This is one of those games that gives you two quick consecutive reactions. This is so easy, shortly followed by oh crap, no it’s not. Road Not Taken is a fun puzzler that sees you as a town ranger rescuing lost children from the freezing wilderness and returning them to their parents. In your way are a variety of obstacles (some of which bite) and you only have a limited amount of energy. Move the objects, find the children, fling them at the nearest parent. Now, I’m a simple-minded person, but even the sharpest of you are about to run into a bunch of trouble. Many objects and creatures will combine to form something else to either help or hinder you and some have to be stacked against each other to trigger the way forward. You will chase and be chased, and those damn kids will be in the most awkward spots imaginable. I would use the word head-scratcher, but after chasing two deer around my forty-seven-incher at gone midnight last night, I would call it a tear-your-skull-open-brain-scratcher. “Am I going to die?” one of the children asked. Quite possibly. Chin up.
It’s very easy to get cocky when you start out with a high amount of energy, but with it depleting every time you move while carrying something or a bee decides to get busy with its stinger, your energy will drop like a seagull’s innards. Do mind the angry raccoons. They look friendly at first but they’ll soon have you uttering words not suitable for small ears. And if you accidentally stack together the wrong combination of creatures and conjure, say, a devil rabbit or an evil black spirit, you’re pretty much a goner. If you do run out of energy before rescuing all the lost children, you can escape by teleporting back to the town mayor, but if you haven’t rescued at least half the kiddies, he won’t look kindly upon you. Rightly so, you selfish ratbag.
Road Not Taken is certainly damn cute, and alongside the relentless search for children who seem to refuse to learn any sense of direction, you also get to mingle with the townsfolk. After your first year in employment as the town ranger you get a house, a cat and your very own book of poetry (It’s almost like they made this game for me). Commune with the neighbours and they’ll tell you secrets and give you charms to help. As the years pass and you get closer to retirement, you can build relationships with the locals. I’m currently trying to schmooze a handsome young man with yearly offerings of rice in the hope that he’ll fall in love, marry me and live happily ever after. Sucker, I just want someone to feed the cat.
Graphically, Road Not Taken is a good-looking game, simple in design, and the controls can be picked up in seconds. The sound effects are a really nice contrast to the cutesy graphics – winter winds, howling wolves and the gentle sobs of the sweet little lost children all help to generate a bitter-sweet and melancholy atmosphere.
Lastly, those of us who have trophies instead of eyeballs will be pleased with a nice little handful that are easy enough to obtain accidentally and a few that will require some graft and more than one play through. None of the trophies seem completely unobtainable, so that should keep the completionists among you quietly satisfied for a reasonable amount of time.
Lots of fun and weirdly relaxing. You’ll need your thinking slippers on, though. The life of a ranger is a challenging one!
S J Hollis Rating: 7/10