The Rivers of Alice – Extended Version
Publisher: Delirium Studios
Developer: Delirium Studios
Release Date: 11/16/2015
The point and click genre is pretty much perfect for artistic indie games. They can often be played with little exposition and little explanation. Fans of the genre are also more likely to appreciate abstract concepts, particularly when it comes to puzzle solving. The genre and style just fit each other well. One of my all time favorites in that regard is Machinarium. I agreed to review The Rivers of Alice because the trailer reminded me of my time with that game. Let’s check how it turned out.
First up, the “Extended Version” bit comes from the fact that this game was originally released on mobile platforms. For it’s PC debut, some additional puzzles have been added, which is certainly cool. It also comes complete with a set of Steam achievements for you to collect.
Alice’s story is told without words. Characters do talk to each other, but they use pictographs instead of typical speech. As the story goes, Alice visits a strange world in her dreams. Her goal is to collect four dragonflies that have escaped from her pendant. Along the way, she meets a host of bizarre creatures and people. It’s all very minimalist, and is more about evoking emotion from the player then telling a straight forward story. There are no great twists and turns to go down, but rather more of a strange world to explore. It’s about the journey, and the world you visit is worth exploring.
The art style is a thing of beauty. It’s like a sketch book come to life. Everything is lovingly hand drawn, and the strong use of color brings it all to life. The most interesting aspect, however, is that Alice herself is completely devoid of color. This makes her the alien creature in a world with a spider-woman, strange dog creatures, and some sort of eyeball monster. The animations are a bit above and beyond what you typically see for this kind of thing as well. Although Alice just flips over when she turns around, she still has some transitory movements that make her seem more than just a paper doll being manipulated over a background. It’s not a technical marvel by any stretch, but the art is simply great to look at, even when the background appears to be nothing more than a drab office.
Music is at the forefront of the game’s audio package. There are no voices in this game, leaving the tunes to carry the emotional weight. They do so wonderfully. The music was all done by a Spanish rock group named vetusta morla. I’ve never heard of them before, but instantly found myself bobbing along to the guitars and piano. The chirping tones and bells that make up the game’s sound effects are also spectacular, as they keep the musical quality of the game at the forefront. There are even a couple of music-related puzzles. It’s a game where you’ll likely want to play with headphones.
This is a true point-and-click. You move Alice by click on a spot on the screen. You interact with objects by clicking on them. Generally, there are three different options you have for interaction. These are “look at”, “talk to”, and “grab”. One or two of these options may be grayed out depending on the situation. You can’t simply attempt to pick up that boy with the telescope. You can move to a different screen by clicking on the footsteps on the edges.
As per usual for the genre, the gameplay is a series of environmental puzzles and mini-games. Items you pick up are added to your inventory, and can be used by clicking and dragging them to the desired location. Despite the fantastical location, the puzzles are rarely obtuse. It’s usually no more difficult than using a key to open a locked door. Even if things get confusing, you have a friendly sloth who will give you hints. For example, the reason you can’t complete the mini-game before time runs out is because you were supposed to add more sand to the hourglass beforehand. Or, if that aforementioned eyeball monster is blocking your path, why not obscure its vision? Not being able to figure out the solution usually means you just have to go explore a bit to find an item you’re missing.
As for the mini-games, they are typical, although perhaps a bit less forgiving than you’re used to. For starters, the game doesn’t include instructions for these puzzles. The first part is figuring out just what you’re supposed to do. After that, you have to actually complete the mini-game. You can’t skip it or use hints to move yourself forward. This will be welcome or not depending on your particular attitude. However, it can lead to a frustrating moment or two. There’s a particularly nasty slide puzzle late in the game. If you can’t figure it out, you’re out of luck unless you want to take to the internet for help.
The lack of direct explanation (apart from basic instructions in terms of how to control the game) is probably one of the better aspects of the game. It allows for a degree of exploration and discovery that is often the thing that will keep you going for an extended session. Also helpful is the fact that items you can interact with emit a small aura when you hover the cursor over them. This keeps you from hunting for an item that might not be there. It’s a great compromise that works well.
Despite being an extended version of the game, you’re likely to get only three to four hours in before you’ve seen all there is to see. That time will greatly shift depending on your puzzle solving skills. Had it not been for that slide puzzle, I could have shaved half an hour off of the my playtime. It doesn’t have particularly great replayability either, as you’ll know the solutions. However, for the game’s low price, this offers a satisfactory amount of content. This kind of game is more about the experience anyway.
Short Attention Span Summary
The Rivers of Alice is a brief, but beautiful adventure game. It walks the fine line between challenge and accessibility without giving up its abstract setting. The puzzles are mostly logical, although the mini-games can’t be skipped and may cause a few headaches. Perhaps the game’s best selling point is it’s lovely soundtrack. It’s a perfect game for point-and-click fans looking for a short fix.