Standard for what a the perfect PnC game should be.
Standard for what a the perfect PnC game should be.
This is so brilliant
why is the text so sassy today?
If I had to describe Alice is Dead in just two words, they would have to be "Flash masterpiece". That might sound like a lot for something that simply appears to be a dark and edgy take on Carroll's nonsensical children's fantasy story, but there is much more to this game that meets the eye—much like the source material. So how about a deep dive into the game to see what exactly makes it so compelling?
If you fancy a fine riddle, and are intrigued by the premise, by all means dear reader, simply play; it's free. But if you've done that already or wonder what the fuss is about, allow me to articulate my outlook as to why I think this game is deserving of special recognition.
I'll start with design, as that tends to influence the experience of a game the most, making this aspect the most significant. Alice is Dead is an incredibly tightly designed point and click adventure game. While games of this caliber are typically known for their engaging, high-quality stories, they sometimes neglect the actual playing process, and may have idiosyncratic tendencies. Interesting, well-designed puzzles are one thing, but clumsy control schemes, noncontextual leaps in logic, pixel hunting, pure trial and error, or wandering around missing pieces of the puzzle are another. However, I'm extremely happy to say Alice is Dead is a shining example of some of the best the genre has to offer. It's an exemplary instance of a streamlined point and click system, which is doubly impressive considering it even has the excuse to indulge in those oddities if it wanted to, being set in Wonderland! No, the madness lurks under the surface. Alice is Dead is a direct and straightforward puzzler, with no overly complex frills for the controls or Gordian knot conundrums, while still requiring deliberate and clever thought to solve its riddles.
Starting with navigation, movement is clear as crystal: The static backgrounds ground you visually, and arrows clearly mark every accessible location. Sub-areas for environmental examination are natural to enter and exit, with no need for indicators. It's nigh-impossible to get lost thanks to this visual consistency, and aids in creating a mental map of the location.
As for object interaction, thanks to distinct and clear art and merciful hitboxes, you'll never feel like you're cheaply missing a vital component, and if you are, you know it's through the fault of your environmental observation. Again, simple sounding, but many point and click games use the art to hinder you, heavily obscuring items in the background, or having stubborn selection. The smoothness of play is further aided through the use of contextual mouse clicks versus dedicated commands, which serve to streamline the experience. Every click does what one would reasonably do, whether that means picking something up, using it, or perusing it depending on what makes sense. The only exception that comes to mind is breaking a shovel immediately, but this is minor and can be forgiven as par for the course for Wonderland. It's very intuitive and satisfying.
Collected inventory items can be used on the scenery to try to see what they can do, with feedback on everything. And I mean that literally. You'll never wonder why something did or didn't work when you try something, thanks to amazing textual feedback in the form of the player's pragmatic and delightfully droll monologue, keeping things compelling and entertaining even in the slow moments. The tools available at your disposal are made crystal clear, either through visual design of the environment, or accompanying dialogue. The challenge is figuring out how all these pieces fit together. This even playing field makes your victories feel well-earned, as you are stumped by design, rather than trying to assemble all of the cards needed to play your hand. Add on to that great pacing and recontextualization of space, and the gameplay is simply delightful. Its design is outstanding.
Naturally, the context of the game is its strongly focused narrative, and it's very well made. It's Alice in Wonderland, except she's dead, and we're feeling a bit amnesiac. Who are we? And why is Alice Dead? And who and why is someone in it for the Rabbit? And the ontological mysteries pile up from there. All we know, while we ponder and try to solve these mysteries, is that we have to try to escape. As we explore more of the environment in wonder, and progress through puzzle solving, the intrigue builds. With a setting like Wonderland, things are not quite what they seem.
That's not even counting the absolutely fantastic writing. As mentioned, you get feedback in the form of commentary on just about everything you interact with, so it rewards your curiosity and investment by encouraging you to try out every conceivable action. And it's all worthwhile, with superbly dry and witty humor, with gems such as "The hole is very threatened by your spear," or "You unlock the shovel and beat the game. Just kidding."
The game is remarkably well paced, with instances of recontextualization of space, such as the inexplicable music playing chest being the portal forward, returning to the start to better analyze what happened, and the touches of Carroll-esque Wonderland madness, like having a high-tech keycard scanner on a tree, eliminating an obstacle in your path that's a dead end, or unlocking a door to open up something completely different. The entire thing is compelling, foreboding, and brilliant, and the cliffhanger leaves you wanting more. Everything that sets up the plot, stakes, tone and themes does so in an exemplary way and strongly motivates you to dive further down the rabbit hole.
Aesthetically too, everything is bursting from the seams with charming details, and absolutely nothing feels lacking. From the very first title screen, the jaunty, scratched old-timey tune and the vacant drawing in the background is immediately unsettling and creepy, drawing you in to play and sets the tone perfectly. The art style juxtaposing a dark dungeon and a bright, mysterious woodland is implemented absolutely wonderfully. The film grain adds a lot of dynamic energy to otherwise mostly static screens, providing you with a sense of depth. The cavern's walls are helped by the ambient sounds drawing you in and giving you the sense of an out-of-the-way cellar of inexplicable purpose. Not to mention, the attention to detail of the changing volume of the music and ambient sounds depending on your position are extremely nice touches.
You get a tremendous sense of place, with a feeling of unease due to the constantly present jaunty piece of music played diegetically in this alien setting. There may be only one primary track, but it keeps everything rooted in place, and the shortness of the game never makes it overstay its welcome, always maintaining the mood of unease inherent to a Wonderland story in which Alice is dead. There's not loads of sound effects, but the ones that are present work well, and the quality writing more than makes up for it, being the primary way of providing feedback. Add to that the quirks of Wonderland, the frantic scratched writing of a panicked dying person, and the sense of unreality, and you've got something truly special to be immersed in. Phenomenally done. Absolutely no complaints about the aesthetics. The only caveat is the poorly aged Flash compression, which you shouldn't count, because that's unfair. You wouldn't have the impeccable illustrations otherwise. Not everything can be vectorized.
Alice is Dead is a great example of an integrated and wholesome video game experience. While the game could've used the setting of Wonderland to excuse truly maddening game design, instead, its madness opts to be fully integrated and resonate with the player's experience, rather than serving to frustrate, confuse, or overly obscure. To play it is as delightful, intriguing, and quietly menacing as the source material. Any game-like abstraction that would otherwise rip one out of the story instead blends seamlessly into a Wonderland setting. Of course you combine the thingamabob with the whatchamajigger to make your cromulent bric-a-brac! It aids in the investment, and being totally ingrained in this creepy ontological Wonderland mystery, it follows the flavor wonderfully, through charming quirks rather than hair-pulling puzzles.
To open a locked door, you might try lock picking it. It sounds like it worked, but it doesn't. Fruitlessly stumped, you'll have to walk away, only to find that in the adjoining room, the music-playing chest unlocked! Just one of many examples that feeds both directly into gameplay, the unusual setting and tone of the game, the diegetic soundtrack itself, and further exploration! Fantastic. What's not correct isn't incorrect, it's merely inversely-counter correct. All of the strangeness in the game is the best kind: Pure Carroll-esque charm only possible through the medium of a video game, serving to enhance engagement and bemuse the player, rather than frustrate, confuse, or obscure. And yet, despite the Wonderland setting, where all of the prototypical madness of a middling point and click adventure game would be seamless, you're funneled down the rabbit hole in a truly fun manner. Its aspects work together in tandem to create something to make you feel truly disoriented and lost to maximum effect in the best way.
If it isn't abundantly clear, I adore everything about this game to a prodigious degree. I will never shake the feelings of wondering what's behind that blue door, counter-intuitively unlocking the music-playing chest, and shockingly realizing I was the target the whole time upon gazing into the mirror. I must've first played this game fifteen odd years ago, and its gestalt worked wonders to make me fall in love with just about everything in it. While each individual aspect is very well done on a technical level, the entire thing is greater than the sum of its parts. From the high polished and splendid, satisfying puzzle-solving, the esoteric and understated environmental storytelling, the uncanny vibe of it all, and the sinister but vaguely wonderous ontological mystery, not only did it engage me on a pure playing level, but beyond it, through vivid memories, strong emotions, and thoughts that only fantastic art can evoke. I thoroughly recommend playing this game (and series) to anybody with even a slight interest in the gameplay or story. So many point and click games could learn something from this, it is something that is a shining example of what the genre is capable of.
There you have it. A classic that in my opinion is well deserving of its praise. Any negatives are negligible. And if you agree with that sentiment, good news! As stated in its description, this game is now finally receiving the commercial release of which it always deserved! And if you think so too, you can help out the dev team for free by wishlisting their game on Steam: https://store.steampowered.com/app/1826770/Alice_is_Dead_Hearts_and_Diamonds
And if you're especially kind, you can go support the team on Patreon—they're too modest to advertise it themselves anywhere:
:D been want play these games my self for years hope i do ok!