Review: Alice in Wonderland (Nintendo DS)

Alice in Wonderland
Publisher: Disney Interactive
Developer: Disney Interactive
Genre: Action/Adventure
Release Date: 03/02/2010

When this game arrived, I didn’t hesitate to call it. I have no idea why. It was a licensed game for a movie that I had no interest in whatsoever. What can I say? Johnny Depp has always annoyed me outside of Pirates of the Caribbean and Edward Scissorhands. I guess I just wanted a quickie game to review so that I’d have something to distract me until God of War III hits shelves on the sixteenth.

Anyways, I wasn’t expecting much when I looked at the cover. I was expecting another game like Garfield’s Fun Fest or Aliens in the Attic. It would take me a couple of hours to beat and I’d end up giving it a low score.

Imagine my surprise when I started the game and started enjoying myself.

Story

Alice in Wonderland follows the basic plot of the movie, though minus some of the setup. You don’t have to worry about Alice’s melodrama one bit. The story starts off with McTwisp the white rabbit bringing Alice down into Underland. It was foretold by the wise caterpillar Absolem that Alice’s return was the only thing that could save the land from the Red Queen’s evil rule. Alice sets out to find the mystical armor and Vorpal Sword so that she can defeat the Jabberwocky and end the oppression. The Jabberwocky is of course the Red Queen’s monstrous minion that serves as her method of maintaining rule.

It would all be silly if not for the clever writing and quirky characters. From the Mad Hatter to Chessur the cat, each character is bursting with personality. Even Alice manages to be interesting after the initial few minutes. The story is told completely through dialogue at key moments. It even breaks the fourth wall at some points. You don’t have to worry about compressed clips from the movie or a truncated version of that plot. The game does its own thing and it does it well. It actually made me interested to see the movie, whereas before I couldn’t care less.

Graphics

The art style in this game is certainly unique. Everything looks like an ink drawing that wasn’t colored in all of the way. Rather that use white as a color itself, things like skin and backgrounds just have an absence of color. It isn’t the Wonderland we’re all used to, but it looks great and when color does show up, it makes those instances pop out that much more.

There’s also an incredible attention to detail here. Bits of armor fly off of the red knights as you damage them until they’re nothing but naked cards. A swirling tornado is full of bits of debris that can damage you. Facial expressions are clear an vivid. When you walk slowly, Alice gleefully skips behind you. The Mad Hatter holds onto his hat with one hand as he runs.

None of that is as impressive as the animations, which are perhaps the best I’ve seen on any DS game. I’m not kidding. The cat moves so lithely that I could have sworn I was looking at the real thing. Each of the four playable characters has a robust set of animations when it comes to moving, attacking, and even just interacting with Alice. The cat lowers his tail to help her up, whereas McTwisp will bend over to lend a hand. These guys move so convincingly you’ll mistake the game for a Prince of Persia game at points. Seriously.

It doesn’t push the boundaries of the DS, but the unique art style and fantastic attention to the little details make this a pretty game to look at and head and shoulders above other licensed games on the DS.

Audio

Sadly, the audio can’t quite compare the to visual package the game offers.

The main reason is that the music is simply the score from the movie. Tunes that make decent background tunes during a movie don’t quite have the same effect for a video game. Most of the time, the music is took dark and brooding. When you’re gay-fully skipping along and the music reminds you of something that would be playing during and episode of CSI, it just doesn’t feel right.

On the other hand, the original sounds are quite good. When Alice needs your help getting up a steep jump, she’ll call out “hey-o!” The sound was so clear here that my family thought I was calling my brother Adam. At another point, her shrill cries were freaking out the family dog. These kinds of effects are usually annoying, but ever in sections where they were going off every few seconds, I enjoyed them.

There’s no voice acting in the game, so the music and effects are what you’re left with. The music might not be up to the task of getting you into the world, the the rest of the package works great. I have a feeling that if some original music was made for the game, it would have been something special.

Gameplay

The gameplay in Alice in Wonderland is about two things, navigation and combat. You control one of four playable characters with the stylus. Holding the stylus in a direction will move the character while swiping it down will cause that same character to attack. For the most part, the controls work great. The only problem I had was the dodge roll that you need to use frequently. You need to slide the stylus and then hold in below the character and then swipe upwards in a diagonal direction. It takes a while to get use to the way the game wants you to flick the stylus, and even then you’ll still fail to perform the move about twenty to thirty percent of the time.

You control either the Mad Hatter, McTwisp, Absolem, or Chessur. You can switch between them on the fly, but no matter who you chose, you’ll have Alice tagging along behind you. She can’t take damage, but if you get too far away from her, she’ll start getting sucked into a vortex. If she gets pulled through, it’s game over. You’ll also have scripted battles against the red knights. In these sections, you’ll be stuck in an enclosed area. They’ll attack you and try to get at Alice. If they grab her, then they’ll place her in a vortex. If you try to rescue her, they’ll attack you, meaning you’ve got to rush to clear them out before you lose. You have a health bar, but all that happens when you run out is you can’t move for awhile. The only way to lose is for Alice to go through a portal.

Each of the four characters has three unique abilities. Two are used for navigating the environment and the other is for battle. The rabbit can effect time in different ways, Absolem can reverse gravity in certain sections, the cat can make some objects disappear or reappear at will, and Hatter can turn a world around to allow you to reach otherwise unreachable areas. They’ve also got movement abilities that allow them to reach places the other can’t.

Your main goal at the start is to find pieces of a jigsaw puzzle that create a map. Once you’ve opened up a place on the map, the door to that section activates, allowing you to enter. However, some pieces can and must be rearranged so that you can skip sections and get to places more quickly. The map, in this way, is malleable and it makes exploration much easier than it would otherwise be. It also helps tone down the backtracking, though there is plenty. Of course, at the end of the game you get an ability that allows you to teleport anywhere, but it comes so late that that all it is good for is finding the last few treasure chests you missed.

Getting through the environment is often simply a case of knowing what abilities to use and in what order. In one case, you need to make a windmill reappear with the cat, then use the rabbit’s rewind ability to repair the windmill. Then, you need to blow into the mic to make the windmill spin to knock over a tree that you used the rabbit’s fast forward ability to make grow. It might sound complicated, but you’ll always know if the character you’re using is the right person for the job because they’ll have a red exclamation point above their head if they can use their power.

That’s pretty much the game. You explore each location to find treasures and puzzle pieces. You fight off waves of red knights, and you make sure Alice safely jogging behind you. The controls work great for the most part, the powers are fun and easy to use, and the combat can get pretty hectic when you need to dodge roll behind opponent’s and swipe at them during short windows. I was shocked at how much fun I was having with the game, even if it wasn’t as challenging as I would have hoped.

Replayability

The game will last you about five or six hours your first time through. After that, your only real option is to explore around to find the last few remaining treasure chests. These really only unlock still images for you to view outside of the game, but the game does keep track of what you have found for each area, so completionists will be tempted to find everything.

Beyond, that, there really aren’t any other modes to fiddle around with, nor are there multiple difficulties. There is an extra feature you can use, but it has very little to do with the game and I’ll go more into detail about that down in the Miscellaneous section.

It isn’t as short as some licensed games I’ve played, but it doesn’t really offer you anything to do once the game has been beaten.

Balance

The game is clearly designed for a younger audience. Life and energy are abundant everywhere you turn, you don’t die if you run out of life, save points are everywhere, and the timer for Alice being sucked into a vortex is extremely plentiful. I only got a game over once, and that was because I got careless and got too far away from her.

More to the point, the puzzles, though nifty and often times clever, aren’t something that is going to challenge anyone over ten years old. Even then, there are only a handful of these puzzles that require more than simply using someone’s power.

In the end though, the game isn’t so easy that you get bored. I like that there are still some kid’s games out there that don’t treat children like morons.

Originality

This game actually combines a lot of nifty ideas from good games. Being able to switch characters on the fly to get through specific areas reminds me a lot of Teenage Zombies, which was one of my best early DS finds. Keeping Alice safe is like a more hands off version of Ico. You don’t have to drag her around, but you do have to help her out at points. The malleable landscape is akin to things we’ve seen in games like Final Fantasy Tactics Advance. There’s a lot of good stuff here.

Even still, the game never feels like it is ripping something off. Thanks to the unique setting and fun puzzles, the game manages to carve its own niche in the gaming world. Considering all of the derivative movie games I’ve reviewed, this was a breath of fresh air.

Addictiveness

I played through this game in about four or five extended sittings. One of those breaks was because my DS was running out of power, so that should tell you something. I often bring my DS with me to my family’s house when I visit, especially when I have a game to review. Rarely do I spend enough time playing a game to drain my battery. (Though, to be fair, my battery life isn’t what is used to be.)

There’s something about the game that makes you want to keep going. It isn’t as strong as something like Bejeweled, but you’ll find it won’t take you long to finish the game.

Appeal Factor

The biggest thing going against this game is that the price of thirty dollars isn’t quite worth the five or six hours the game will last you, especially given the limited replay value. Take even five dollars off the price and the game is easily more recommendable.

Another tough selling point is that the game is clearly designed for a younger audience. This makes it great for kids, but older DS owners will have to decide if the art style and quirky personality are worth it.

While I’m glad I played this game, I’m not going to tell anyone they should buy it unless they’re really into Alice in Wonderland or something. Though it would be a great game to give to a kid.

Miscellaneous

One of the first things I noticed about the game was a new feature that Disney appears to be adding to all of their new DS games from not. It’s called D-Gamer. D-Gamer is a social networking application that allows owners of these games to chat with each other, as well as create avatars. The game also has an achievement system that unlocks new outfits for this avatar, as well as earns the player honors that can be viewed. I’m not sure how this system will work if you have multiple games, and I didn’t get to hook it up online to see what kinds of parental controls were in place. It appears that it works with a friend system, meaning you have to know the person you’re chatting with. It is an interesting addition that should interest a couple of people, but only if they’re not old enough to use a cell phone.

Beyond that, the only extras that come with the game are those unlockable images. It gives you something to search for while you’re playing, but you won’t be hard up to find them unless you need to have everything to get a sense of closure with the game.

Still, the overall game is fresh and enjoyable.

The Scores
Story: Above Average
Graphics: Great
Audio: Decent
Gameplay: Good
Replayability: Poor
Balance: Mediocre
Originality: Above Average
Addictiveness: Enjoyable
Appeal Factor: Mediocre
Miscellaneous: Enjoyable
Final Score: Above Average Game!

Shot Attention Span Summary

Alice in Wonderland for the DS won’t dazzle you with it’s gameplay, but it still manages to be quite good thanks to a brilliant sense of style and enough cleverness to keep you interested. The lack of replayability and relative ease of the game might make it a tough sell to anyone but a younger audience, but if you get the chance to play the game, you shouldn’t let it slip. It is definitely above the bar for licensed games.

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