ROAD NOT TAKEN

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - FUN & GAMES - JOE GRIF­FIN

★★★★

7 cert, Spry Fox, PS4 (also PC) Re­mem­ber the old rid­dle in­volv­ing the fox, the grain, the chicken and the boat? You can only move one item at a time, but you can’t leave the chicken with the grain or the fox with the chicken. Now imag­ine end­less rid­dles along the same lines , mov­ing items to the right place so they’ll work in har­mony while avoid­ing con­flict­ing pair­ings. That forms much of the game­play for Road Not Taken.

You play a silent, hooded trav­eller who re­turns to a vil­lage ev­ery year. Chil­dren are lost and you must find them in an en­chanted for­est with its own set of rules. For in­stance, some paths will only open when cer­tain items are clumped to­gether. Don’t put a wolf near a deer, though, and watch your en­ergy lev­els when mov­ing rocks.

The screen is grid­ded, and it looks like a cross be­tween a chil­dren’s book il­lus­tra­tion, a top-down ad­ven­ture such as the orig­i­nal Zelda, and the game ilomilo. As well as the puz­zle-based play, you talk to the vil­lagers be­tween quests, mak­ing “ac­quain­tances” who even­tu­ally up­grade to “friends”, who in turn might give you help­ful items and much-needed power-ups. Who would have thought that sav­ing chil­dren would be so grat­i­fy­ing?

Even so, there’s a sting in the tail, as you some­times have to cut your losses and quit the mis­sion so you won’t die, leav­ing the quest in­com­plete and chil­dren aban­doned. So these chal­leng­ing puzzles are laced with harsh moral dilem­mas.

The Robert Frost poem that in­spired the ti­tle is re­ferred to (both di­rectly and in­di­rectly), and there’s nice use of lan­guage through­out: A kit­ten, for ex­am­ple, is de­scribed as “an adorable balm for this mor­tal coil”. spryfox.com

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