Alice is my favorite of the Shono titles, which include L-Zone, Gadget, and Zeddas Servant of Sheol. It was also his first, and the one that most closely resembling a straight adventure game (Zeddas notwithstanding), but that isn't to says the designers don't add their own twist to it, which is the signature of all the Shono titles. It is also designed to be very different from the others, from an entirely unusual style of graphics to the fact that the game has little story and maximum puzzle-solving.
The game begins in a living room, which was modeled after the one in painter Kuniyoshi Kaneko's own house. From there you enter a museum and the world of Alice. There is very little story here, but there is very much a purpose to the game that you uncover as you explore, which is to find all of a deck of 53 cards and thus find your way out of the museum. The game is very much designed to have the feel of a modern-day Alice in Wonderland, which is one of the more unusual aspects to the game. It also offers myriad images signifying this relationship, not the least of which is the white rabbit and Alice herself. This is not to say that this is a child's game - it actually is not. There are a number of adult images here, some a bit suggestive, which really work well for the piece; it's just that I wouldn't hand it to a 10-year-old to play.
The style of graphics is one of the more unusual of any adventure game I've seen, and this is where the game becomes mesmerizing. It does not have the usual "look" of an adventure game. There are many paintings and objects to look at. These are drawn in a very stilted, stylized manner. The paintings, which cover the walls in each room, are odd and sometimes disturbing.
The music is, for the most part, MIDI-style synthesized Muzak, with a bit of classical piano thrown in for good measure. Despite the fact that this sounds unpleasant, it's not. There's just something about it that I love. This may be irrational on my part, but to me it just added flavor.
Finding the cards is tricky. They are cleverly hidden, although some are easier to find than others. The hiding of them seems to fall well in line with some of the more abstract aspects of Lewis Carroll's own Alice. There are twelve rooms to explore, divided into four sections, one each for the four suits in a deck of cards. Once found, some of the cards provide the player with clues to unlock the secret of Alice.
Alice, which was a big release at the time in Japan, once enjoyed a wide and devoted fan base in the adventure gaming community, but all of the sites seem to have fallen by the wayside.
One last heads up: this game is extremely rare and very hard to find for purchase. In fact, if you find it for sale anywhere, please email me - there is always someone on a quest to find it that you can help. Just like the truth, I know it's out there.
I loved Alice myself, just because it's so different!
This interactive piece of multimedia comes from Haruhiko Shono, whose other works include Gadget and L-Zone. Together with composer Kazuhiko Kato, and artist Kuniyoshi Kaneko, he has produced a hunt through 12 thematic rooms in a museum for 53 playing cards. The rooms contain images and art inspired by Lewis Carroll's Alice in Wonderland, and some clearly inspired from elsewhere.
There are no hot cursors in this experience, but there are countless hot spots. All of them will produce a result, from the simple to the bizarre. Some will transport you to another room, others will turn your existing room upside down, quite literally. Others will link you to other images elsewhere in the room, which may in turn lead to your objective, one of the playing cards.
You don't have to find the cards in any particular order, and are free to wander through the rooms at will. Each card you find will have a message on the back, which will provide a clue to the whereabouts of another card, or to a broader aspect of the game.
Finding particular cards requires the solving of puzzles and puzzle-like interactions, and interpreting the clues in the cards. Some clues are obvious, some less so. The cards are not all easy to find, and many hidden behind varying layers of interactivity. You will need perseverance to find your way through some of the interactive labyrinths.
Other than finding the cards, the object is to get out of the museum. You don't have to find all the cards to get out, but some cards are important to giving you clues about how to get out.
There are over 200 pieces of art adorning the walls of the museum, and most of the cards will be found within and through this art. Some of the art is "grown-up", to say the least. In many you will find allusions to Alice, or fragments of particular scenes from Alice. Others are straight illustrations or images from the story. Some have nothing to do with Alice - or else the link escaped me.
Other homages to Alice can be found in other items within the rooms, and some of the more complex trails to a card were like following a rabbit down a hole. There is no doubt that an appreciation and an enjoyment of Alice will help you to enjoy this experience. In one sense your efforts to get out of the museum are akin to Alice's attempts to leave Wonderland.
It's a tricky game to categorize. I thought Alice was far more game-like than Gadget, but it is not a standard game. Perhaps the boundaries of what constitutes a game need to be revised, but if you want a plot, with a beginning a middle and an end, an inventory, and hotspots, you won't find it here. It's most like a puzzle game, but not even that would accurately describe it. You don't even save games - next time you play just continue to look for the cards. When you find one, you don't take it with you, so there is no need to save. You can just mark it off your list.
You point and click your way around the museum, and click to interact with the images. As there are no hotpots, you will do a lot of clicking, but one of the appealing aspects for me was never being sure I had found everything in a picture. Many have far more than one interaction possible, and combinations of interactions will produce different results. These interactions provide the motion in the game; the rooms themselves are still.
It was not all aimless and random clicking either, although there was some of that to be sure. The clues in the cards provide trails to be followed, and what you are doing can have its own internal logic. A trail involving a menu is a case in point.
Once I got to the final room, getting out proved a bit tricky. I found where to get out, but then there is a series of sequences that if you make an error will mean you have to start again. After a helpful nudge, and numerous attempts, I was outside, but the fun wasn't over. There are three "paths" to end the game, each worth taking.
According to the manual, which has a very helpful map of the layout of the museum, Kaneko not only did the art, but leaned his culinary expertise to the menu of crustacean dishes, and apart from composing 18 pieces of music for the game, Kato is a renowned Japanese sommelier and provided the comments on the many wines to be found.
This is but another layer of this different and interesting offering.
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