Well, after this I should think nothing of falling down stairs.
Disney’s Alice in Wonderland combines some of the most beloved, classic gameplay elements to make a surprisingly solid release. In fact, it’s one of the most engaging licensed titles I’ve played in recent years, if but for one glaring flaw.
[image1]Officially, this is classified in the adventure genre. Not that this is wrong, but to put it like Alice would, it is so much more as well. There are elements of a platformer, where you’ll spend lots of time just traveling from one place to another. It’s not a walk in the park, though; along the way, you’ll have plenty to do. You’ll meet bosses (some of whom are terrifyingly difficult to beat), solve puzzles in order to advance, meet familiar characters, and experience a storyline that is faithful to the movie.
The graphics are pretty good for the Wii, and the color palette and overall look of the environments are spot-on. Music adds to the mood, especially in combat, when things feel frantic.
The Underland Resistance must help Alice find the Vorpal sword and defeat the forces of evil. Each team member has special abilities that help to safely escort Alice to her goal. McTwisp the White Rabbit can freeze time, and the little mouse Mallymkun is a speedy warrior. Other characters will join the resistance along the way, all with their useful abilities as well: March Hare’s telekinesis, Mad Hatter’s perspective, and eventually, the ever elusive invisibility of the Cheshire Cat. Where and when to use these abilities is easy enough to figure out, but even with all the hints, the puzzles remain challenging and enjoyable.
Unfortunately, the combat gets repetitive and tedious, and this is the great failure of the game. The reward for getting through combat, of course, is seeing the next cool thing or solving the next puzzle (which happily does get more and more inventive), and that almost makes up for this flaw. Almost. Some players might just quit after being forced to fight yet another round of the Red Queen’s heavies.
[image2]Sometimes combat is straightforward, and fearless Mallymkun can handle it all with repeated hits to the ‘B’ button. Other times – and these are the frustrating ones – timing will be key, and employing time freezing or telekinesis at precise moments in exact ways is the only way out. Adding to the frustration is the camera angle. Having to stay out of the enemy’s range while also aiming to freeze it so you can hop behind for an attack is far too intricate of a dance. Waiting for the camera to catch up to you so your enemy doesn’t drop off screen makes it doubly hard. The directional buttons help with the framing a little, but not enough.
If you don’t give up entirely, expect to die repeatedly in battle. As this is a game geared toward young and old alike, dying is pretty innocuous – the character kind of just blinks off screen and comes back – but it doesn’t make it any less frustrating. Dying costs currency, which is more than plentiful, and can be found by smashing up the scenery everywhere.
Still, the game is really heavy-handed on combat, and after a while it detracts to an otherwise great time. After running into the Bandersnatch (whose name I’ve come to conclude is code for another word that starts with ‘B’ and ends with “tch”) fairly early in the game, you wonder just who will be around to see the amazing nuggets the game has in store down the road.
Combat aside, it is easy to become immersed in the world of Underland. My favorite moment was freezing a spinning hallway, then walking down it. You start on the floor and end up on the ceiling, and the transition is executed so perfectly that I found myself walking back and forth down the hallway a few extra times for no good reason. It just felt neat.
[image3]The guidline of Alice’s Thread, given early in the game, is a nice touch. There are enough distractions and back roads that getting a little turned around is inevitable. For example, every time you run into Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum, you’ll get sidetracked with Underland’s version of a mini-game. Calling on Alice’s Thread reveals the current goal as well as the general direction you should be heading. Upgrades to your arsenal are harder to get, in the form of chess pieces sprinkled few and far between in hidden rooms and other odd places.
The puzzles are great, but the immersive quality of the game is where Alice in Wonderland shines. For the most part, clues abound if you’re paying attention, even if some puzzles are really obscure. I spent a lot of time stuck in a room with an overgrown Alice, and couldn’t find my way out until I resorted to random button pushing. Even then, I was so impressed by how the game imparted a claustrophobic mood to the moment that I couldn’t be too mad when I finally got out of there.
Playing Alice in Wonderland has made me rethink my negative assumptions regarding movie-licensed games. This one is not like the others. If you can stand the combat, the rewards abound on the other side of this looking glass.