A few hours before I’m due to see indie adventure Röki somewhere within Gamescom’s cavernous halls, developer Polygon Treehouse sends a minute-long video to my phone. The clip shows the winding path to find the game on the showfloor: into the correct hall, onto the right stand, and over to a hidden meeting room. A few hours later I’m tracing that same path, pulling my phone from my pocket to consult the video again, and my tired brain thinks, ‘this feels a lot like using something from my inventory to help solve a puzzle’.
Clunky opening metaphor done, I’m very happy to say Röki is a lot more fun than all of that. This gentle, Scandinavia-set fantasy is an antidote to the noise around me, even if its puzzling nature feels slightly familiar. You play as Tove, a bright bobble-hatted young girl searching for her family in a snowy word where monsters from folklore are both friend and foe. It’s an adventure game through-and-through – with an inventory to fill, locked gates and doors to open, items to combine to solve puzzles – but one built so its formula never gets in the way of the story.
Much of this story lies under-wraps, the pages in Tove’s journal (described by developer Polygon Treehouse as her “grail diary”) hidden from view in this brief 15 minute demo. As Tove, I puff through the snow to find a troll under a bridge with a sword stuck in its back – a sword which may well be useful to jimmy the lock to a gate I need to open. Exploring a nearby house I find rope and a bear trap I can combine into a troll-saving tool, and pretty soon the gate is open.
Röki looks beautiful – a mix of Wind Waker and Tearaway via a trip to see the Moomins – and sounds it too. Despite the noise surrounding the game’s booth, I’m struck by what a peaceful experience it seems – doubly so now I’m home, watching through footage again and able to better appreciate its atmosphere. Tove speaks through text dialogue but, as in Zelda, will make sounds of surprise or frustration. An early idea to have the entire game voiced was dropped, I’m told, though the Scandinavian voice talent remains.
It’s been two years since our first glimpse at Röki, announced just a few months after Polygon Treehouse founders Alex Kanaris and Tom Jones were cast adrift by Sony when it shut down Guerrilla Cambridge. Back then it was a point-and-click adventure game, due sometime in 2018. Now, point-and-click has been replaced with free movement – all part of the studio’s desire for a frustration-free experience – and Röki is currently scheduled for a winter 2019 release for PC and, just announced, Nintendo Switch.