The Winter Rose review
The Winter Rose is the second game from Canadian developer Alex van der Wijst, a.k.a. "BaRoN". It was released several months ago to much acclaim in the AGS community, but not getting nearly as much attention in the larger adventure scene.
Set in a traditional fantasy world, The Winter Rose presents a land of dragons, magic users and gnomes. The world has fallen victim to the ravages of a terrible ice-breathing dragon, whose exhalations have frozen solid everyone and everything they've touched. All crops and supplies have been ruined by the ice, and all who dared stand up to the mighty wyrm have been slain (or converted into human Popsicles). You are the titular Rose, and you and your father may be the only survivors in the land. However, he is too weak with hunger and cold to move from his bed, so it falls to you to either slay the ice dragon yourself, or perish like all the others in trying. Armed with your trusty bow, and under instructions to seek out the other possible survivors, you set off on your adventure.
Despite the serious fantasy setting, this game is in no way a dry, ye-olde-worlde affair. Humour is prevalent throughout, and situations are often bizarre, like the yeti character with a knife stuck in his bottom and the wise old enchantress who actually appears to be quite mad. Of particular amusement to me is the recurring presence of a rascally little gnome who randomly pops up where you least expect him and causes mischief to Rose.
Puzzles in the game are entirely of the fetch-and-trade and inventory varieties, albeit with a number of strange (yet still somehow quite logical) and amusing combinations. These are mostly quite straightforward, but there are a few that require more lateral thinking, such crossing a patch of ice cracking underfoot, which can only be solved with a method that itself requires several steps to achieve. The game shouldn't pose too much difficulty to experienced adventure gamers, though, and can probably be completed in under an hour. In classic Sierra-style fashion, it is possible to die, but these deaths are always wonderfully animated, and they avoid player frustration through humour, as they're accompanied by a pun-laden "game over" screen. There is also a welcome option to retry and jump back to a point just before you committed the lethal act.
The game's graphics are nicely done -- not amazing by any means, but quite distinctive. Using 640x400 resolution, Winter Rose looks hand-painted, which is a style that very few amateur games use, and it suits the fantasy setting well. Despite a landscape covered in snow, locations never look bland, with characters (both alive and frozen) dotted around, and plenty of hotspots to interact with, though perhaps not quite as many as some other games.
Actions are fully animated, and these animations are another source of the game's humour, with some silly events being depicted, often with a comical sound effect. Of particular note is when the gnome finally gets his comeuppance, though I won't spoil the occasion for you. All of the music in the game is taken from Vivaldi's "Four Seasons" (ironically, the music is from the Summer concerto) and blends nicely with the game's aesthetic. One minor niggle, however, at least on my computer's setup, was that the volume of the score was very low, with the music barely audible for most of the game, even with speakers at high levels.
The interface is the classic Sierra-style affair, with the right mouse button rotating through walk, look, interact and speak icons. One new addition is the bow-and-arrow cursor, which causes Rose to practice her archery on any likely targets. This provides great fun for a while, simply shooting random objects and watching the entertaining results play out as Rose extracts her precious one and only arrow. Worry not, though, adventure purists, as there are no action sequences in the game -- the bow and arrow are used for puzzling or amusement purposes alone. Hotspot interactions usually stick to the matter at hand, but there are a few amusing non-essential bits here and there (usually eliciting a sarcastic reply as to why your attempted action is impossible).
The Winter Rose doesn't really have much in the way of story progression. Instead, it's more a series of challenges that leave you better equipped for your final encounter with the dragon whom you've sworn to destroy. On the way to this finale, Rose meets a number of strange and interesting characters. Along with the aforementioned pesky gnome and knife-bottomed sasquatch, one of the more memorable characters Rose encounters is a doom-saying vulture who's just waiting for the last remaining survivors to pop off so he can feast on their remains. Dialogues with these characters involves simply clicking the 'speak' cursor on someone to go through a predetermined dialogue sequence, which will repeat once the limited number of topics are exhausted. Conversations are well-written, and tend to include a few questions about Rose's quest, followed by some gag or absurd comment to lighten the mood.
When all is said and done, The Winter Rose is a short but charming, amusing game that is well worth playing. It has garnered consistent praise from those who have played it, but until now it's been a fairly well-kept secret. Why not check it out yourself, and help bring it the recognition it deserves.
The Winter Rose can be downloaded from the developer's website.