If you’ve seen Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland movie, you might have unique expectations for this game. In fact, if you were thinking of the Wii game, you wouldn’t be very far off. However, the DS version has been designed with a different visual concept in mind, staying away from the three dimensions. The sharp and streamlined graphics, as well as the sinister design of the characters and environments remind me of noire comic books and other minimalist games like Patapon, or The Dishwasher Samurai, but with a cel-shaded twist. This original visual style is the first aspect that sets the game apart from a typical movie tie-in, and it looks pretty darn good on the Nintendo DS.
The story in the game loosely follows the one recounted in the film, focusing on Alice’s journey through the damaged Underland, which will eventually turn into Wonderland once she completes her mission as a hero – if she’s the real Alice, that is. The game incorporates all the characters you’d expect, including Alice, McTwisp the rabbit, Absolem the caterpillar, the Cheshire Cat, Mad Hatter, and -of course- a fuming card army.
Instead of controlling Alice, you’ll handle her travel companions, be it the rabbit, the caterpillar, the cat, or Mad Hatter. She just follows them along, jumping over gaps and overcoming obstacles with their help. Each of the characters has unique abilities and special attacks, though they’re all achieved with the same basic moves. When facing enemies, an upwards or downwards stylus slash is the most effective, though blocking an incoming attack in time will give you a fair advantage against them. You can also dash forward to make them vulnerable faster or use alternative special attacks you’ll learn as you advance. Just like in the book and the movie, Alice is constantly harassed by the card knights, so defending her in difficult moments is one of your tasks at hand. If you fail, she’ll be taken away through a dangerous vortex.
Alice in Wonderland for DS is a puzzle-platfomer. In order to proceed through certain obstacles, you’ll have to use the proper characters by simply switching between them with a tap of the stylus. McTwisp can control time. If you hold a button, a timer shows up, letting you rewind, move time forward, and even pause it. That way, you’ll be able to do things such as growing a tree faster so you can climb it or restoring a broken bridge so you can cross to the other side. The white rabbit is also an excellent double-jumper. Absolem changes gravity. Certain areas are clouded by green currents. If you switch the center of gravity, Alice and company will be able to walk upside down and move forward. He can also stretch and close small gaps. Mad Hatter can flip the world and move between dimensions (much like in Super Paper Mario). Last but not least, the Cheshire Cat can climb walls and make objects show up or disappear. These interesting powers lead to some clever puzzles that aren’t too difficult to solve but definitely help to keep players engaged.
As good as the puzzle mechanics are throughout the game, combat is the part that leaves a bit to be desired. Tapping and slashing with the stylus to beat up enemies gets repetitive quickly. There are some boss battles as well, but they’re not all that fun. If you can get past that though, the rest is quite enjoyable – something to praise, especially considering this game is the result of a Hollywood film. Moreover, there are plenty of save points and extra health throughout the game, so you can take it easy and play a little bit at a time.
The interface is fun and easy to use, though sometimes the menu buttons blend in with the game’s graphics too much and can lead to confusion, especially before starting the game. During gameplay, a map on the top screen shows the different areas of the game’s world. At first, you’ll only be able to access a few sections, but as you explore more and more, you’ll find lost pieces of a puzzle, which you can put together in order to unlock new locations.
A quest log also helps you keep track of the missions; this is most useful when you come back to the game after a few days and can’t remember what you were doing. In addition, there’s a Moves List that serves as a refresher for a little combat variety – not that there is much of that. The map menu also lets you place a marker in spots you need to revisit later on when you acquire new powers or meet new characters. All of these features make the game very accessible.
Unfortunately, when it comes to sound this title doesn’t really stand out. Mysterious, fantasy-inspired melodies keep looping through the levels, providing good ambiance for the game, but not a memorable experience. The cartoonish sound effects are few and far between, complementing the comical look of the title, but not really making a difference.
I hadn’t seen it before, but Disney’s new games for children can be tied into an online account (DGamer) that allows you to unlock achievements, create and edit your own avatar, chat with other kids, etc. This can be done from the computer and also from the game cartridge. Everything is very kids-friendly and controlled, which is a good thing, considering today’s dangers when using the Internet underage. The game also offers some special unlockables for DSi users.
Unlike other movie tie-ins, this offering is quite solid, and it targets a broader audience. Even if it’s more aimed towards older kids, people of all ages will find it fun and appealing. It’s not particularly challenging, but at the same time, the popular story, puzzle-driven platforming, and inspired visuals offer enough of a hook for anyone looking for a new DS adventure. If you enjoy titles such as Lost Winds, this one should make you happy.
RATING OUT OF 5 RATING DESCRIPTION 4.4 Graphics
Fun and streamlined cel-shaded visuals make for a unique and interesting Alice world that suits the DS graphic capabilities properly. 3.5 Control
Very accessible controls, though a bit repetitive during combat. The stylus is great for puzzle-driven platforming. 2.8 Music / Sound FX / Voice Acting
The fantasy-inspired music doesn’t really stand out, and the sound effects are just basic. 3.9
If you enjoy platformers filled with puzzles and a classic storyline, this is your chance at playing a good, portable movie tie-in.
3.8 Overall Rating – Good
Not an average. See Rating legend above for a final score breakdown.