The Rivers of Alice Review

Score 60For the price, The Rivers of Alice is a competent game.  I did get a few hours out of it, so if you want a nice way to chill, and end your evening with some kind music and simple puzzles- you can’t go wrong with this short adventure. There’re some headaches to be had, but the puzzles that do work are worth wading through the few that don’t.  If you’re looking to breathe in a deep and allegorical storyline- you’ll probably be better searching somewhere else.  Its structureless approach feels less like a Lewis Carroll novel and more like a friend explaining a dream.

WHAT WE LIKED
º Some of the sets are visually engaging and provide a grand scale of scope.
º A nice assortment of puzzles, including musical, visual and problem solving.
º The soundtrack is nice if you’re into Spanish indie-rock.
WHAT WE DISLIKED
º The story is without substance, and Alice is devoid of any personality.
º Some puzzles are teeth shattering unfair, and the hint system is a hike.
º There’s not much added to this ‘Extended Version’, nor was it reworked for PC.
Something tells me the writer is used to humanity not understanding them.

I’m the target audience for The Rivers of Alice- I’m a huge fan of point and click adventures, puzzle games, and indie art titles.  I came into this game expecting a richer, more PC-oriented experience based on a game that was lauded by pocket gamers.  Sadly, this extended version just simply isn’t ready for prime time and became tedious through the few hours of gameplay it does offer.

Alice’s storyline plays some homage to the girl who went through the looking glass with a tale that is literally a dream.  The game starts out with you fast asleep and waking to find a small stream running through your bedroom.  Your pendant has offshoot four dragonflies that go out in search of something you’ll never be privy to.  With the help of a sloth (who looks more like a snail), your goal is to recapture these glowing bugs and place them back into your locket.  This, sadly, is the full extent of the story.  The ending doesn’t clear anything up, and it ends about a predictably as it started.
Then again, Wonderland was always known to be a sleep-induced fantasy as well, so fantastical imagery can still work regardless if the audience is aware of its fabrication.  The Rivers of Alice does have some interesting set pieces, with bizarre characters.  One old woman watches over a half-man, half-spider, and forces you to rebuild his web under an unreasonable time limit.  A faceless man presents to you five mirrors with feminine eyes, with the only one being safe to travel through being the mirror who lies.
These interactions are only displayed through visual notes- some more cryptic than others as you try to appease everyone on your journey.  A boy may be sad because his favorite item is broken, indicated with a picture of a happy child with it and a miserable one without.  These elements do provide exact and precise ideas on how to overcome an obstacle, and you’ll make quick work of knowing what you have to do.
And that might be my biggest problem with the game; it’s just too dang easy.  The game will outright tell you where to go, to get something you need to complete a puzzle.  Not only that, but there’s no creativity with supplementing items.  You need a crank to open that door, and it’s in the next room and is clearly a crank for the door.  Delirium Studios doesn’t really challenge you between the puzzles it lobs at you.
There’s a note-taking tool, but you have to use your mouse- no keyboard option.

These challenges don’t have much of a range either.  They’re either crazy difficult, or painfully easy.  You’ll go from matching five seashells on the beach, to a slider puzzle I wouldn’t wish on an enemy.  There’s also a couple of audio based puzzles that involve listening and repeating on impromptu instruments, so for the tone deaf, this might be more of a challenge.  However, these puzzles are better suited for their original home- five minutes at a time while waiting for a bus or in the facilities.  Nothing has been changed to accommodate its fundamentally different platform.

Some of the puzzles are extremely frustrating because of how badly displayed they are.  I had some, where I knew what the objective was, but I couldn’t pull it off because of muddy and unclear visuals.  For example, there’s a segment where you have to match up colors on a board with pieces that you move around.  The coloring on the board fades away on the back line and forced me to trek back to the beginning to speak with my good immobile friend, the Sloth.  He then shows me the solution I already knew, but now I have the board visibility to complete it.  This hint system is rather annoying, and could’ve easily been replaced by the game’s ‘book trees’.
Yes, ‘book trees’; small little plants that sprout up with books on top, that provide thought provoking insight into- um, stuff.  Honestly, I can only assume these cryptic passages to be localizing mistranslations throughout the experience.  Phrases like someone having an “alphabet that man does not understand,” and “the shore is a cage, all the fighting cocks, clubbed to death,” you’ll begin to wonder if they’re not making any sense or if you’re really that dense.  Perhaps it’s a little of both for me, but it just read like the developers were taking the piss- throwing out lines that I’m supposed to nod my head and sigh contemplatively to while I drop another log.
Not to mention, some of the game’s hints are outright lies.  I had one where I was traveling through a dark cave, with a dwindling candle.  I followed the arrows in the cave, never reaching the other side as my light died and the glowing eyes around me swarmed in.  The game starts throwing out hints, one showing a drum set and a volume control indicator, and some on-screen help asking me if I’ve ever played the game with headphones.  So I go back in, ears perked, ready to go.  Is it the distant water dripping?  Is it the music?  Nope- it’s none of those.  I just had to ignore the signs and take the unmarked paths.  Why would you do that?  I spent an hour in those caves, trying to figure out what I was doing wrong, dying constantly and having to rewatch a slow animation over and over.  Sorry if I spoiled that puzzle for you, but I can’t fathom why the developers would choose to mislead its players, instead of hinting something like “rebellion will guide you through the darkness” or something.
This puzzle will destroy any mellow mood the game’s soundtrack tries to provide.

Graphics are nice, if not a little simplistic.  There aren’t any well-made animations here, and actions and motion are recycled in almost every way.  The game also has a real wide range in its appearance and doesn’t feel like a cohesive collection of artwork.  Some polished characters look like they’re from the Professor Layton series while others look like they were cross-hatched quickly in an afternoon.  There are experiences, like Pan’s Labyrinth, where the visuals will stick with you for a lifetime.  This game doesn’t hit the mark, and sadly there isn’t enough substance here to appreciate it on it’s artistic merits alone.

Finally, the music is not my taste.  The whole time I was playing it, I felt like a hipster listening to the newest foreign folk album from my local smoke shop.  Honestly, when mixed with the visuals, it becomes a lethal dose of digital Lunesta.  I was pumped and ready to go, but 30 minutes in and I had to stop myself to take a nap.  Again, this game might be better suited for the small screen and the comfort of a pillow, but if you’re seriously jonesing for a puzzle game, this may fit the bill.
·      Publisher – Merge Games, Tagstar Games, Delirium Studios
·      Developer – Delirium Studios, pequeño salto mortal
·      Genre – Adventure, Indie
·      Release Date – November 16th, 2015
·      Version Reviewed – PC
·      PEGI Rating – N/A
·      Multiplayer – No
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