Even better, I think this game would make a great candidate for a iPad/mobile.
Because of it’s simplistic gameplay, I think I would have prefered it on a more casual format, more than sitting front and center by playing it on my console.
That being said, if you’re looking for a challenging puzzle game with great artwork and music, make sure to pick up The Road Not Taken, available now.