Written by  :  Nowhere Girl (4278)
Written on  :  Dec 27, 2018
Platform  :  Windows
Rating  :  3.5 Stars3.5 Stars3.5 Stars3.5 Stars3.5 Stars
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Summary

A game of many secrets

The Good

"Little Briar Rose" is probably best known for its graphical style, which imitates stained glass. There are very few games which use this kind of graphics, so the choice makes "Little Briar Rose" quite unique. In fact, it has some interesting backstory of its own. On the developer's website there is a two-part text about creating these graphics. The author explains how he analysed examples of the stained glass technique (and its few uses in games) to decide what aspects are necessary for it to be recognisable, how he aimed for a result closer to the Art Nouveau variant of stained glass windows, how he experimented with textures and finally decided that bright colors with a "marble" texture create a credible-looking stained glass effect... Anyway, the effect is beautiful. Shapes are necessarily simplified and divided into segments with black lines, just like glass pieces in stained glass windows were separated from each other by thin strips of lead. Yet the whole remains "clean", clear, not too crowded or too confusing. This effect was achieved, in part, by using black lines of different thickness - narrow lines separate different segments of the same object, while thicker lines divide different objects (for example, lake waters and shore) The segments also have different shapes depending on the kind of object - for example, the shapes of lake surface segments resemble waves.
While I didn't particularly like one aspect of the sound - the voice-over in the intro, which sounds too childish for my taste, the music is much better. A series of nice, classical-like tunes usually dominated by sounds resembling bells (or perhaps another similar instrument, such as vibraphone) and woodwinds. It sometimes gets a little monotonous, but definitely deserves being appreciated.
The game used to have an earlier free version - or actually still does, though it's not very easy to find. In fact, one could say that the general outline of the plot and puzzles is entirely kept intact. New subtasks are sometimes added, so the game is longer and more difficult. Graphics have been changed slightly, or sometimes more than just slightly - particularly the Merfolk lake and the central forest clearing have undergone a lot of improvement. Appearance of the protagonists has also improved, is now more varied. The game works like this: if you screw up a task, the correct prince is magically transformed into a forest creature and the new one finds his predecessor's items. It's interesting to screw up on purpose and see how they looks like... Now the princes look more varied, while in the original game all had the same silhouette (sometimes with unrealistic colours - for example, prince no. 3 had green hair) with a ridiculously huge hat. Another very nice change is that the final prince can - and, in fact, should - save his predecessors. In the 2014 version any of the princes could save princess Aurora and those who failed were just abandoned... Now the water in the castle courtyard (a place introduced in the commercial release) is still flowing and it has the power to bring back true form and memory to previous princes. Plus, in fact, it looks quite funny when the prince forcibly grabs one of his predecessors and carries him to the fountain...
While there are aspects of Steam I definitely dislike - the version of the game sold through Steam hides some amazing gems. The options menu includes the enigmatic word "Mods". I'm not sure what it stands for - "modifications"? Anyway, downloading and using them allows two big changes (only one at a time) - the Christmas one changes graphics to wintery, with some snow and colder colours, and the "mod" called "Mighty Princess" reverses the roles: you now play as a princess who saves a sleeping prince. (A bit more in "The Bad" too.) The game has been criticised a little for its conservative gender roles. While it's misguided insofar as the game is an adaptation of a well-known fairy-tale - which means that the right person to argue with would be Charles Perrault... - the princess in the game is clearly an epitome of stereotypic female passivity: who could be more passive than an enchanted princess who spends years laying dormant, knowing nothing, unconsciously waiting for someone to save her? So here comes the reversed version: now the prince is completely helpless and the princess takes an active role to save him.
It's generally a nice idea also because, it seems, most women prefer identifying with female characters during contact with texts of culture. And this kind of game is likely to have a predominantly female audience. Enjoying fairy-tales is still considered rather acceptable for adult women, for men it's considered very "unmanly". Which is significant by itself, given the complicated history and subversive potential of fairy-tales. The idea that fairy-tales are children's literature par excellence is quite a modern one. As potentially awkward "discoveries" of non-bowdlerised versions of fairy-tales also show, originally these stories weren't even told and written down with children in mind.

The Bad

There have been a few changes to the worse. For example, in the fishing minigame, one introduced in the commercial version of the game, the original graphics looked better. The original steering was then deemed counterintuitive, or maybe too simple, and a new version was introduced. By all means it still looks nice - but the steering bars in the original version looked better, more colourful.
The "Mighty Princess" variant seems unfinished because it includes no change to the dialogue. The princess is still called a prince by the forest creatures, still calls the prince "Princess Aurora" herself... It's a pity, because this way the change is little more than just superficial. Also the ending sequence will look the same, with the princes leading princess Aurora and other ladies.
I also wish the game included some simple "readme" file... At first I didn't know how to change the game from fullscreen to windowed, how to setup resolution... If these functions are not included in the main menu, it's not that easy to guess that such a separate menu exists in the first place.

The Bottom Line

The game is not a long one and doesn't include a lot of screens. But still: take your time to explore the game. Try finding the free version as well, download the "Mods"... It feels almost like several games in one. Compared to this, the achievements (something I don't appreciate much anyway) are quite boring. The extra graphics are much more creative.