The original version of Sleeping Beauty by the Brothers Grimm, meaning the non-Disney take or even the more recent stab via Angelina Jolie’s Maleficent, tackles such hot topics like adultery, bigamy, murder, rape, suicide, and even cannibalism. Yes, this is how fairy tales went back then. Thankfully, Little Briar Rose from Elf Games is not quite as dark as its source material, both in look and narrative, though we never do see what happens once the prince makes it to the castle, leaving that ending to either your Disney-slanted imagination or something more horrifying, the kind of twist that George R.R. Martin would appreciate.
But what is Little Briar Rose, other than a different name for a complicated tale of a comatose princess? It’s a point-and-click adventure game using a stunningly gorgeous stained glass art style, revolving around this plot: a princess has fallen under a curse that puts both her and her whole kingdom to sleep, with thick briar bushes blocking the way inside her kingdom, and the only way to break the curse is for a prince to awaken her with a true love’s kiss on the lips. However, in order to clear away much of the thick briar bushes and open up a path forward, the prince must first help the magical denizens of the forest. There are wishes to be granted still. Some are basic fetch quests, some involve a wee bit of puzzle solving, some are multiple choice-driven, and they all require a lot of backtracking.
Overall, Little Briar Rose isn’t a very long adventure. I think there are a total of five or six screens to explore, with plenty of revisiting between them all to solve every last puzzle and clear away those thorny vines. One puzzle asks you to construct a house based on a crude drawing, another requires you to gather specific information and relay it correctly, and the remainder involves finding items and giving them to the right non-playable character. Here’s the main deal: you’ll need to talk to everyone you’ve met, multiple times depending on the situation, to be set on the right track. If you feel stuck or unsure how to push the puzzle forward, go and talk to every merman, fairy, and gnome you see. Even that crow atop those mushrooms. Talk, talk, talk. Some of the dialogue is a little tedious to sift through, but it is well-paced and amusing for the most part. Obviously, the game’s art style is a delight to behold–and I wanted more screens to gawk at more colorful images–though the limited soundtrack grows tiresome quickly.
Interestingly, you can fail at several of the puzzle scenarios in Little Briar Rose, resulting in the death of your prince. No worries though as a new one quickly shows up to carry on the previous one’s torch and try again. This prince will have a new name and differently-colored hair and clothes, but otherwise, it’s just another empty husk to move around the game’s world and do your bidding. Adventure games like Gemini Rue and Beneath a Steel Sky have implemented death before, but they actually abide by the laws of death; here, it doesn’t make sense or even feel necessary. All it does is kill a few more minutes, making you backtrack to whatever puzzle you were at, as well as redo the steps you previously took to begin solving it if you forgot to save beforehand. I’d rather have seen some kind of “lolz you so wrong, prince, try again!” message rather than this, and trust me, I saw enough new princes spawn to earn an Achievement notification. Seeing as that was the only Achievement to pop up during my time in Princess Aurora’s land and that there’s no way to even view them, it came across as a waste.
I don’t want to come across too negative, as it was an enjoyable and certainly unique adventure gaming experience. At least there was no cannibalism. You can grab a copy for zero dollars for either Windows or Mac OS X at Elf Games’ website. I also scrolled through the developers’ blog, and it seems like Little Briar Rose is going through some revamping, with new art to come. I might give it another go down the line, curious to see what else changes.