That’s it. I’m doomed to play 8floor games until the day I keel over. Somehow arriving on the Xbox on a weekly basis, they are a cursed coin that keeps ending up back in my pocket, no matter how many times I toss them down a well.
For the uninitiated, 8floor Ltd have a well-worn game template, first minted on the Gnomes Garden series, and they have been using it for Lost Artifacts, Garden City, Crown of the Empire and now Roads of Time. Over the past couple of months, the rate of these releases has been roughly once a week. It’s our job to review them, so – yeah – cursed coin.
Roads of Time takes a more irreverent approach to the story, with a bumbling scientist called Brian (you’ll never find a true hero called Brian) and his robot, P.E.T., accidentally traveling back in time to Ancient Egypt. Brian gets mistaken for the god Ra, which angers Anubis, and so begins an adventure to defeat the jackal god, find all of the pieces of the time machine, and go back to the future.
As with all of these games, the story is throwaway tosh, but it’s easily ignored. It’s at least understandable in Roads of Time, when it’s a convoluted mess in some of the other games. Still, it gives Roads of Time an Egyptian backdrop, which is a welcome change to the toadstools and goblins of Gnomes Garden, and we get to control robots rather than workmen this time out.
That well-worn template is back in action, but with a couple of notable if not game-changing alterations. You are still faced with a single-screen of winding paths, all snaking away from your starting point – in this case, what seems like a space-caravan. Resources litter those paths, so you tap away with your cursor and P.E.T. will pick them up. The accumulated resources can be spent on rebuilding factories that make food, crystals, lumber and stone, which in turn can be used to build more buildings or clear larger scale obstacles.
The ultimate aim is to tick off a shopping list of objectives at the bottom of the screen. It’s here where Roads of Time differs from all of the other games we’ve mentioned so far in the review. In the other games, you can expect to deal with every last obstacle on the screen: it’s an exhaustive shopping list that covers everything. In Roads of Time, it’s a little more laid back. There are specific things to do – build some swimming pools, find a particular artifact – and they don’t necessarily require you to fill every hole or build every farm. It’s a welcome change that you genuinely feel as you play; the levels are so much more strategic when you can choose not to rebuild certain things, finding the racing line to the game’s objective.
The levels in 8floor titles have always satisfied one of three criteria: either you’ve got more resources than you need, so it’s a case of racing to complete the objectives; you don’t have what you need, so you have to barter for it in trade buildings; or you have just enough of what you need, so you have to wisely use your resources, or risk getting stuck in dead ends that require a restart.
Roads of Time, in another minor deviation from the template, only really produces levels in this third category. It makes it more of a puzzle game, as you conserve your resources, and make sure that you are choosing the right road (of time) to travel down.
We’re teetering on the fence with regard to that choice. At the start, we tutted and huffed. The puzzle levels have always been our least enjoyable in 8floor’s games, and it proved to be the same here. That’s because it doesn’t give you enough information to really be a true puzzle. Some obstacles have two or three stages of development to them, requiring resources to complete them all, but you can’t actually see what the second or third stage will cost. It means that it’s impossible to plan ahead for how many resources you will need. You can find out there’s a third stage to the bridge you’re creating (“wait, there’s a sodding third stage?”) and you won’t have the required wood or crystals. The level gets reset and you send a strongly worded letter to the studio.
It’s also not the most enjoyable of games to restart. Levels take a solid five or ten minutes of clicking, and that’s pretty significant. To get five minutes into a level, only to realise that you probably shouldn’t have upgraded that lumber mill a few minutes back, is a tad tiresome. The levels in Roads of Time, as they are in all of these games, aren’t the most varied, so having to replay one multiple times hurts more than it should.
But we soon learned to kind of like it. Kind of. That’s mostly because you learn its rules. Crystals are paramount. They’re your energy, and are needed for virtually every action. Hoover up the crystals on the screen, and create a crystal mine the first opportunity you get. Then it’s onto the other factories, rebuilding them so you have a constant source of the other resources. With that done, you can start pushing down the pathways. Upgrading factories – unlike almost all the other games in this weird meta-series – isn’t necessarily something you need or want to do.
It gives Roads of Time a slightly different flavour, although we should hasten to point out that it’s still very much the same category of flavour. Instead of vanilla ice cream, it’s a hit of raspberry ripple. As someone who has been playing these on a weekly basis, it’s a welcome change of palate.
But is it better than the others? Is it a stronger starting point, or a superior game? Pfft, we’re not entirely sure. It’s more demanding and knotty than a Gnomes Garden or Lost Artifacts, thanks to the puzzle-accent, so it might not be the best entry point. It’s also more eccentric, since you have to learn its very specific rules if you want to succeed. But we had a better and less tedious time with Roads of Time because it dares to be different. As someone who has been on a conveyor belt of these titles for the past month or so, the changes were all rather welcome.
It’s not the most effusive of praise, but Roads of Times makes some snips to the same template that has been used by Gnomes Garden, Lost Artifacts and others, to make a tiny, almost imperceptible improvement. If you’re committed to completing the series (what has possessed you?) then Roads of Time at least has the glimmer of something new.