Another film, another game to accompany it, this is kind of the way the mantra goes. Once in a while however a licensed game comes along that actually tries to differ itself from the mediocrity that plagues its kin. The DS version of Alice in Wonderland tries to do this with its bold, surreal art style and puzzle-based platform action, but does it manage to spout wonder?
The game box states that the game is inspired by the recent Tim Burton movie rather than following it to the letter. Still Alice finds herself back in the mysterious Underland – which Alice mishears as Wonderland in the film – to find that it has been ripped apart thanks to the monstrous Jabberwocky. It turns out that this is a ploy from the Red Queen to take control from the White Queen of Underland, and prophecy states that to stop Underland from being destroyed completely, Alice has to find the legendary Vorpal Sword and several pieces of armour so that she can do battle against the Jabberwocky. Alice is joined in her mission by McTwisp, the White Rabbit and, eventually, the Caterpillar, The Cheshire Cat and the Mad Hatter join the team.
You have no control over Alice herself, but rather control one of the other characters at any one time, swapping between them on the fly. Almost all the controls are done on the touch screen, pressing the screen makes the character heads in that direction, whilst Alice follows behind. Pressing high will make the characters jump up to higher ledges and vice versa for pressing low. Pressing on your character will make him block in the direction he is facing, during which you can roll with a diagonal swipe; slashing up or down in front of the character will make him attack. You can click on Alice to tell her to wait or to lift her up to platforms she can’t quite make; however, stay away from her too long and she’ll get impatient and eventually she’ll start being sucked into a vortex.
These vortexes are created by the Red Queen, who is not keen on Alice fulfilling her prophecy and ruining her plan of conquest. While leaving Alice alone is one way to leave her open to being kidnapped at multiple points in the game a vortex will open up and some of the Red Queen’s soldiers will come out. When this happens you become fenced-in and have to defeat all the guards that arrive, during these fights Alice hides under whatever is available, but if the guards come across her, they will grab her and place her in the vortex if you don’t stop them. When Alice is in one a vortex a countdown will appear above her head, counting down her long she can hold on; if it reaches zero, Alice is sucked in, captured by the Red Queen and you receive a game over and have to start over.
For the most part, the battles are not all that difficult, especially when you get a feel for the controls and these battles become more of a mild distraction than something of real challenge. Other treats include killer grass and other bizarre enemies like that, which are easily dispatched with a few basic attacks. The few bosses in the game follow a similar setup to the fenced-in fights with the regular soldiers, though they do also require a bit of lateral thinking to defeat.
The physical buttons on the DS all have the same function: using the special powers of the four playable characters at specific points. The white rabbit can manipulate time, the caterpillar can reverse the gravity of mist, Cheshire Cat makes certain objects appear or disappear and the Hatter can flip the screen to give you a new perspective on the environment. Later on in the game your be asked to combine the powers of several different characters to make progress – leaving Alice behind in the process, leaving the clock ticking – and you can gain two additional abilities for each character as you make your way through the game, which open up more of the map and enables you to find the hidden treasure chests.
The map is handled rather cleverly. Acting as a giant jigsaw puzzle, you can rearrange some of the pieces to your liking as long as they fit together, the doors to each area represented by the four suits of playing cards. For instance, exit a room by a heart door and you can then change the part of the map you were previously for another with a heart shape on that side, the door will how lead to the newly place area instead of where it headed before you changed it, creating a shortcut. Late in the game you gain the ability to teleport to any segment of the map, limiting the use of what could have been a very interesting mechanic to play with.
The game is quite short and there are save points everywhere, meaning that you rarely need to re-cover ground you already trodden after being beating by guards or losing Alice to a vortex. You can finish the main story in about five to six hours, with only the few hidden chests – most of which hold such things as concept art – to find after you see the final credits roll.
With its unusual art style, Alice in Wonderland stands out in a busy DS market. The colourful characters – Alice especially – stand out against the creepy, almost monotone silhouette-like backdrops; the characters – all 3D models – are fluidly animated, from the Cheshire Cat’s proud gait to Alice’s joyful skipping, it oozes with charm. The audio is mostly ambient in nature, with quiet, melodic music outside of battles, and Alice’s wails of distress when left alone for a long time, or when she needs help are at first charming, but can become annoying. It’s there but is ultimately in the background for the most part.
Alice’s latest adventure in Wonderland/Underland certainly finds itself with its feet planted firmly into the good game category, but isn’t ambitious enough with its best ideas to move beyond; it is also somewhat short-lived. This is a shame, because at its best the game is a breath of fresh air in a somewhat stilted, stale market and proves that a licensed game, that most curious of curiosities, can still be a worthwhile experience; at least while it lasts.
Originally posted on June 7, 2010 on Gamingtilldisconnected.