Title: The Rivers of Alice
Platform: iPhone, Android, Wii U, Steam (reviewed on)
Developer: Delirium Studios
Publisher: Merge Games, Tagstar Games, Delirium Studios
Release date: Out now
Price: £5.59 on Steam, £4.40 on the Play Store, £3.99 on the Apple Store, and £7.19 on the Wii U eShop.
Family Friendly: Click here to read more
Verdict: Don’t bother
I think the best way to describe this game is “art for art’s sake.” The Rivers of Alice had all the hallmarks for being chock full of symbolism, deeper meanings, and themes that would make you think. What I got instead was an incomprehensible mess with some pretty backgrounds, and before I immediately get jumped on for hating it, allow me to explain.
The set up is simple enough. A point and click puzzle game, which was already enough to throw up red flags for me (much as I loved The Talos Principle, puzzle aficionado I am not) the description of this drew me in. “The Rivers of Alice: Extended Version is a journey of self-discovery and enlightenment where the player will need to help Alice confront the fears of her everyday life like: sloth, envy, and dishonesty that manifest themselves in the form of mysterious characters and puzzles.” Which, you know, sounds pretty cool, along the lines of something like Silent Hill, mixed in with a dose of Alice in Wonderland. Well, I could get on board with that, so into the game I went.
First off, the visuals are really nice, all hand painted, watercolour backgrounds that immediately catch your attention, and the soundtrack isn’t half bad, either. For a game so minimal, the music is where it really shines. My favourite screen has to be the above picture; it’s stunning, and easily one of the best things about this game. Gameplay itself, however, not so much.
You have three options, only one or two of which you can ever use at one time: talk, look, or use. Note that there’s never actually any spoken dialogue in the game, and very minimal text aside from the book trees. Everything is told through pictograms, which adds real problems. There’s no instructions, no hints, and the book trees are translated from Spanish, which often doesn’t make a lot of sense. The best example I can give of this is actually in the above picture – see the wilted flower? It’s part of a sequence where you have to hit the chimes in the right order to build a bridge; one is broken, so you need to find a new flower. If you wander on to the next screen, you’ll see a pool of water and a half grown flower, so you need to find some way of making that one full grown. But how?
When you talk to Sloth on the first screen, he’ll give you the picture hint, but only about how to make it grow. So I spent ages wandering around until I finally found my way back to the title screen – which, beforehand, made you walk straight out of it without pausing – and had to pick up the tiny, pretty unnoticeable glass on Alice’s bedside table. It’s the same colour as the background, and there’s no signs that it’s even able to be interacted with. This is the first in a long series of puzzles that fluctuate between being really obvious and mostly hitting music notes, or ones that don’t make a lot of sense, and there’s no real way of decoding them. The eyes and the mirror puzzle, was mostly random clicking until I figured it out, and the one where you have to turn out a certain apartment light was just plain odd. The fly in the room stops you turning off the light you need to solve the puzzle, and it stops on various objects around the room every so often. Most of the stuff is unclickable, apart from the calendar on the nearby wall.
If you look at that picture, there’s loads of ways that would have made sense. You could have trapped the fly under the hat or the glass dome, swatted it with the book, open the window to shoo it out, something that would follow a logical train of thought. Instead, you had to rip off all the calendar pages. And then the fly leaves. I had to Google this because there’s no reason why this would make any sense. This happens again when you have to go wandering through a cave – for whatever reason, the path the game maps out for you, with arrows? Yeah, that’s wrong, for no apparent reason? Dream logic? Player frustration? Who knows! The same thing happened with the final puzzle, so much so, I almost gave up on the entire game.
You spin rings to get the statue to move, and you’re supposed to line the pieces up correctly, but there seems to be no way of doing this aside from randomly getting lucky (out of the two Youtube walkthroughs I saw, one guy did it in five seconds, clicking about everywhere, and the other had to try multiple times), or with a hell of a lot of maths, as the lovely users on the Steam discussion board told me when I went and asked for help. Frustratingly, there’s no wikis or walkthroughs for this, so if you get stuck, you’re left floundering.
I had quite a lot of issues with the interface itself, too. The Athena puzzle, which was pretty simple to work out, left me completely baffled; in order to get the dragonfly, you need to add more sand into the timer, and to do this, you need to put Alice behind a rock, and sprinkle it in there when Athena isn’t looking. Annoyingly, you have to be in a very precise position to do this, and even after you think it’s worked, it just decided not to. I was stuck for half an hour until I realised that despite the animation playing, the event hadn’t actually occurred at all. Similarly, the tightrope walking sequence near the end was impossible with a touch pad, and I had to go looking for a mouse to get past that bit – it doesn’t feel very optimised for laptop use.
The loading screens are an absolute nightmare, too, and would really benefit from a teleportation like mechanic to move from area to area. You have to backtrack fairly often, and it’s tedious to have to click through five + screens in order to get to where you want to go. I’ve seen clips from the console version, and it’s even worse on there, which did nothing to ease my frustration.
My main source of frustration with this game comes from the plot. Or, namely, the lack of it. The narrative has all the tools to be really interesting. You’ve got the implications of Alice facing her fears and sins, the whole Wonderland theme, the oddly creepy backdrops, but none of this amounts to anything. It’s the same issue I had with A Tale of Two Sons, where the narrative and the context look like it should be building up into something great, only for it ultimately to go nowhere. The plot given is that Alice has to get back the four dragonflies from her pendant, but what has that got to do with facing her innermost fears and sins? Why is an innocuous looking girl having to face Envy? Why is Sloth benevolent? And apart from her name, what has the Lewis Carroll book got to do with anything, and why are there random figures from Greek mythology thrown in there? It just feels like symbolism and themes thrown together to look “deep,” and it really annoyed me more than anything else.
So, to sum it up:
- Visually gorgeous
- Lovely soundtrack
- At least it’s original
And the Bad
- Plot is non-existent
- Last puzzle is mostly luck based
- Lack of teleportation between areas
It’s rated 3, and I think that works fine. There’s the odd bit of unnerving imagery, but it’s otherwise okay.
Thank you to the developers for providing a review code!