Ever had one of those days when you fall down a hole and wake up in a small room surrounded by talking animals? Having been through a similar experience 10 years ago in American McGee's Alice, you'd perhaps imagine that young Alice would have learned what happens when you quaff strange green liquids. And yet, here she is, chewing the fat with talking animals like she's just bumped into some old pals on the way to the shops. It's those talking animals that you play as in this action adventure as you explore Underland, solve some engaging puzzles, and do battle with both undemanding enemies and an uncooperative camera.
The game renders the animal characters in some style, but the contrast with their human counterparts is jarring.
Based on Tim Burton's recently released movie adaptation of the classic Lewis Carroll novel, the game has such moments of unhinged irreverence that come thick and fast, but falling down a rabbit hole is the least of Alice's worries. Defenceless and seemingly hapless in her ability to remain an appropriate size for any length of time, she has to somehow fend off the Red Queen's army, as well as her slavering Jabberwocky, to avoid capture. But with the aid of an eccentric bunch of anthropomorphic allies with special skills, she goes off in search of the deadly Vorpal Sword to put a stop to the queen's nefarious plans once and for all. Your role in the game is of protector and chaperone of Alice, switching between characters to solve puzzles or swat away enemies along your journey. Initially accompanied through the vibrant fantasyland by McTwisp, the time-slowing rabbit, and Mallymkun, the sword-fighting dormouse, your animal collective eventually expands to a four-strong party. This party ends up including the optical illusion specialist, the Mad Hatter, and the master of invisibility, the Cheshire Cat.
Whenever the game leaves you to explore the world and solve puzzles, there's a pleasantly engaging vibe to it--aided in no small part by intuitive, self-explanatory controls. Basic movement is assigned to the control stick and character swapping to the C button, which ensure you aren't overburdened by complicated controls. To activate your all-important abilities, you simply point your reticle at the object you want to manipulate via the Wii Remote, select the appropriate character, hold down the Z button, and perform the required physical action. Telekinesis, for example, is initiated by motioning in the appropriate direction to haul an object away, while manipulating time has you frantically twirling the remote around in little circles until the hands of time come to a halt. This will allow you to stop evil trees and giant mosquitoes in their tracks. Although the rather basic nature of the early puzzles might feel unnecessarily simple for many gamers, once your character roster starts to fill up, the levels become pleasantly taxing. After a lightweight opening that lasts a few hours, the game gets its stride with a succession of thoughtfully designed sections that force you to combine multiple skills to solve a single problem.
But as much as your admiration for the more puzzle-oriented gameplay grows as the game progresses, your overall appreciation is held back no end by the alarmingly dull fighting system. Designed to halt your progress at regular intervals, a procession of the queen's merciless Red Knights regularly pour out of portals, with the intention of dragging poor Alice off into some kind of otherworldly hell. Taking the form of armour-clad playing cards, these bizarre underground denizens certainly look the part, but they fight with all the determination of tired wet lettuce.
Who knew cards could be so irritating?