You're all bored of reading it, we're bored of writing it: movie tie-ins are a waste of everyone's time. Cheaply made to hit impossible deadlines, they rarely merit a first look, let alone a second. How refreshing then to find a licensed game that makes a real effort to provide a unique, thoughtful experience that compliments the movie, rather than just charmlessly limping through its key set-pieces.
Although it loosely follows the same story as Tim Burton's movie (a sequel to the original tale), it ditches the look of its source material and goes off on its own, considerably more appealing, stylistic tangent. Simply put, Alice In Wonderland is one of the most beautiful, visually charming DS games we've ever played.
Whereas the film is bright, garish, freaky and, yes, downright pig-ugly at times, French developer Etranges Libellules have come up with a delightful cel-shaded approach, packing an impressive amount of nuance and expression into the character animations.
The game itself is, at first glance, a fairly straightforward stylus-controlled 2D platformer. At the outset, you take control of the White Rabbit, with Alice following behind (you never actually control the titular heroine - the whole game is essentially an extended escort mission). As you progress, you meet the Mad Hatter, the Cheshire Cat and Absolem, all of whom join your gang and become playable. You can easily switch between characters by tapping the icon in the top right corner and making your choice.
A Thing Of Wonder
It's basically another take on the tried-and-tested Metroid formula. You've got a big non-linear world map to explore, parts of which you
can only access once you've recruited a new character and their particular special power.
The White Rabbit can manipulate time; Absolem can mess with gravity and stretch his body; the Cheshire Cat can make objects disappear and climb walls; and the Mad Hatter can flip the scenery and move between the background and foreground.
For example, you might find a huge apple blocking your path. The solution? Select the White Rabbit, hold down any button to bring up his stopwatch controls and hit reverse. The apple will go back in time and shoot back up to the tree branch from which it originally fell, allowing you to progress. Clever stuff.
As well as this puzzle element, there's also plenty of combat. Every now and then your path will be blocked off and a gang of soldiers will materialise out of a red vortex. To attack, you just slash at an enemy with the stylus. There is some strategy to it though. Some soldiers can only be attacked from behind, meaning you have to roll behind them, while others charge you, making you block to stun them before you can attack. There are some imaginative boss fights too, especially the eye-popping final showdown, which is worth the price of entry alone.
It's fairly standard stuff for the most part, but it does have one ingenious little twist up its sleeve. To sidestep all that tedious backtracking that these Metroid-aping platformers often inflict on us, you can manipulate the game map to create your own shortcuts. The map is essentially a big jigsaw puzzle. As long as you can get the pieces to fit together, you can move chunks around at your leisure to bring yourself closer to your destination. It's a really clever mechanic and further evidence of the imagination that has gone into the game.
Before we get too carried away we'll temper our praise with a fair few grumbles. Seasoned gamers will find it far too easy. There's never any real sense of threat and the solutions to most of the puzzles are signposted as clear as day. The stylus controls aren't 100 per cent reliable, the levels can be rather devoid of life at times and the combat does get repetitive. So, it's by no means an essential purchase, but if you are a younger gamer, a big Tim Burton fan or just appreciate beautiful character design and classy gamemaking, you'll find a great deal to enjoy here. Alice In Wonderland is not just a good licensed game, it's a good game - period - and that's to be applauded.