Every so often, a game comes along that I just don’t want to review. Not because I don’t want to go into depth about the ins-and-outs of the experience or even because I didn’t enjoy the game, but rather because I don’t want to spoil it for any potential players. Road 96 is one such game, with its narrative-driven road trip adventure one that’s best experienced first-hand just to see how clever the gameplay is.
With that in mind, this review is going to avoid spoilers and keep narrative details to a minimum. Whilst Road 96 doesn’t have a fixed narrative thanks to the fact that player choice and the random nature of the encounters you have will determine your path, the significance and unique nature of these events remains the most important (and enjoyable) aspect of the experience.
I will say one thing up front though: Road 96 is a wonderful game and one that should be played by anyone who enjoys narrative-driven experiences where player choice is significant. If that’s you, stop reading the review and just buy the game… you won’t regret it.
Check out a gallery of screenshots down below:
Road 96 takes place in Petria, a fictional country that finds itself politically conflicted thanks to the government’s issues with the youth population. Any teenager who disagrees with the President finds themselves sent to work camps, preventing them from making a change when it comes to the voting booth. The only solution for these teens? To take a long road trip and leave the country behind, though this journey is never an easy one. Not just because the country is perilous, but rather because of the many strange situations these teenagers can find themselves in along the way.
Players take on the role of multiple teenagers throughout their journey, with each encountering different but recurring NPCs along the way. The scenarios in which you meet these characters can be varied thanks to the fact that events in Road 96 are procedurally generated based upon your actions, meaning there’s an unpredictable nature to each situation that the player has a hand in shaping. Switching between the different teenagers adds an extra air of believability and consistency to these encounters though, especially when you meet a recurring character all over again and their attitude or situation has been changed by a decision you made with a different character earlier on in the game.
“Players take on the role of multiple teenagers throughout their journey, with each encountering different but recurring NPCs along the way.”
It was probably my favourite thing about the entire game. I loved meeting characters all over again and seeing how differently they responded to each protagonist, whilst the nature of their personalities gives players an idea of how they should respond to them. Whilst a lot of the characters found in Road 96 are ordinary, others are more volatile and put the player in knuckle-wrenching situations that will leave them on the edge of their seat. It really ups the stakes when playing, with a wrong move potentially seeing your journey to the border come to an end.
There’s a lot more to uncover and potentially shape within Petria as you play, whilst the different personalities and situations of the folk you encounter will stay with you throughout. Road 96’s tale is certainly memorable, with the many individual plot threads of the NPCs helping shape the views of the country that they live in. Whether you simply strive to escape or try to help make a change is down to the player; no matter the choice, the story told along the way is certainly an impactful one.
“Road 96’s tale is certainly memorable, with the many individual plot threads of the NPCs helping shape the views of the country that they live in.”
Most of Road 96’s gameplay is based around the player’s decision making, whether that’s something as simple as deciding a mode of transport or giving your opinion in an argument, or something more complicated such as following the orders of someone threatening you or even potentially being a part of a burglary. That’s just naming a few examples too, with plenty of different unique scenarios found within the game. Players will also have to manage the wellbeing of their character, with actions requiring energy to complete and food and cash often at a minimum. Again, the choices they make can affect how much energy or cash they might have, though there’s also room for exploration in some locales where they can uncover items that will help them out. These items carry over between playthroughs as different teenagers too, helping make further treks along the titular Road 96 easier to complete.
The gameplay mechanics are fairly simple really, but they’re strengthened by the variety of situations you find yourself in. They always complement the exploration and interactions found within the gameplay, with the simplicity adding a dynamic sense of flexibility to the storytelling. You’ll always know what you can and can’t do, whilst instructions given to the player are always easy to follow. It just works really well and ensures the only obstacle in your path in Road 96 are the decisions that you make.
Oh, and I’ve got to give a shout out to the mini-games that are included, with each tying into the experience nicely. My personal favourite had to be the game of Connect-4 in a car, only because I remember doing it with my sibling on long car journeys back in the 90s. Ah, to be young…
“Road 96 is a wonderful game and one that should be played by anyone who enjoys narrative-driven experiences where player choice is significant.”
Between the dynamic storytelling and the intriguing yet accessible gameplay mechanics, there’s plenty to love about Road 96. I was completely invested in each journey I had, with no two trips ever feeling quite the same. I’d love to go into depth about all the little intricacies it offered between individual encounters with strangers or the deadly situations the player finds themselves in, but as mentioned, I don’t want to spoil anything. Just know that it’s very, very good.
Presentation-wise, Road 96 embraces a low-poly visual style that fits the vibe of the game. The characters look great and you can see each reaction they make to every situation, whilst the variety of locales you visit ensures there’s plenty to discover in Petria. Whilst nice though, it is clear that the Nintendo Switch version of the game has made some sacrifices, especially when playing handheld. The resolution is low and adds a little bit of blurriness to the visuals, the low draw distance of objects around you means there’s plenty of pop-in, whilst the frame rate was guilty of stuttering at times too. Don’t get me wrong, these issues don’t make Road 96 feel bad to play and it’s still easy to appreciate that it’s a nice-looking game, but it certainly won’t look as impressive on the console as it does on other platforms.
You know what though? I still had a great time with Road 96 and I’d still easily recommend it on the Nintendo Switch. The nature of the gameplay feels perfect for Nintendo’s portable console, with some trips through the game only lasting around forty-five minutes or so – it’s ideal for a quick blast here and there when you’ve got time.
Road 96 is wonderful and unique, with the narrative-driven journey across the titular road proving to be unpredictable and exciting throughout. I loved meeting the unique characters found along the way, with the situations they put me in stirring up a range of emotions; seeing how their encounters with different playable characters has affected them and shaped their story just made their presence all the more believable. And hey, I won’t spoil anything here, but seeing how YOU can shape the country of Petria as one of the unnamed teenagers is equally impressive, with the game’s dynamic storytelling proving to be its most wonderful feature.
It has a few shortcomings on the Nintendo Switch on the technical side of things, but it’s still a title that I’d thoroughly recommend to owners of the console. Whether you’re a fan of narrative-driven experiences that allow you to shape the story or simply want to play a game unlike anything else out there, you REALLY need to play Road 96.
Developer: Digixart Entertainment
Publisher: Digixart Entertainment
Platform(s): Nintendo Switch (Reviewed), PC