Little Briar Rose is a game that feels as timeless as the story upon which it is based. A retelling of the fairytale by the same name (known more commonly in English as Sleeping Beauty), this indie game gives an old narrative a refreshing makeover.
Little Briar Rose’s opening is remarkably polished, showcasing its unique art style along with some pleasant voice acting in a brief introductory cutscene. After establishing that there’s a damsel to rescue, a fairy greets you — a brave prince — at the edge of a forest covered in brambles. Your task is to find a way past the thorns, make your way to the castle beyond and awaken the princess with true love’s kiss.
Point-and-click mechanics in this game are straightforward and seem very appropriate to the nature of the fairytale. The gorgeous world is easy to navigate, and it’s usually not too difficult to tell which objects and characters you are able to interact with. In order to make it past the brambles to the castle, you must complete seemingly simple favors for various mythical forest creatures. Despite the gentle learning curve, the whimsical art style and the familiar childhood narrative, this game is certainly not just for kids.
In fact, many of the directives issued by the forest inhabitants can be quite subtle, with unexpected solutions to their problems. Much of your time in-game is spent poking around at the environment and speaking to every available character in order to reach the next relevant piece of advice or information that points you in the right direction. While this sometimes feels rewarding, reminiscent of the thrill that comes with discovering an easter egg, it did become frustrating at least once in my playthrough, clicking randomly on various objects in the hope of gaining new information. However, solving each of these conundrums is deeply satisfying once completed, and you certainly never feel that Little Briar Rose is condescending to you.
Beyond that, Little Briar Rose is a game full of variety. Each of the communities of woodland creatures ask different tasks of you, which results in a diverse experience. Though the game is short at only a couple of hours long, it packs plenty of content into its playtime. You find yourself fishing, cooking and solving an assortment of environmental puzzles. Each of these minigames is well crafted, none of them outshining the others.
One particularly charming aspect of Little Briar Rose is you, the prince. If you fail to properly address the requests of the forest’s inhabitants, your prince is transformed into one of them. After one prince’s demise, another appears at the entrance of the forest and you take control of him, picking up where his predecessor left off. As you continue throughout the game, you can see the past princes in their new forms scattered throughout the environment — you can even talk to some of them. Each of the seven or so princes in the game has a specific name and appearance, often referring to well-known royalty from other narratives like Disney’s Sleeping Beauty. This is far more refreshing than simply restarting from a checkpoint or a more traditional death screen.
Little Briar Rose is a game both polished and self-aware — a fact that is evident from its many achievements that poke fun at itself. (One is literally titled ‘I hate this game’, granted to the player after dying three times in the same puzzle.)
The only glaring flaw in this game that stayed with me after the ending is its truly old-fashioned nature. I can’t help but be a little repelled by the way that the princess is treated as an object to be attained rather than a person with any personality traits or agency, especially in the final stages of the game. However, I am the first to acknowledge that this is hardly a new flaw in gaming or any other form of media. If you look past some very tired gender roles, Little Briar Rose is a delightful game that is simultaneously refreshing and nostalgic, with a beautiful art style to boot.