The Cinema Rosa is a game steeped in the perils of ambition.
One man’s journey into first-time game development which saw him try, fail and try again to get the game the funding it deserved, The Cinema Rosa is the culmination of a man driven by his artistic vision. In turn, the game itself sees a man intent on understanding how his grand ambitions, and love, slipped through his fingers and were lost to time and tragedy.
The end result of all this hard work will undoubtedly be divisive as the game revels in ambiguity, is uninterested in length and would rather leave you with echoes of feelings than concrete answers. Despite these choices, however, there is something deeper to The Cinema Rosa that begs to be considered, both for its achievements and failures.
The Cinema Rosa Review
The Cinema Rosa begins, as most great mysteries do, on a stormy night in a run-down building. You are cast in the role of a man searching for answers, arriving at the abandoned Cinema Rosa, an art-deco cinema which you founded with your partner some time ago.
What began as a dream, as the game poetically puts it, “to live a thousand lives together through the screen”, has long since fallen into disarray and now the time has come for the owner of the cinema to face his past and finally put the whole ordeal behind him.
The gameplay will be immediately familiar to those who have played story driven, first-person experiences before. Move around a location, interact with objects, read old notes and solve puzzles to progress.
Despite developer Atreyu Games’ intentions of moving the genre beyond what has come before, The Cinema Rosa ultimately feels right at home among its contemporaries. Which isn’t necessarily a bad thing; the success of games such as Gone Home indicates that this type of experience is a welcome one and despite some slightly janky mouse placement issues, The Cinema Rosa provides an enjoyable exploration experience.
Through the Looking Glass
The Cinema Rosa is a short experience though, running no more than an hour or so, but this brief runtime allows the game to tell a precise, tightly constructed story. The game consists of several different ‘stages’ through which you may only progress once the central puzzle, or puzzles, have been solved and a key acquired from an ethereal memory sequence.
With perhaps one notable exception, these puzzles rarely challenge your logic abilities but provide an engaging series of escalating problems to solve none the less. As a reward for solving these puzzles, a gorgeous tear in reality will open up somewhere in the cinema which allows you to be transported to a memory scape.
Inside these memories, the game morphs away from a traditional exploration experience and becomes something akin to a David Lynch film. Heavily stylised and often defying the laws of reality, these memories offer up insight into the frame of mind the cinema’s founder as well as his relationship to the woman he loved.
As you explore deeper into the cinema complex, as well as further unravel the game’s tragic narrative, the cinema itself will begin to change. Solving certain puzzles will trigger a reconstruction of sorts of a given room as broken furniture and the like are returned to their original condition. These sequences work well to evoke a sense of what has been lost to time in the cinema, even if the execution of the animations is a little stiff.
The cinema’s trimmings aren’t the only echoes of the past to haunt the complex. Ghostly figures can be found moving throughout the cinema, a late addition to the game as they were not present in the early build I played last year.
These apparitions work in theory as the concept of a visual representation of the cinema’s haunting feels appropriate but the final product again falters due to the animations of the ghosts. Fortunately, the general atmosphere of the game more than makes up for this shortcoming and a running scare involving a moving decoration provided a genuine thrill.
The Cinema Rosa’s awkward animations are, fortunately, not a deal breaker, however. The game is steeped in a finely curated sense of nostalgia and romantic grandeur.
The ominous storm, the soft lighting and gold trimmings, the myriad references to classic cinema, it all melds into a feeling both comfortable and otherworldly. Despite my grievance with the ghostly figures, when I was ushered into the theatre by one of them to watch a black and white film clip I had a lump in my throat – I wasn’t threatened but I was thoroughly unnerved.
This pervasive sense of wonder and dread is bolstered by the game’s exceptional script and voice acting. From the opening moments of the game, you are introduced to the cinema founder’s inner monologue which serves as both partial guides through the past and as a perhaps unreliable narrator.
He is passionate, sorrowful and not altogether in the present moment but always engaging.
His love for Rosa and the cinema they brought to life is evident and while you sympathise with his tragedy, there is an edge of hostility to his character before the credits roll. His lofty goals of running a pure cinema experience are a thinly veiled parallel to this relationship to Rosa, who is drastically changed by circumstances outside of her control and his feelings toward her changed with them.
It’s The Cinema Rosa’s crown jewel, a messy and all too human look at how time can corrode love of all kinds.
The many newspaper clippings and notes you can find around the cinema serve to flesh out the remainder of the narrative though these are somewhat less successful. There are hints at a grander narrative tucked away in there, including commentary on the decline of the cinema business and the perils of social media of all things, but the overarching story becomes a little muddled by the end.
The Cinema Rosa presents a fascinating mirror image of its creator and how a vision to create something that feels pure can often collide dramatically with reality.
Atreyu Games discovered, just as the game’s protagonist did, that circumstance can be brutal but where the protagonist became consumed by his failures, Atreyu Games adapted and ultimately found a path forward.
When I first spoke with Josh Crook of Atreyu Games last year he told me of his vision of creating something that moves the narrative/exploration genre forward.
Although the culmination of his efforts isn’t exactly the leap he hoped for, The Cinema Rosa feels like the first step into a new style of the genre.
The Cinema Rosa was reviewed on PC using a code provided by the developer.
Game Title: The Cinema Rosa
Game Description: A narrative based exploration games which sees a man attempt to piece together his tragic past in the rundown cinema he used to own.
- Excellent script and voice acting - 8/108/10
- Compelling story - 7/107/10
- Detailed level design - 6/106/10
- Stiff animations - 4/104/10