After a successful relaunch of their Kickstarter campaign, Atreyu Games have finally been able to release The Cinema Rosa: a walking simulator with a focus on love, loss, regret and nostalgia. Set in a now abandoned 1930s Art-Deco cinema (the titular Cinema Rosa), you play as one-half of the former lovers/cinema owners, uncovering the history of the cinema, their relationship and what events led everything to fall apart.
The Cinema Rosa begins with the player outside the derelict cinema, as rain pours from the heavens around the once thriving building. As you enter the foyer, you are immediately invited to explore and piece together leftover clues and solve a puzzle to progress from one room to the next. Although pitched as a story-driven adventure, The Cinema Rosa is a puzzle game with story elements, and this might be part of a more significant problem with the game: despite presenting itself as a deep, emotive tale of reflection, Rosa never feels like it knows what it actually wants to be.
The Cinema Rosa is very easy to pick up: move around and press E to interact with items that highlight in the environment (yellow or blue depending on if they require another object or part of a puzzle). Most of the problems you will encounter are reasonably straight-forward – find an item in one place and bring it back to a specific item to unlock another area. To its credit, the majority of these are logical in their execution. For example, bring a film reel to a projector or a box of matches to a fireplace. With one notable exception, none of the puzzles to be found here present a more significant challenge than that.
The major pain in the backside is a caper involving a piano. Without spoiling how to beat it, because to be honest, Rosa only gives you a starting point and then no other discoverable hints relating to it, it’s a total trial-by-error event until the next portion of the cinema opens for you. This was the only puzzle that really hindered my momentum as if Atreyu were intentionally trying to make things vague to slow the player down on purpose.
There are plenty of objects to interact with throughout the cinema, with some being useful, and others being red herrings (I’ll be damned if I didn’t look at every wine bottle despite knowing they were all entirely useless). The interaction often felt awkward though, as more than a handful required me to aim the reticle or precisely position myself before the item would glow yellow. Also, many objects you would think were relevant, such as computers – which appear a lot – all turn out to be duds except for one. Between these and the bottles, it seems odd for Rosa to so frequently trick the player into trying to force redundant objects to make sense by highlighting them in the first place. It repeatedly hurt my progress whenever I would be trying to make heads or tails of a new room.
Other puzzles try to convince that they are significantly more complicated when they can actually be solved without much thought. One problem requires you just to grab the components of a Bloody Mary, which are all found within about five seconds of each other. There is both a lack of guidance and abundance of inconsistencies in the standard of the puzzles throughout, with some easy, some baffling and others weirdly spread across the cinema, collectively making them all somewhat frustrating in one way or another.
Taking into consideration that The Cinema Rosa was developed on a tight budget, there is a notable lack of polish throughout. Quite a few times, you will notice a word or two is misspelled in the subtitles, grammar being used poorly, or a glitch. There was one long corridor early on in the game where I experienced issues with loading issues in the same spot. Additionally, the lighting is, more often than not, just too dark. Even with the flashlight, the environment can be annoyingly dim, especially right at the beginning in the foyer as my torch seemed to make little difference in what I could actually see. The Cinema Rosa does throw in some abstract elements, like journeying through a portal into black-and-white flashback realms to gather other puzzle items, but it did come across as a strange choice, both unexplained and mostly random in their placements.
What the budget did certainly get right though was the voice actor playing the narrator. His performance was a real highlight of The Cinema Rosa and definitely the most memorable aspect of the game. His explanations of events were both moving and powerful, and I enjoyed any time his character was present, as it single-handedly elevated my experience of the story. My only gripe would be that his dialogue would pop up very suddenly after solving a puzzle and, as loathe as I am to admit it because this is in no way a horror game, almost gave me a damn heart attack. So, well, just be warned.
A critical element that will be a real ‘make or break’ for a lot of potential buyers is the length of the game, so let’s address it here: The Cinema Rosa is short. Incredibly short, in fact. The game itself is barely longer than two hours (on my first playthrough, I completed Rosa in under an hour) so some may find the price tag questionable. It’s hard to argue in its defence because, after finishing The Cinema Rosa, there just is nowhere near enough content available to justify it.
For all its good intentions, The Cinema Rosa gets more wrong than it gets right. The puzzles feel erratic in their nature, the story is just not as grand or as crucial as it is presented, the lighting is poor, and there are many notable glitches and loading issues that will readily take you away from the experience. It wouldn’t be as bad if it weren’t all contained within the space of an hour.
That the game lists itself as a story-driven adventure only adds to the identity crisis The Cinema Rosa suffers. Any good ideas are quickly brushed away, outweighed by a general lack of polish and a price tag that does not add up to the sum of its parts.
By all accounts, The Cinema Rosa could, and should, have been so much more, but what we’re left with is a small game with big problems.