Dr. David's Indie Spotlight: Road Not Taken impressions

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Road Not Taken isn't trying to be a traditional roguelike. Rather than raining hell down on you and forcing you to rely on quick action gameplay or tough platforming, this game from developer Spry Fox will challenge you with its puzzles. Based on the Robert Frost poem of the same name, Road Not Taken drops you in the middle of a beautiful world that's filled with folks who need your help — and they need it desperately. It's up to you to rise to the occasion, even though doing so could very well cost you your life.

The puzzles in Road Not Taken rely on picking items up and moving them around an isometric grid. During my time with the game, for example, I helped out certain characters who were separated from their children. I walked around the grid, found the children, and returned them to their parents to create multiple wonderful reunions.

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As simple as this may sound, there are some definite intricacies to be found in the design of Road Not Taken. For starters, you have a health meter that depletes with every step you take. This means you have to think before you act and really study the levels to find the fastest return route possible. The sequence I played wasn't too demanding, but Spry Fox gave me a peak of some of the later stages, and things get really tough the deeper into the game you get.

Though at first all you need to deal with are rocks and trees blocking your path, enemies appear later on, adding another layer to the roguelike aspect of Road Not Taken. For example, raccoons start out pretty docile, but once you interact with them, they'll become aggressive and begin to hunt you down. If they manage to attack you, that's another point taken off your health meter, lowering your chances of survival much more significantly than if you were just wandering around the grid.

Like a lot of roguelikes, Road Not Taken features some gameplay mechanics that are staples of this style of game. Levels are procedurally generated, and they get progressively tougher as you go along. There's also a crafting system, though details about this particular feature are scarce at the moment. Once you're dead, it's back to the start, so you'll take on a whole new set of levels. I was told by Spry Fox that resurrection shrines will allow you to restart where you left off at the cost of the essential items you've collected up to that point.

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Despite the fact that the main levels in Road Not Taken are procedurally generated, the same isn't true about the game's boss battles. These encounters are custom-built, and each one is a dedicated bout against a major enemy. The boss battle I checked out had a witch moving around the level, capturing children, and cooking them up for dinner. Dark much? Well, yeah, but it adds a sense of urgency to actually saving those little buggers.

Speaking of which, Road Not Taken will reward players who manage to save all of the children in the game. Think about it as a collect-a-thon ... except kids' lives are at stake, which is mighty grim. In any case, this is where another challenge will lie. The fact that you can get a better ending for saving every child in this already-difficult puzzler means you'll have your hands full if you want to see everything it has to offer.

Despite its pretty graphics — and this is quite a pretty game — Road Not Taken is not as easy on your brain as it is on your eyes. The game starts out in inviting fashion, tasking you with completing simple puzzles. As things pick up, the game sheds its welcoming coat to reveal a deeper, much more challenging skin. Road Not Taken isn't something you'll cruise through, but if you dig tough puzzle games, this one's got plenty of risk-and-reward gameplay to keep you busy. Watch out for it on the PlayStation 4, Vita, and PC.

Want to talk about indie games, Kirby, or cheap pizza? Follow me on Twitter @dr_davidsanchez.

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David Sanchez David Sanchez is the most honest man on the internet. You can trust him because he speaks in the third person.
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