It's just a photograph, found tucked away in her parent's attic, but for one girl it raises questions and memories she's forgotten. Once upon a time she was a little girl whose best friend was a little boy. But her parents have always insisted he never existed. So why does she have a picture of him, then? It prompts her to revisit the town she grew up in and untangle her memories in this short but sweet point-and-click adventure from Gambit about childhood, friendship, and loss with Rosemary.
Rosemary experiences the world around her not only through your typical point-and-click interactions, but through her senses as well. The bottom of the screen has a list of interactions that greatly expands her environment. Click on "smell", then on the sky, and she might tell you she smells rain coming. Click on "listen", then on a nearby window, and she might recall a happier time when she and he friend used to call out to one another.
But you're not just exploring Rosemary's present-day. Clicking on the tree icon in the menu at the bottom of the screen will shift her back into the richly painted realm of her memories, where all the interactions are different. You can do this at any time, and it's often the best way to proceed. Present-day may be gloomy and empty, but Rosemary's memories contain old friends she can talk to and provide more pieces to her puzzle.
The puzzles in the game are extremely simple, and while one involves making an obvious combination of the few objects you'll pick up, most of the others are about Rosemary's photo album. If you click on the icon, you'll open it up and be presented with two pages for each puzzle. One page will have a short description where important words are left out, and the opposite will have space for photographs that will fill in the appropriate word from Rosemary's memory. Since you typically only receive one or two memories at a time to work with, these can usually be solved with minimum fuss by swapping pictures around if the combination doesn't work.
The point-and-click formula is a well documented one, familiar enough as to be considered tradition. I'm not berating the genre, since Lord knows it has the warmest little niche possible in my nerd-heart, right between rail-shooters and movies by Bruce Campbell. But it is an old one, and it's refreshing to see a game trying a different approach to it. Experiencing the world through Rosemary's senses rather than just your standard "touch/pick up" and "look" makes for a much more immersive experience. You find out much more about her and the world around her if you take the time to explore rather than just click through on all the obvious places.
Analysis: When people remember their childhood, many of them remember the good rather than the bad. I know I'd rather remember my grandmother's banana bread than the arguments I had with friends, or the time I fell out of the tree in our backyard. The difference between the lonely, forgotten present day and Rosemary's memories, which are painted in rich, warm tones of orange and gold, is exceptionally striking, and is one of the best examples at creating atmosphere I've seen in a long time. Even the oddly melancholic little soundtrack changes, becoming warm and inviting.
The only real disappointment I had with Rosemary is how short it is. You can expect to finish it in under a half hour, longer if you're insatiably nosy and exhaust every option on every object. If such a short playtime is what's kept the production values on this game so high, then perhaps it's a good thing. But at the same time, it makes the ending much more startling because of how abrupt it is. While there is some foreshadowing, there isn't nearly enough to take the sting out of it. Even though you may see it coming, it's still a bit of a shock.
Oh, but it's lovely while it lasts, with its storybook artwork full of rich amber hues and the subtle sound effects that blend with the music to create a touchable environment. So much effort and cleverness has been put into this one, that if it were longer it would easily become a classic instead of just an afternoon treat. The team behind it is immensely talented, and I have no doubt at all that all of them are going to go far. There's a love and sensitivity in Rosemary's whole design that speaks well for any future projects that they may undertake, whether together or apart. And yes I know I'm talking about them like they're Power Rangers about to combine, and I don't care, because that is how much I love Rosemary.
I spent a while trying to decide what content rating to give this one solely because of the ending. Most children may not even bat an eye, but I would recommend that if your child is under the age of ten, you give this one a play yourself before turning them loose on it. Rosemary is a sweet, nostalgic little story tempered by sadness, and some tots may not be ready for it just yet.
In a lot of ways, Rosemary is remarkable, and not just "for a freeware game", but for a game, period. Short and bittersweet, it offers a solid story experience that promises great things to come from it's creators. And maybe, just maybe it will break your heart a little.
Download the full, free game.