By Morpheus Kitami
It could be said very easily that I don't care for this game. This is true. But as I finished the game, that apathy turned into hatred. Remember that gryphon I mentioned, then went past? I thought I exhausted my dialog options and he did nothing. No, turns out the gryphon has a cricket bat he wants to give me. I feel like I have to take such extensive notes the game ceases to be any fun just to have a chance of winning. The three M objects I was supposed give one of Alice's many, many clones? Yeah, one of them is just supposed to be a mushroom. The game straight-up lied to me there.
|Alice jumps in a well|
Behind the painter is a cricket ground in a well. Trepassers will be bronzed. I need a cricket bat as proof of being a student. Inside, there's the Mock Turtle, who teaches another song, Munch Munch Munch, to the tune of I don't know. And nobody to check that I actually have a cricket bat, oh, well. There's a portal back to the March Hare's house, which I'm sure he's happy about. Wait, this means I have to go back to the start, doesn't it?
|He's tired, I'm tired, maybe the real tired are the friends we made along the way|
Let me explain why this is a bad thing here. There are about twenty screens between the Hare's bedroom and the Lake of Tears where the game opened up. Each screen takes somewhere between 5 and 10 seconds to load, and between 5 and 20 seconds to go across a screen. Now, that might be as much time as it takes to wander around in a Sierra game at the time, but those don't have loading these days, and if you're spending a long time wandering around, you're usually about to win. I am not. I am meeting a Dormouse so I can get a song "Shut Your Beaks", to the tune of some song, to sing to some baby birds so I can get to the second half of the game. While timed. And I have to walk back, slightly less screens, but still not fun.
|Shouldn't they be backwards rather than just reversed?|
After some considerable loading, I'm finally in the second half of the game. Left...takes me right. Guess I'm going right. Its one of those mazes. You know the kind. Take a wrong turn, back to the start. There's actually a pattern to the maze aspect, the one with an unusual feature around it is usually the right answer. In one room the game finds the time to sneak in a new character, the white queen, who is having issues with a brooch, that she gives me.
Once out of there, the game opens up again. Gotta say, at this point the game's feeling...overly long. I know its something EVERY Alice in Wonderland story does, merging the Looking Glass story with Wonderland, but combined, not one long thing. The game's implying Alice is going to become queen of something, but from my perspective, my end goal hasn't changed in a long time, and there's no evidence that it will change, outside of obligated story conventions.
|Are you sure about that?|
The opening up is less open than it seems, left leads to a confusing garden with this freak, and some more elixirs and cakes. I'm still using up those mushrooms, by the way. There's something interesting about the design of this place, everything's on a roman pillar, birdbaths, by implication of signage. The game's ramping up mentions of Alice becoming a queen, or at least some random person I broke into the house of wants me to become queen. By shrinking into, good thing Alice is the only criminal type in Wonderland.
|It is what it is|
And then there's another Alice. Maybe a previous Alice, who knows. She's very eager for me to swim over a channel. If I had any choice in the matter I'd be concerned, but this is all there is. There's no trap here, and no reason for me to be worried. There are more houses I can shrink into. Oh, I'm sorry, railroad station. I just get on a train, and there's a unicorn, who doesn't believe I exist. And a gnat in the second train car, who has a riddle.
How do you get off a train?
You don't. You get down off a ___
I never figured it out, but its not necessary apparently.
|This is really cool|
There's no way forward from there, but I can use my top hat to fly out of the traincar...there's a novel way of saving on train fares. Here I'm in the clouds. This is a cool area, there needs to be more games with just pictures of clouds. Especially clouds lit like this. Anyway, there's no point to this, I just go straight down, to the train car again, but at the end station. I think I need to reload.
In another hidey house there's a pathway, waylaid by rats, to Bonnie Prince Charlie. A hint I find elsewhere implies they're just moving my items, rather than removing them, so I go through...only to actually make it past them without incident. There doesn't seem to be any point to this, as Prince Charlie has nothing of value to say to me and he doesn't take anything. Dodging those rats is pretty tough, but I got it relatively quickly, so maybe its all in the controls.
Also, Humpty Dumpty is on a wall.
|As could be expected, this looks pretty sweet|
In the clouds there are some more flying things, but also a note. Something about weasels banking somewhere, I guess a hint that weasels aren't actually removing my stuff permanently, just temporarily. A bread-n-butterfly, and a door leading to the Inventors Club and the White Knight. He gives me a new song, Farewell Mutton, to the tune of something or another. Apparently it removes those pesky flies. That's actually it outside of the train and this area.
Outside of the train station is Tweedle Dee, who tells me a bunch of stuff that may or may not have relevancy later. Something about the Jaberwocky, and his brother having his rattle broken. Inside is another Alice. I'm starting to think Alice is going crazy. Other Alice talks about the Red King waking up, the Jaberwocky and using the fan to take it out...okay.
HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA! Hehehe. I use the fan on the Jaberwocky. HAHAHAHAHAHAH! That's so stupid. Heheheh. This is the most ridiculous thing I've seen all week, and I've seen a "werewolf" that looked more like Chewbacca than a werewolf. HAHAHAHAHAHAH!
Ah...heheh. Anyway, in the trees I find an egg. I don't know who it is, perhaps Humpty Dumpty again, not like you can tell here. Teasing him gets me a cravat, or perhaps a belt. Its stretchy. Not sure what I need it for, but whatever.
|You know what, I actually like you|
Then the palace. I think this was hyped up. I don't know, at this point I'm only partially aware of what's going on. Here's Tweedle Dum, who is actually pretty funny. The game's been smug whenever I give the wrong item, saying bribery is illegal. Tweedle Dum tells me to bribe him. And since Dee told me he broke his rattle...haha! The palace is a pretty nice looking place, alas I'm not here to sight-see, I'm here to finish this.
|Just like anyone playing this game has to...except not really|
Another royal figure, I don't know which one, who is looking for the brooch and has nothing else to say. Cool. We are solving problems. I am actually doing things I play adventure games for, rather than wandering around wondering what the hell is going on. A talking musical box? After threatening to turn me into the subject of a death metal song, we talked and he gives me a non-death metal song. God Save Queen Alice, to the tune of...you can figure it out...which when I think about it, is about as subtle as most death metal songs. A sheep selling nautical equipment? He wants a song, he gets a song!
The mad hatter wants bread and butterfly? He gets it. If it sounds like I'm speeding things up, I am, but this game really is just handing me out easy to solve puzzles now. Even the game knows it's overstaying its welcome. But at the same time, it's throwing out a lot of backgrounds that aren't the usual grass and trees. Its weird. It does pull that one trick from last time again. The one with the executioner. Only this time its a weird thing saying its time for a barbecue. And that Alice looks like an oyster. That's not creepy at all.
|If this wasn't this game, I'd say this could end badly|
I get sent to a creepy gray room. Which would be pretty cool if there was a horror-style game like this one where this actually feels threatening. This isn't, this is jumping over some weird-looking thing. After going back to where I was I eventually find a baker, who has been subtly referenced many times before in the form of having nightmares. He also has a riddle.
What can take you for a terrifying ride around the world every evening and yet never leave your home?
I didn't even remember the nightmare bit at first, choosing to actually solve the riddle given to me. I appreciate the game giving me that option for once. This palace is actually big, as big as the first half of the game. There would actually have been wisdom in making a map, but I remember which paths I didn't take, which should be good enough for my purposes.
|Isn't it already 350 degrees? Kelvin?|
Up leads to a throne room, where the throne is talking, rat, then the White Rabbit asking for his fan back. Left, in the screenshot, is a wasp, who I have to sing a song to. The twist is that the figure that now appears, a talking leg of lamb, also has to be sung to, in which case I get a paper crown. Down is a bee who knocks me out and the barbecue guy. Well, I'm not about to give the White Rabbit what he wants yet, so let's see upstairs for a bit.
Yet another royal figure, presumably one I met before. Nothing important, just a riddle, something about it being pleased, yet not pleased, contains everything yet contains nothing. I don't know, and I'm continuing to bank on it not being important. And the Easter Bunny, who seems upset about not being recognized like Saint Nick.
Then there's a barrister guarding a hallway. He sends me to the dungeon again if I touch him. He has a riddle for me.
Cups of gold lie in the dirty yet no one has put them there. Then they vanish yet no thief has taken them.
I admit, I don't think I could have figured this one out if I hadn't looked up a flower the game had mentioned. Because I've never seen any buttercups where I live, and I'm not a flower guy. This leads to a bell tower, with a rope that doesn't extend to the ground. This is where I'm supposed to use the cravat, since you can't grab a rope mid-air. The cravat shoots a rope straight up. Useless most of the time, since I have the top hat, which flies.
|I feel like organ music should be playing, shame this game has no music|
|I am disappointed|
After some considerable amount of loading. "You made it in less than 15 days". I had fifteen days? I thought I had 6 and a half? Or did I really have 65 days? You might as well not have one in that case. Well, I'm not going to try to figure out what happens if you lose now. I also don't recall anything to do with becoming a queen, unless the paper crown counts. Do I have to do a rating? Do I? Eh...
Final Session: 2 hours
Total Time: 7 hours 50 minutes
There are two major issues with Alice in Wonderland, Alice's movement speed, and loading times. This is actually tied exclusively to the C64, as the Apple II version Alice moves fast, and loading times are a second or two. I think if this came out on DOS like the other two microcomputer Disharoon games, this game might actually be fun to play. As it stands, the C64 version is too slow and the Apple II version is an assault on the senses. Perhaps I did something wrong in my C64 emulator, its possible. It already wasn't built for my setup, which has the game files and the place I put screenshots far away, while it wanted them in the same folder.
But even if those issues were fixed, it wouldn't change that this game doesn't have the best controls. You have to walk away from every door if you need to use something, like say, growing and shrinking items. The game allows you to use only one button, so it does everything. It's a good thing I didn't need to use anything the second I entered a room or anything.
Puzzles and Solvability:
There were three kinds of puzzles in this game. Give an NPC something, use an item in the environment, or solve a riddle. Okay, sometimes I had to sing a song, but the thing is...everything was way, way too easy, or required you to obsessively note down every in the hope that it would be useful later. Perhaps that's not technically true, but I got screwed on more than one occasion because I didn't do that. The thing is, the game has that time mechanic, but the time mechanic is generally useless for the most part. It was actually slightly better when I thought I had 6.5 days. Waiting around for a certain hour to pass for a NPC to return if I tick him off is either pointless, the first time around, or annoying, the second. Further, there are not really any clues as to which item I should give NPCs for the most part, just characters outright telling me. I don't feel like I'm solving anything most of the time.
Then there are the riddles. The problem is most of these run off Wonderland logic, which means writing down everything NPCs say, which is fun. I will give the game credit for making most of the rewards from these hints. Only three are actually necessary, or at least I found only three necessary to win. One could be ignored entirely if you know what you're doing I guess.
The best parts of the puzzles in this game were by far the ones in the beginning. When I wasn't sure what the game was going to do, but not that it was going to screw me so badly. When I wasn't quite settled into the routine of figuring out what potentially dickish thing I had to do now, or was about to be inflicted upon. Before having to dodge item stealing rats and things that bump me off. The end game was nice in giving me a reason to have all this stuff, but its mostly obvious. Use this item, give this item, sing this song.
Interface and Inventory:
Let us talk platformers for a moment. I am not the biggest platformer guy, I prefer my platformers to involve people shooting things. I also have no real opinion on platformers this is comparable to, most notably Dizzy, Monty, and other platformers popular on the kind of cheap microcomputers popular in Europe around this time. I do have an opinion on Blackthrone, which is the closest thing I've spent any amount of time on. Taking aside graphics and puzzles, Blackthorne is still a better game. There is a reason for the platforming, and consequences if you fail. There weren't many consequences in Alice when I had 6.5 days, and there weren't any consequences in Alice when I had 65 days.
But beyond that, Alice is slow, has three frames of animation, and generally feels unpleasant to control. I bring up Blackthorne because there's a difference between deliberate, careful movement and what Alice does. The parasol takes a few tries to get working, which can be bad if I need to be precise. And this is the basic movement part. It doesn't get any better when you examine things closer. You have to be right on things to examine or take them, while NPCs can be talked to anywhere in the room. And once those items are inside your inventory your method of using or giving them is tedious. If you examine your items, you have to go through every item in your inventory. And all you get is the names, you can only examine them before picking them up. And you can only cycle through items one way, so heaven help you if you accidentally bypass one.
The inventory itself is mostly underutilized, outside of items I give to obvious characters, most items aren't used as well as they could be. I had a whisker that created a platform and I had reason to use it thrice, and I would have had reason to use it once if I had gotten the top hat right away. And a cravat, that acts as a rope, also useless because I have a top hat that allows me to fly.
However, I must admit, some of these issues are down exclusively to the Commodore 64, or potentially my C64 emulator. The Apple II version moves faster and is less unpleasant to control in the five minutes I played of it.
Story and Setting:
Story? There's a story? I guess there is. Alice goes in Wonderland, solves some problems, reaches the Looking Glass, solves some more, then returns home. Its not really deeper than that.
While I like the Wonderland aesthetic, it feels a lot like this game had a checklist of stuff it had to use. A lot of things felt like, oh, they had to use this, because that's what was in the book. I didn't get that feeling I get whenever I see a rolling green hill, or a forest. Because every location is a single screen, every screen feels like its own independent world, and two screens might as well be a million miles away.
Sound & Graphics:
The sounds are basically just things confirming that you did something. And whenever a song plays, which is very rare. After some time I didn't care for that and just listened to my own music.
Graphically, the game has some pretty cool-looking backgrounds...it's just that they're very sparing with those. It's not that the green fields, forests and interiors aren't well-done for the C64, it's just they're boring compared to just about everything that came afterward. A lot of stuff is heavily reused, some cleverly, some not...very not. Its a treat whenever the game goes hog-wild with its graphical design though.
Environment and Atmosphere:
Like I've said, there are some cool concepts, but the game doesn't really do anything with them. Just go in a fireplace, or eat a shrinking mushroom and enter the door to the train station. The really interesting concepts don't even make that much of an appearance. I liked the outside mansion and the clouds, but those are 5 screens out of what, a hundred? And you don't really do anything with it. You have 8 dialog options, but effectively 1 option for anything that's not something you pick up.
That said, the atmosphere. I like seeing green fields, and forest. It's a nice feeling. I don't get that feeling. I'm just walking over some pixels. Once again the game was best at this in the beginning. What's down this hole? Nothing much, just what's outside of the hole.
Dialog and Acting:
The dialog system, which I believe is a holdover from Below the Root, really holds back the game at times. While yes, everyone in Wonderland acts like they're three seconds away from handing me "sleeping" mushrooms, dialog implies Alice is giving as good as she gets. If I am going to have to react like that, I would like to see Alice react like that. More adventure games need protagonists that act like dicks, not snarky dicks. The mood system doesn't really work here, I need some kind of concrete things to say to these people. Overall its mixed, sometimes funny things are said, mostly it's just there because Wonderland is weird.
The total is 19, that divided by 0.6 is 32.666, so 33. ShaddamIVth wins with 38, so huzzah once again for low expectations...
While some parts of this are fundamental issues with the style of game this ended up being, others are related to the content and the system, as I explained above. But, let's talk about this versus Below the Root. I have not played that game very far, nor do I know it very well. Indeed, I dare say because of this game, I don't want to play it. But I can say that Below the Root sounds like a better game. And Trickster is less picky about platformers than I am. Would I have rated this game higher if I played that Apple II version? Yes, but I doubt it would be much higher than the high '30s. I think what we can really conclude here is that you just shouldn't play a Disharoon game on the C64. Just don't do it.
This wasn't the last game Dale Disharoon would make, nor is The Scoop the last one he would make. No, Disharoon after his microcomputer efforts would get attached to a CD-i related company, responsible for Laser Lords, another Alice in Wonderland...and the Zelda CD-i games. Fun fact, if what I've heard about those is true, they have the exact same issues as this game. Specifically my issues with the door. Are they true? We will probably never know, CD-i emulation doesn't work and I'm not about to blow a thousand USD just to find out. On the other end, the animation company for the Zelda CD-i games, Animation Magic, would go on to do work in King's Quest VII and I.M. Meen.
As for me, well, Halloween is coming up, and now its time to scrounge up some horror games.