Röki Review – A whimsically dark adventure

Platform:

PC

Released:

July 23, 2020

Publisher:

United Label Games

Developer:

Polygon Treehouse


Posted July 29, 2020

An adventure game inspired by Scandinavian folklore, Röki is the first release from UK developers Polygon Treehouse. Fusing old-school point-and-click gameplay with a contemporary twist, Röki sets out to modernise the genre and tell a touching and fantastical story. Add a log to the fire, slip on your favourite booties, and settle in for a cosy and twisted tale…

An icy Nordic forest sets the scene for Röki’s beginning, where we meet protagonist Tove and her adorable little brother Lars. We see that Tove has been caring for Lars and her father since her mother passed away, and she keeps her brother entertained with bedtime stories. Pretty quickly, their quiet world is interrupted as a giant creature destroys their home and chases them through the dark forest. Lars is dragged through a mysterious portal, and Tove is left on her own to try and find him.

A modern take on the classic point-and-click adventure format, Röki does little to change up the core mechanics. Lovers of old Sierra and LucasArts games will feel right at home chaining together scraps of logic and scouring the stunning environments for clues. Directly controlling Tove, players wander through forests, caves, castles and dreamscapes. You can combine objects in your inventory but the interface is very simple and uncluttered. The puzzles are mostly objective-based and follow a logical narrative thread: find the ingredients for a spell, collect the keys to open a door and repair the ancient machinery. A few unique mechanics are introduced and help to break up the formula here and there, but you’ll mainly be solving puzzles using your wits and your items. My favourite quests involve helping the many characters scattered throughout Röki’s forest, from its massive trolls to the tiny Tomte helper fairies. They’re incredibly endearing and diverse. I particularly enjoyed interacting with a certain spirit who keeps trying to lure Tove into its pond.

Visually, Röki is absolutely gorgeous. The simplistic textures provide a beautiful balance between the cartoonish and the arcane, allowing characters and objects to feel at once perfectly natural and bursting with otherworldly charm. Environments are varied, complex, and memorable. Little Tove stands out against the fantastical backgrounds, reinforcing that she is a tiny stranger in this fantastical world. 

The bulk of Röki’s gameplay takes place in Chapter Two, where Tove must find and awaken the Guardians of the forest to enlist their help in rescuing Lars. The forest is in decay, besieged by raven queen Rörka’s minions for countless years. Petrified trolls lie devastatingly around the landscape. An abandoned church sits amongst a dozen childrens’ graves. Terrible things have happened here, but the darkness of the world is counterbalanced by Tove’s determination and wonder – she chooses to befriend monsters, and she collects cool trinkets to keep in her journal along the way. It’s a neat balance of darkness and whimsy that helps to provide variety in tone and keep you invested in the world.

Themes of loss and acceptance are embedded in Röki’s presentation and explored through its storytelling and worldbuilding. Elements of Scandinavian folklore inform its aesthetics and its narrative. Everyone in this world grieves in some way, and it’s through Tove’s brave actions in confronting her own trauma that the player helps them find peace and move on.

Typical of point-and-click adventure games, there is a certain amount of pixel hunting required to navigate Röki’s puzzles. Thankfully clicking the control stick highlights interactable objects currently onscreen and there is a comprehensive journal system that describes the major puzzles in each location. Seeing as this is an adventure game, you will inevitably get stuck. There is a hint system provided (speaking to the Tree of Many will occasionally trigger some nudging dialogue) but it is incredibly barebones and not helpful to the stumped player. When I was hitting my head against the wall trying to progress, I began to find Tove’s slow movement intensely frustrating as I backtracked over and over again. I only wanted the smallest push in the right direction! However, I don’t claim to be a brainiac, so what seemed irritating for me might be exactly the kind of cognitive exercise another player craves. The levels of “moon logic” are low but present: when there is a guide released for Röki, don’t be ashamed to use it.

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It’s worth mentioning that while there is only some voice acting in Röki, it is perfect. Characters let out little sounds that lend such powerful emotion to their written dialogue. It is heartbreaking to hear Tove call out for her brother in anguish. Composer Aether’s soundtrack is especially excellent, matching the wintry aesthetic beautifully and providing some gorgeously cosy piano pieces – a true auditory rendition of hygge.

Röki took me around ten hours to finish, including time spent staring out the window trying to piece together the threads of its intricate puzzles. It’s a bittersweet story of loss and redemption, told with nuance and generosity towards its cast of characters. I recommend it as a great source of comfort during isolation, particularly in this cold Victorian winter. Röki is out now on Steam, with a Nintendo Switch version releasing at some point.

Röki

Röki

PC
Point and Click, Adventure

Positive:
  • Stunning and varied visuals, highlighting gorgeously crafted environments and charming characters
  • Interesting puzzles with regular AHA! moments that make you feel clever
  • Incredible sound design provides depth to characters and a cosy "hygge" feel
Negative:
  • Typical point-and-click adventure tropes sometimes interfere with pacing
  • “Hands-off” hint system is not for everyone and leads to some frustrating moments
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

7

Good

Röki is a traditional point-and-click adventure game at its core. While it comes with some of the classic frustrations of the genre – such as pixel hunting and occasional moon logic – its charming presentation, satisfying puzzle design and compelling dark fantasy story make it easy to recommend. Röki is full of heart, and worthy of a place in any adventure fan’s library. Best enjoyed snuggled up on the couch on a rainy winter’s afternoon, wrapped in a blanket with a cup of hot cocoa.



About the Author

David McNamara

David is a proudly queer theatre maker and singer. He spends most of his downtime with a controller in his hands and a lazy beagle on his lap.