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Review: Road Not Taken – charming puzzle adventure

An atmospheric turn-based puzzler that presents a different experience each playthrough

Price: $4.99/£3.99
Version: 1.0.2
Size: 144 MB
Platform: iPhone/iPad
Developer: Spry Fox

Road Not Taken is a unique, challenging adventure game from the makers of Alphabear and Bushido Bear in which every decision has repercussions. As a kind of magical park ranger, you play through fifteen years in a small, snowy town that doesn’t seem to look after its children very well. Year after year, you’re sent off into the forest to save as many lost kids as you can amidst a puzzling world of flora and fauna.

Each level harbors a number of scared children and worried parents – your job is to reunite as many as you can in each stage, and not to feel too guilty if you fail to protect them all. It’s a little weird that the kids don’t seem to care which parent they’re given back to, but in the bizarre world of Road Not Taken that’s the least of our worries. The town mayor is nothing if not pragmatic, content so long as you rescue at least half the children in a given stage. Anything less counts as failure, while anything more warrants additional rewards (money exists in this world, but you’re mainly paid in rice and berries).


It starts easy… pick up those two kids and return them to the parents

Those payments can be used to butter up the local townsfolk, making friends and trading useful gifts in the time between your annual forest trips. You can visit your house to pick two game-altering charms from your collection of trinkets, and while the small village isn’t a massive part of the overall experience it’s certainly a welcome breather between the more abstract core of the game, grounding the story and helping you to care about the job you’re doing. Chatting with the locals definitely reaps benefits further down the line, and as you progress further some of the locals can change the difficulty to tweak the risk/reward balance in favor of tougher players.


Before long there are a lot more things to interact with

As for the main gameplay, it’s set in a maze of adjacent forest clearings, each made up of a 6×8 grid. Moving one square at a time, you can use your magical staff to pick up objects, animals and people, which can then be thrown in a straight line. Most of the game involves organizing your surroundings into a particular order – but like chess, not every piece plays by the same rules. Statues get stuck to other objects, flowers blossom when given enough space and teleporting ninja bears generally just get in the way. You have a finite amount of energy, which is expended by carrying heavy objects or getting too close to unfriendly critters.


Like the developer’s other games, bears feature heavily

Much of the game’s charm is in discovering how each of the objects and characters react to your moves, and to one another. Bumping into a new discovery will make an entry in your journal, which also keeps track of anything remarkable that happens when its combined with other things. For example, you’ll soon learn that combining certain forest spirits will create an axe, which can be combined with a tree to make firewood, which can combine with more firewood to start a fire.


Road Not Taken rewards curiosity and experimentation

You need a particular kind of curious, analytical perseverance to excel at Road Not Taken, which has countless hours of fun in store for the right kind of person but may frustrate and confuse more casual players. We’d give this one a cautious recommendation.