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About the Story
Dream the dream...
If, like me, you've always had a soft spot for Lewis Carroll's Alice in Wonderland, then I'm sure you'll enjoy the game for that reason alone. It's certainly beautifully presented with marvellous animated graphics but I have to admit to certain reservations.
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Alice in Wonderland has been a popular source of inspiration for IF/adventure games since at least the mainframe version of Zork, and for good reason. As Jimmy Maher pointed out in his Digital Antiquarian article on this game, it has a lot of elements begging to be made into puzzles, and it's one of the few books that can be easily adapted into a text adventure because of its mix of surrealism and logic, its lack of conventional narrative structure, and its inclusion of setpiece-puzzle elements like riddles and the knight-and-knave logic puzzle. (When I say "it," I'm conflating Alice in Wonderland with Through the Looking Glass because, as Maher points out, they're not particularly distinct from each other. But this game uses only elements from Alice in Wonderland, probably because they wanted to leave room for a sequel that was never made.)
Having said that, there are a couple of issues that arise when turning Alice into a text adventure, especially one as conventional as this. For one thing, this game's version of Alice is the usual adventure-game kleptomaniac. An of course there's plenty of other adventure game cliches: locks and keys (the room full of locked doors early on was in the book, but that doesn't excuse a certain stale puzzle involving a locked door, which Infocom fans will recognize, later on), a wine cellar, objects hidden in/under/behind furniture, and so forth.
That said, there are also some suitably surreal moments that perfectly capture the whimsy of the books without being directly taken from them: what the Gryphon has to say, an area in the early game with a piano and dancing chairs, and the endgame puzzle.
This game has a vast geography (very impressive for an illustrated text adventure at the time), almost all of which opens up very early in the game. This was probably fine in the original version, but I played this via Magnetic Scrolls Memorial, which doesn't have the clickable map feature. Still, there's a GO TO command, which helps somewhat.
I had to resort to hints for some of the puzzles. In some cases I had the right idea but didn't understand what syntax the game wanted, such as (Spoiler - click to show)collecting the sherbet from the fountain. I don't remember any puzzles that struck me as genuinely unfair for non-syntax reasons, though, unless you count things like (Spoiler - click to show)holding the egg in your mouth, which are logical in themselves but wouldn't be possible in most games. Other puzzles were fun to solve, though (the ones that I mentioned as whimsical above)
There are also a few bugs; I once encountered an issue with (Spoiler - click to show)the card shoe seemingly confusing an object added to it with an object already present that led to me having to restore from an earlier save. Still, in other respects the game seemed reasonably well-implemented (e.g., objects mentioned in room descriptions were generally implemented, if only as scenery).
I was torn between giving this a 3 or a 4. Obviously this game is much better than the median IF game, even the median commercial IF game. But it doesn't quite rise to the level of most of the Infocom games, "canonical" hobbyist-era games, and comp winners; it certainly doesn't innovate much except on the technical/graphical level, for instance. I'd still consider it worth playing.
The origin of my interest in IF (back then called "text adventures") arises in the year 1990, when my dad brought home a pirated copy of Wonderland, including a delightful map. As a mere child at the time I was fascinated by the idea that books, which I loved, could be interactive. I was also fascinated by the extension of a previously familiar universe - Alice in Wonderland was now something you could visit, live in, interact with, explore; and look! if you stared hard enough at the map you could see the Caterpillar sitting on his mushroom, and the Queen of Hearts's palace with its observatory!
The literary quality of this game is great. It does not precisely revive Carroll's own style, but it is a wondrous tribute, with a lot of wit and atmosphere. I particularly remember my confusion at the sheet music on the piano, which contained a "key in C" coloured gold - because music comes in keys, geddit? There was also a stick insect sticking to a stick - less witty, that one. Probably the most extreme example of attention to detail is the location of the Queen of Hearts's conservatory. The conservatory is just visible in the background of one of Tenniel's illustrations in the book - a point mentioned in Gardner's "Annotated Alice" - a clue that this excellent book was consulted by the writers.
The mid-Victorian atmosphere is redolent, in writing, puzzles and graphics. I remember being delighted at the graphical image of the White Rabbit's house with a row of English poplars before the front drive; the description of the Hatter's house as containing a "breakfast room" (these rooms would face east in old timey houses to receive the morning sun), and the brass fitted telescope in the observatory. (Spoiler - click to show) From memory, I believe you look through the telescope, thus seeing a playing card many miles away on the outside of a tree house - you then walk all the way to the tree house and put your arm outside the window to access the card - isn't that delightful?
Some of the puzzles are insanely creative. The one that I most remember is an adventure game cliché - but one that I was amused actually to use for practical purposes when I was about fourteen. (Spoiler - click to show)I was locked out of my house after school; but could get into the guest-room by sticking a piece of paper under the door, and then poking a screwdriver through the keyhole thus retrieving the key on the other side. Is there any greater satisfaction for an adventure game fan than actually using the techniques of IF in real life?
Another puzzle is so insane, yet so charming, that it probably is technically badly designed but one of the most memorable things I can remember from any computer game. (Spoiler - click to show)It involves stealing an egg from the Hatter's pantry - then painting it the colour of a Pigeon's egg using paint stolen from the White Rabbit's work-shed - then walking into the woods - then eating some of the Caterpillar's mushroom - then putting the egg in your mouth - then waiting for your neck to extend as in the book - then spitting the egg out into the Pigeon's nest - then waiting to shrink again - then waiting several turns - then eating more mushroom - then taking the newly hatched Flamingo in your mouth - then waiting to shrink once more. In this way you get the Flamingo necessary to play in the famous croquet match.
Is that not delightfully insane? Who could have possibly dreamed up such a bizarre puzzle? And - how many players actually worked it out without resorting to the hints? (I certainly did not).
There is one major issue with the game. Unfortunately it concerns the actual final "mission" of the game. (Spoiler - click to show)In order to gain final victory, you need to defend the Knave of Hearts in court by producing every playing card you collected throughout the game - but they must be produced in the exact order you collected them. There is absolutely NO hint in the manual or game that you have to memorise the order; and what sort of compulsive maniac actually would remember the order by chance??
That aside, this game is a pleasure and a wonder to play. A couple of years ago, at a used book sale, I was surprised to find a boxed ancient copy of Wonderland for sale. And it was in CD Rom format!! And included the entire original manual!! (plus map!!), not the photocopy my dad brought home decades ago.
So Magnetic Scrolls' no doubt massive enforcement bureau can relax - I now have a LEGAL copy of Wonderland. And - I can still stare very hard at the map, and see the Caterpillar sitting on his mushroom.
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