Five years ago, I discovered a developer by the name of Wadjet Eye Games — a name very familiar to frequenters of adventure games. A certain Blackwell bundle was bought, booted up, and my passion for 2D point-and-clicks was rekindled anew. I was on a quest to explore all the adventures Steam had to offer.
Two years ago, I became acquainted with Grundislav Games through Lamplight City, a detective adventure set in the alternative Victorian steampunk world of Vespuccia. It ticked all of the boxes for me. Discovering the project was headed by Detective Sam Durkin himself, also known as developer Francisco Gonzalez, from the Blackwell series gave me a silly amount of joy. Think of the Zootopia scene where Clawhauser finds Chief Bogo watching Gazelle videos.
So, having seen that Grundislav’s newest project Rosewater had a demo available for Indie Arena Booth, I snapped it up quicker than a Hungry Hungry Hippo. A point-and-click adventure set in the same universe as Lamplight City? I’m all over it!
Unlike Lamplight City, Rosewater is a western adventure centred around the sleepy town of the same name in Western Vespuccia. You are put in the crimson waistcoat and sturdy leather boots of Harley Leger, a writer fresh off the train from New Bretagne and seeking a writing position at the Rosewater Post. Straight away, the name Leger struck me as it harks back to the game’s predecessor. I won’t spoil the connection as I encourage anyone to play Lamplight City, but it’s not vital to know it; Rosewater can easily be played as a standalone adventure.
A Welcome To Remember
Although the demo was not voiced, each character’s personality shines through in every line of dialogue. The completed game will have full voice acting, so as I watched the dialogues unfold, I found myself imagining what kind of voice they might have and who would be a good fit.
Even in the opening lines, Harley’s personality shines through as she meets the neighbourhood welcoming committee. An overly-chipper character in a loose-fitting suit by the name of Jem presents himself as a town greeter, welcoming Harley to Rosewater and inquiring as to what brings her here. Depending on the dialogue option you choose, Jem can provide little tidbits about Rosewater and Harley’s prospective boss. What a nice guy, right? Hold that thought.
Mid-conversation, a street urchin uses the opportunity to try and pick Harley’s pocket, getting caught by her in the process and good ol’ Jem suddenly remembers “another engagement” before taking off. What a coincidence. Once Jem leaves, however, you get a small glimpse of Harley’s past in her exchange with the young thief; all of her dialogue options suggest that her past was somewhat rough and she may have grown up the hard way. Each one seemed to reflect a different shade of emotion attached to that part of her life which I loved exploring; there were no cookie-cutter responses or extreme effusions.
Getting Our Bearings
You soon have the opportunity to explore the town as Harley searches for the Rosewater Post. I spent so long exploring simply to take in the exquisite rotoscope animations and locations because they were just wonderful to look at. Many times they reminded me of the early Broken Sword games in their look and feel, something that always brings a smile to my face.
As I do in every adventure game, I made a point of exploring every building and area and talking to everyone I could before heading where I needed to go. I spent a good amount of time with Doc Sedgwick in particular; I figured if we’re about to go on a wild west adventure, having a doctor as a buddy would be pretty handy!
I immediately took a liking to Sedgwick, as his passion for care is paramount and he also provides an interesting counterpoint to Harley — while Harley left her home town to start anew, he stays in Rosewater out of an inner duty to his patients and to himself. Leaving would be akin to abandoning them.
It's Raining Men
Getting on the Doc’s good side soon proves to be a good move. Upon reaching the Rosewater Post, we’re greeted by a man crashing out of the second floor window and falling to the ground in front of us. Call it a hunch, but this sleepy little border town may not be as sleepy as it looks.
Despite having the option to just ignore him and go inside, which is rather hilarious, I’m the kind of gal who reloads a save if I so much as make someone sad. So I fetched the good doctor to tend to him. Don’t worry, buddy, the Doc’ll fix you up. He and I go way back. Okay, five minutes back, but still.
My conscience clear and Harley’s good deed done for the day, we headed inside the Rosewater Post to meet our prospective boss and window-destroyer Joan. However, I had the feeling that this might have some consequences further down the line. Here's hoping being an upright citizen puts us in good stead!
Getting To Know You
Reaching for the whiskey decanter after their eventful morning, Joan is androgynous, to-the-point, and forthright — except about exactly why an unfortunate gentleman ended up being propelled through the window. Hardly worth mentioning. I'm guessing this is not too out of the ordinary, if it barely raises an eyebrow from the townspeople either.
I got to wondering who Joan was before becoming the Rosewater Post editor and what kind of life they came from — their identity pre-Rosewater. As to who they are now, all it takes is a single remark that Joan should be referred to by their first name only. To me, this was just right in its execution: not too subtle or too on the nose. In a live interview, Gonzalez spoke of his research into androgyny and trans people in The Old West, how commonplace it was for people to completely reinvent themselves and take on a new life and identity.
Our Choices Make Us
Our first commission for the Rosewater Post is to interview “Gentleman” Jake Ackerman, who Joan refers to as “the Achilles of our times”. Naturally, Harley has never heard of him. But, if we do a good job on this assignment, we’ll score ourselves some regular writing work. One puff piece coming up!
But before we head out, Joan stops us. Harley seemed familiar to them but they couldn’t quite place her. Now they remember and we learn another aspect of Harley's past, which Harley dismisses as “another life”. Knowing this, I began to look at Harley’s interactions and choices in a different light. It is always in the back of my mind, as it no doubt is in hers.
Later we have to try and get into the Opera House to see Ackerman’s show, and who should we run into but good ol’ Jem, now playing ticket tout. Unfortunately tickets for the show have just sold out. How we proceed here is not only sure to have consequences, but also has the potential to push Harley back towards the life she’s trying to put behind her. It’s amazing how just a simple snippet of conversation can suddenly add so much mental weight to every interaction.
One way or another, we get a good view of "Gentleman Jake’s Wild West", full of fantastic feats and derring-do. There's even a hark back to classic cartoons with Jake riding in on a steam-powered horse and giving his audience a winning smile so shiny it catches the light. At several intervals, there’s an opportunity to respond to the show in timed dialogue sections. I may have heckled a couple of times. Shocking from me, I know, given my good deed earlier. But a guy with teeth that shiny sets off the snake oil alarms for me.
Following the show, in differing ways depending on how the ticket encounter with Jem was resolved, Jake learns of Harley’s extra-literary skills and decides she could be the right woman for a certain adventure he has planned — an adventure involving treasure just ripe for the taking. Are we in? Damn right! But no funny business, Jake. If we see those shiny teeth again, we'll have a problem.
The Rosewater hype was high for me going into this demo and, happily, it did not disappoint. Fantastic animation, complex characters and weighted interaction kept me gripped the whole time and set the perfect scene for the main adventure. And, at an hour long, it was the perfect length with so much packed in, but somehow still not too much. It was just enough to reel you in, and I was reeled. Judging by this demo, 2021 is going to be a good year.