After seeing Road Not Taken back in May, I thought that it’d be an interesting puzzle game. When I sat down and played it though, I realized that Road Not Taken is more than just a puzzle game about saving kids. It makes you question the value of persistence and the choice to give up, and it’s one of the most difficult games I’ve ever played.
The core of Spry Fox‘s game is a puzzle game where you have to manipulate objects in a grid-based map. While the solution of puzzles may exist on one map, there are many others that require you to throw objects onto a different map. The various objects that you interact with include a lot of plants and animals, as well as things like ice or immovable stone pillars.
Beyond combining objects to open “doors” or avoiding the various horribly aggressive animals or ghosts, your goal is to save the children and reunite them with their parents. That is ultimately the goal of each year you spend in Road Not Taken. The game takes place over 15 years with one attempt marked as one year.
It may not seem like a lot of time, but play the game and see if you can get that far. Since levels are randomly generated, your experience will change each time you play it.
But why does Road Not Taken make me feel like a horrible person?
It’s because I couldn’t save all the children. Whenever I missed saving a child, I felt sad. Some puzzles were too elaborate for me to grab the kid and throw them to their parents. The first two years of Road Not Taken aren’t particularly challenging, but at year four and on, Road Not Taken is unforgiving.
Since the game makes you live with decisions you make, like accidentally throwing something in the wrong place or capturing you in a corner, each move has to be carefully calculated. The grid of each map is really important to understand, along with the different objects in each level. Your essential guidebook should be referenced all the time.
I played through Road Not Taken (meaning I failed) a lot. The number of children I saved shrunk as each year progressed, and I felt bad about it. I felt like I should be able to save every single one. The biggest realization is that I could have saved them, if I thought about how to complete a level before jumping right into it.
It made me feel horrible. I shouldn’t care about the nameless kids in the game, but seeing the mothers crying and the kids curled up in little balls waiting for rescue or death is hard to watch.
But that’s the strength of Road Not Taken. It’s not easy, but it gives you all the tools you need to solve each level. Since levels are procedurally generated, you’re never going to be able to blast through levels because you’ve already solved them. Road Not Taken stresses patience over speed. With the seemingly infinite amount of variables the game has, you’re never going to ever really “win,” but instead live out the 15 years the game offers.
Perfectionists will probably sink hundreds of hours into Road Not Taken, finding strategies for different objects. Personally, I’ll be trying to get to year ten as a milestone. I don’t know if I’ll ever actually finish 15 years, develop all the relationships possible, or not curse at my TV while I play the game. But I will try to save as many kids as I can.
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