titleA once cheerful land of forests, mountains and magic has succumbed to permanent winter. A permanent winter conjured up and constantly renewed by the terrible black fire attacks of a mighty ice dragon. As a result most human inhabitants have turned into ice statues and the prospects of the handful that are still able to keep their blood reasonably warm are no better. One of those is an old woodsman who lying ill in his bed has just explained the situation to his daughter in a speech very nicely stylized to archaic jargon.

Upon finishing the old man passes the family bow to his child (too bad the arrows got lost) and asks her to seek a way to escape the troubled realm for good. But the red-haired vixen doesn’t want to leave her father behind and decides to combat the dragon instead. She leaves the cozy hut and is determined to persevere the unpleasant gusts of snow that the wind keeps blowing in her face. However, she is not aware of how many dangers, traps and strange, pesky magical creatures hide in the wintery forest – some of them not less deadly than the dragon.

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And so the fun begins. The game world oozes atmosphere. The snow keeps falling (in real time!) and looks properly flaky, you can also leave footsteps in the snow, throw snowballs and shoot arrows at all kinds of targets in your sight. It’s like having an early Christmas, but in a cool magical forest and with no annoying people to bother you! To make it all even better, some chap named Antonio Vivaldi prepared a soundtrack that can easily go against the big names out there.

The music really fits perfectly with the desolate winter scenery painted with water colors in a simple, but effective manner. Together they evoke a feeling of melancholy that is plain addictive. The animation is usually quite eye-pleasing and solid too (well, except for the very basic intro and the appearances of the dragon who gives a bit of a stiff impression). In general it’s already a pleasure to just be in the game (just run around aimlessly, then suddenly die by drowning, then have some fun with the bow).

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Anyway, the heroine has a pretty good idea where to seek advice on defeating the dragon. She should check what has become of 1) the legendary mountain hermit and also 2) the powerful enchantress. Those two quests are not really separate and are to be completed in a linear fashion, but that doesn’t take anything away from how well the puzzles are thought out. It all seems to be very much inspired by the Sierra line of classic adventure gaming. This means the game offers considerable challenge (it stays fair though), lots of fun ways to die (fortunately there is a “retry” button) and there are the fairy tale like stylings that bring back the memories of King’s Quest.

While the main story is a typical and simple tale of a hero, the characters you meet on your journey are very colorful and provide lots of amusing adventures, most notably the notorious gnome whose evil laugh you’ll quickly learn to love to hate. Another highlight is the writing (a strong point of other Alex Van Wijst‘s games too), especially how well the humor is incorporated without destroying the melancholic mood. Plus the responses to all sorts of crazy interactions attempts on the part of the player are extremely well covered.

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So in the end let me just say that The Winter Rose is an old AGS favorite of mine and very few underground adventure games can compare. The only real complaint I have is about the ending. Not to say it isn’t appropriate. It isn’t missing anything for it to make sense either. However, it is so bare bones that you you wonder if the creator run out of budget near the game’s completion. Still, it is the journey that really matters in this title, and it truly is a worthwhile experience.

Igor’s Score: 4plus/5 starks

the ” plus ” is for a very successful mix of melancholy and humor

Note: Download Full Game Here

Note 2: The Winter Rose has also a cool Making Of on its creators website