Alice in Wonderland Impressions
We fell down the rabbit hole for a first look at Disney's latest adventure, Alice in Wonderland.
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Creating a movie-based game is never an easy task, but when that movie is the new Tim Burton adaptation of the well-loved story Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, that job is a serious undertaking. But with the project under the watchful eye of ex-SCEE producer Philip James and with the backing of director Tim Burton, Alice in Wonderland has the potential to be a cut above the usual movie tie-in. We invited James down to our London office for an extended look at the game and heard his thoughts on working on the adaptation.
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Alice in Wonderland is a third-person adventure game that tells the story of Alice: a young girl who falls down a rabbit hole into a wonderful fantasy world populated with strange characters. The game loosely follows the plot of the film, visiting a range of key scenes while also adding new ones. Surprisingly, though, you don't play as Alice. Instead, you take on the role of the inhabitants of Wonderland, who have been tasked with protecting her. Most of the famous characters are playable in the game, including The White Rabbit, The Cheshire Cat, and The Mad Hatter. Each has a unique special ability and attack, which is used to solve puzzles or defeat enemies in battle. The abilities themselves are rather eccentric, but they fit in with the "anything goes" feel of Wonderland. The March Hare, for example, throws cups and saucers at enemies, while the Mad Hatter is able to use the power of perspective to crush enemies between his fingertips.
One of the unique features of the game is the ability to switch among characters at any time and use their combined powers to solve puzzles. We were shown one level set in castle, which required the use of different characters to proceed. We saw the Cheshire Cat come across a set of footpaths, each with a gap in the middle that was too far to jump across. On each side of the gap was a wooden platform on a rope, like a rudimentary set of scales, which had a number of sand bags piled upon it. Highlighting the sand bags with the Wii Remote caused them to change colour, with each colour corresponding to a particular character's ability. In this case, the bags lit up purple, which told us that we could use the March Hare's telekinesis ability to move them off the platform to the other side. This decreased the weight on one platform but added too much to the other. The solution was to switch to the Cheshire Cat and use his invisibility powers to make a larger set of sand bags on the opposite side disappear. This allowed the platform the cat stood on to rise up and give him enough clearance to jump the gap.
Many of the puzzles play off of the wacky characteristics in Wonderland, allowing you to bend the rules of the real world to come up with some interesting solutions. For example, we saw a variety of objects in the game that were split in half. One way of reassembling them was to drop them into a river. This caused a reflection to be cast on the surface of the water and give the appearance of a whole object, which could be pulled out in its entirety ready to use. The same trick was used with mirrors to rebuild entrances to rooms or open up new areas. The Mad Hatter's perspective ability was also used in a similar way. One puzzle we were shown required the Hatter to cross a large ravine, but the bridge across it had split in two. By aligning the camera just right, it gave the appearance that the bridge was one whole piece, which fixed it and allowed the Hatter to cross. The logic to these solutions makes little sense, but they don't feel out of place with Wonderland's magic doors, shrinking potions, and talking animals.
We were also treated to a demo of the combat in the game and saw several characters duke it out with the card soldiers of Wonderland. Enemies appear at special locations and materialize out of heart-shaped portals, which is similar to how enemies appear in the Zelda games. Attacking is confined to the A button alone, and repeated attacks trigger different moves or combos. You can switch among characters in battle, so you can use the March Hare's cups and saucers attack at long range before moving in with the Mouse's ninjalike attacks to take down enemies at close range. Destroying enemies gains you "impossible ideas," which are used to upgrade your character's abilities. Although your character cannot die, losing all your health strips you of any impossible ideas gained during the battle. Alice is left vulnerable during attacks, and enemies sometimes attempt to drag her away to a portal; if you lose her, it's game over. You're alerted when this happens, so you have to make a mad dash to pull her out again. The art style captures the fantastical nature of Wonderland, but not having seen the film, it's difficult to tell if the developer has its own look or if it was borrowed from the movie's style. The environments look detailed, and lots of lighting effects are used during combat to add to the eye candy. Some of the level designs also look good, with the Mad Hatter's upside-down house being a particular standout. Many of the actors from the film are lending their vocal talents to the game, and we recognised Steven Fry and Barbara Windsor in our demo. Although we didn't get to try it, the game will feature two-player co-op. You will be able to jump in and out of a game at any time, with the action taking place on a single screen rather than being split. Disney told us that there should be over eight hours of gameplay in the final version, and there are collectibles to find throughout.
Alice in Wonderland looks like an interesting take on the titular story. Based on what we've seen so far, the puzzle design is clever, and playing as Wonderland's inhabitants seems far more interesting than playing as Alice herself. We're looking forward to getting our hands on the game, which is due for release March 3 on the Wii.