Developer: Polygon Treehouse Publisher: United Label
Release Date: Current Gen 10/28/2021 (Previously, 2020 for Nintendo Switch and PC)
Reviewed on: Xbox Series X
Introduction: When Roki was initially released, it was nominated at the BAFTAs and Game Awards for best Debut Indie Game. With several other accolades in their backpocket, Polygon Treehouse worked to put out an improved version–4k resolution and running at 60 FPS–on current gen consoles.
Synopsis: Roki is an artful narrative that celebrates Scandinavian lore through the eyes of Tove, a brave girl who must set out in a strange, ancient world to save her little brother with a wild imagination. The game sets the opening scene in the snowy woods. Tove goads her brother, Lars, back home, setting up the standard training sequence. Roki is generous with showing the player the controls and game mechanics you will utilize throughout the game. For example, you collect items in your backpack, and then you drag and drop your items were you’d like to use it. Tove will mumble and comment if you select the wrong item!
When you finally arrive home, the player will quickly sense something amiss with the family dynamic. There is a feeling of loss with the absence of a mother and Henrik, the father, who is asleep in his chair. Tove cooks and escorts Lars to the bathroom, proving she has taken over the maternal role in the household. However, things take a sudden turn when a mysterious monster breaks in. The children do their best to escape, but the monster inevitably spirits Lars away. This is where the real adventure begins.
From there, Tove is teleported into what seems to be a fairytale–a mystical and forgotten land. The player is free to explore the area, opening up sections as you gather important items. A dagger? Nope. Can’t use it until you sharpen it. Divided into a total of three chapters, vast puzzles provide layers of complexity during your exploration and maintain your interest. One thing I really appreciated was that Roki has a relatively non-linear style. While some paths are blocked off at select times and ultimately has a set path, I noticed I could’ve approached things in various orders.
Most of the gameplay hours surrounds chapter two. Tove must explore the forest, solve puzzles, and awaken the guardians in order to save her brother. Roki treats the gamers with brief “cutscenes” (with some very minor gameplay) when Tove reaches certain milestones, revealing where Lars is being held captive and what was happening to him. This provided a sense of urgency, so I made frequent use of my sprint button!
The world. The land Tove is thrust into is gorgeous. There is minimal texture, giving it a cell-shaded type art style, very fitting of this whimsical setting. From afar, it may come off as 2D, it is actually built in 3D. Therefore, although simple in one sense, I as the player, did not feel terribly restricted in exploring. I could tell love and attention to detail were poured into Roki. I particularly enjoyed the little red and white mushrooms that would “hide” as I ran by. Then, we have character design-both of Tove and the NPCs. Lars was absolutely adorable, and the mythical creatures such as trolls, Tomtes (my favorite), and Jolakoturrinn, were endearing and memorable. Polygon Treehouse utilized this art style and narrative to teach me Scandinavian lore that I was completely unfamiliar with in the beginning. The bottom line is that this world they built had me completely immersed.
The gameplay. The controls themselves were simple. This kept the focus on the exploration and story. The primary buttons allow Tove to run, select items, and even detect interactable items in the vicinity. I found that last feature to be most helpful as not all items seem obvious to approach. In fact, I had to backtrack numerous times because of a tiny little item at the corner of the screen that I looked over. As I mentioned before, Roki has a “drag and drop” mechanism where you have a button to unzip your backpack. From that menu, you can select and use or combine items. Once you have the item you need, you drag it to where you want to commit the action. While I appreciate the simplicity, sometimes I felt it was click-heavy and repetitive. For example, when I wanted to drop several collectables into a cauldron, I had to open the backpack, find the item, drop the item, click through the dialogue, then dig right into the backpack once more. Sometimes this impacted the pacing; however, this is very minor and did not impact my enjoyability of the game.
Roki is an impressive game that immerses the player in a Scandinavian fairy tale with easy-to-understand game mechanics that allow more focus on story-telling. The puzzles are delightful, and Roki looks amazing on current generation consoles. I highly recommend picking up a copy and cozying up to it this winter!