Games: Road 96 - One for the road for perfect short-burst Switch sessions

Neil McGreevy

Road 96 (Switch)

By: Koch

GAMING, much like hitchhiking, relies on your thumb a lot - and you'll put that pinkie to good use in this break for the border that captures the essence of a cross-country trek.

The road trip movie as a game, then - but is it more Easy Rider or Dirty Grandpa? On a long, hot summer in the mid '90s, players take an ever-changing hitchhike across the authoritarian nation of Petria as an unnamed teen.

But rather than beatnik naval-gazing, this coming-of-age cruise is for freedom. In a country torn between a totalitarian regime and rebels, your attempt to flee the powderkeg via its border escape route at the end of Road 96 introduces a colourful cast of adolescent freedom-seekers, from a girl trying to find meaning in her life to a tech wiz looking for the truth behind his parents' disappearance.

Over its 10 hour-long episodes, each tries to make their way north to Route 96. So much more than your average indie point n' click, this runaway teen simulator takes players on roads less travelled, making for a ride well worth tagging along for.

Each short story segment deals with a major character, each with a unique, procedurally generated progression arc. The hipster hike is shaped mainly through dialogue decisions and choices such how to travel to the next destination, be it taking the bus, taxi, or hitchhiking.

In between the travel, Road 96 hangs on free exploration and static story beats, with money and resource management as you keep your belly and wallet fat enough to reach your destination.

Some strangers provide new abilities, like hacking or lock-picking tools, which then open up options for travel and collecting money or food. Mini-games offer a welcome respite, whether it's playing a musical instrument or going head-to-head in a tabletop arcade game.

One for the road, its selection of indie and synthwave tracks from eight international artists really hits the '90s spot. Those gorgeous cartoon visuals do suffer from a chugging framerate, though, and with frequent and lengthy load times, it's all a bit rough around the edges.

And for a Switch game, navigating Road 96's world with analogue sticks rather than the touch-screen seems a missed opportunity. Even though we've had a gutful of borders and freedom fighters round these parts, it's not the destination but the journey in this long and winding road trip that's perfect for short-burst Switch sessions.

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