I love me a good roguelike. Spelunky is one of my all-time favorite games, and its fair brutality led me down a roguelike path I still haven’t recovered from. Not all Roguelikes are created equal, though, and I’ve come to learn that when a reviewer says a game “is Spelunky mixed with [x],” you should take that with a grain of salt. Great roguelikes are few and far between; while many games have great elements, it’s rare that everything comes together in a cohesive package. (Hey, just like the rest of everything else in the world ever!)
Road Not Taken is an example a roguelike where things didn’t quite set right. Its art is adorable and there’s so much you can do — more on that in a little bit — but its gameplay mechanics are frustrating and semi-broken in a way that makes the game not that much fun to play.
And it’s a real shame, because Road Not Taken has some really unique elements that can make you feel like a mad scientist. There are hundreds of items and enemies in the game, and most of them can combine with others to create even more items. Throw an axe at a tree and get some firewood. Combine a couple piles of firewood and you’ll get a fire. Create a fire and you’re not penalized for movement, and “cold” levels don’t hurt you.
The Road Not Taken learning curve is steep, but it should be; this is a roguelike after all. But by the time you master most of the game’s combinations, you’re about done with the game. At least I was, anyway. There’s no Spelunky-like difficulty in executing at a high level to complete different areas; instead, it becomes a matter of figuring out combinations of items that will advance you past whatever obstacle’s in your way.
The other frustrating thing is that there are a lot of sections that seem nearly impossible to beat, or enemies that are far too aggressive for the game to be truly fair. While I didn’t unlock every item combination and master every way of beating enemies, I felt like things were still a little out of hand. Difficulty is fine and fun; unfair difficulty is not fun.
It’s sad that Road Not Taken fails to live up to its potential. I feel like it needed one more coat of polish to be a great roguelike to add to my collection. While it has some great ideas and is pretty fun to play (at times, anyway), there are other roguelikes out there that are better and more fair. Road Not Taken is not worth your time.