From the onset, I was hooked on the fairy tale art design that brings Road Not Taken's world to life. Spry Fox delivers a colorful and imaginative world brimming with creatures and challenges. As you progress through the first few hours of the game, you soon realize that this fairy tale is of a grim sort.
The story opens with finding out what you can do to help a town from a horrific blizzard that comes every year and carries children away. The mayor and citizens of this small town look to you as their savior, putting the responsibility of finding and saving them on your shoulders for 15 years. The first year or two fly by without a problem, but that is when the game decides to crank up the difficulty.
Each year is a level where you must save half of the kids lost in the forest. The levels play out as a grid-based puzzle, think checkerboard tiles, that contain a variety of different objects. These objects can be helpful, with apples that restore stamina, and harmful, such as raccoons or wolves that deplete stamina. Trees and rocks can be moved aside to open additional paths or combined to unlock other areas of the level. Seems easy enough, but carrying objects depletes stamina and no stamina means no continuing.
You are able to toss objects in order to conserve your energy, but sometimes you cannot get unblocked if stuck with carrying two or more objects. Thus, you are forced to carry a tree or attack a ‘hazard,’ like a beehive, only to be faced with less stamina or an angry bee. I found that deer and rabbits run from you, which makes the task of collecting them to open another zone or spawn an item even more frustrating.
The locals will offer to help before each year, but you will have to trade something they want in return for a in-game bonus or an object to help you until retirement. You will soon pick up on who prefers blueberries and likes rice, and as necessary as this is to progress through ever harder years of work, the practice is tedious. There are rewards given by the locals after completing a year of work. Special items can stop creatures from appearing or offer more health. These can really come in handy. However, you will have to sacrifice your inventory items, some of which are very helpful, in order to save the game. You may not want to do this, but it is necessary to prevent permadeath and forced to start at the beginning.
Road Not Taken seems dead set at giving you a challenging puzzle to decipher and has no issue with increasing the difficulty early on. You have to know what moves to make before you make them, or you will fall to the bitter cold. The game is put together quite well, and you can tell the mechanics took time to fine tune. I feel like leaving out a typical save option and adding layers of difficulty in parts that helped the game become easier to manage, hindered the game from being great. As good as this fairy tale themed game seemed to be, Road Not Taken didn't feel quite right.