Road Not Taken: The Kotaku Review

Yes, it's named after the Robert Frost poem. No, it's not clear why. The lovely new game from development studio Spry Fox is full of mysteries, most of them with gameplay consequences.

It's basically a game about a person who lives in a village, makes friends and then heads out into the wilderness year after year to reunite lost children with their mothers.

It's basically a roguelike, a dire one-move-per-turn game played on a grid, designed for you to step carefully and not fail twice, lest you have to start the game over.

Road Not Taken: The Kotaku Review

It's basically a puzzle game, one that puts your hero on one square on a six-by-eight grid and allows you to do just a few things: 1) move up/down/left/right, 2) pick up almost anything that's adjacent to you... 3) and if you picked up anything then either hurl it as far as it'll go in a straight line or carry it with the cost of one digit of life energy for every step you take until you put it down. The things you'll carry are logs and goats and trees and different-colored spirits. You'll hurl children and ladies to save them.

Crucially, you'll come across some 200 things in Road Not Taken's game world and you'll learn that many, many of them can be crafted into other things. There are hidden recipes, each waiting to be discovered. Three orange spirits smushed together make an axe. An axe hurled at a tree makes a log. Two logs make a fire. Throw a pig at the fire. See what happens. If something useful occurs, you'll get an update in your logbook. Throw a child at the fire—really!—and they'll become a precocious child (note: not realistic), and they'll now follow you around wherever you go.

Road Not Taken: The Kotaku Review

The game is a successful brew of disparate ingredients: the fairy tale adventure, the rougelike, the deep, deep puzzle game. The combination is as pleasing as it is punishing. The appeal is partially aesthetic. Road Not Taken has a lovely, gentle feel. It's all snowy forests and big-headed people, fairy tale wolves and dopey bears who come straight from the game's Spry Fox antecedent, Triple Town. And yet the game is devilishly tough, not the least because just about nothing in it is is explained. Its 200 items are all unlisted at start, its recipes undiscovered, their gameplay impacts not even hinted.

Here's a video of me playing it. Eleven minutes that will explain just the tiniest bit of what the game's about:

Road Not Taken is a strange one—a marriage of puzzle game and adventure game, a throwback to the mysteriousness of games like the first Zelda and yet also a game that can demand the concentration of Spelunky while inviting the mobile-gaming reflexes of a skilled Bejeweled player.

Add to that strangeness the unusual ways you can play it: fairly cheap on PC or Mac—this being the first game in ages that any of us at Kotaku reviewed on a Mac—or for "free" on PlayStation 4 if you subscribe to PlayStation Plus in the month of me writing this. It'll eventually be on Vita, too, where it may find its best platform. The developers, after all, claim there are hundreds of hours of gameplay to be discovered. It feels like a game to take with you, to discuss and to discover.

Road Not Taken: The Kotaku Review

To contact the author of this post, write to stephentotilo@kotaku.com or find him on Twitter @stephentotilo.