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The Rivers of Alice (PC) artwork

The Rivers of Alice (PC) review

"Chasing Watercolour Dreams"

The Rivers of Alice is beautiful. At times, it looks like canvas come to life, an animated watercolour contrasted by the strong-lined black-and-white sketch of its protagonist. Alice is asleep and exploring her dreams, a stark stand-out in the world of her own imagination. Nothing makes sense. Nothing is supposed to.

The seeming lack of direction and absence of foundation is both Rivers of Aliceís biggest strength as well as its greatest weakness. Youíre exploring dreams Ė non-corporal themes are supposed to muddy up and run together seguing into the nonlinear and the bizarre. The only motif running prevalent throughout is that four dragonflies have escaped Aliceís locket and she wants them back. One is hanging out by a woman growing from the riverbed, playing a harp. Another seems to have got itself trapped in the web of a spider with disturbingly human features. Its then up to you to adapt the logic of this dreamword into solutions that let you progress. Pay closer attention to the harpist, and she will play a particular tune. Thereís a flowerbed nearby and, examining each bloom resonates with a specific musical note - but one has withered. Thereís a way to rejuvenate it and thus give you the means to copy the melody, but youíll only find it with some exploration.

It shouldnít take you long because the world inside Aliceís head isnít particularly large, and areas are often closed off to you until youíve amassed the means to explore them further. Without the revived flower, you cannot cross the riverbed. Ignoring that path and forging onwards is only a limited option before you reach a network of caves youíre unable to explore without a source of light. You can ask the various inhabitants of Aliceís mind for help, but any hints they provide are wrapped up in a secondary form of puzzle. No one speaks. Thereís no spoken word or text to be found and youíre instead instructed by way of pictures you record in your sketchbook and can show to other characters. Most aspects are purely visual, asking you to find clues in what you observe while being purposefully told nothing. Occasionally, it throws audio at you in the way of musical cues you need to bend into a solution.

Itís all very chilled out and laid back; thereís no element of hurry to be found in River of Alice. Even the hints offered to you during the loading screens suggest you take a break now and then if youíre feeling stuck. None of the puzzles are overly complicated, but the surreal delivery does sometimes cause issues if you fail to grasp what the various picture clues are trying to herd you towards. Itís a double-edged sword; you can never be sure if you should feel frustrated at the obscurity of the solution or at your own inability to decode the information in front of you. One puzzle in the final third of the game asks you to choose one out of several mirrors to walk through. Picking the right one leads you to a den of toy monkeys you need to unify into a band, while walking through the wrong one means a sudden awakening from Aliceís dream. I initially misinterpreted what I was supposed to be doing and tried to shoehorn in a solution that didnít fit.

Puzzles like this work because they have a moment of dawning when you realise youíre the one at fault and amend your plan of attack. Having to sleuth just as hard at deciphering your clues as the puzzles themselves can be rewarding, but it doesnít always work so commendably. As Rivers starts to draw to a close, less adventuresome obstacles are placed in your path. One dragonfly has taken refuge in a storage room filled with junk and guarded by a hulking tripod burdened with multiple eyeballs grafted to its underbelly. Itís unwilling to let you past, so you need to find a way to obscure its wonderful vision. The key to this lies in a sliding tile puzzle. No one has ever greeted a sliding tile puzzle in a video game with any form of delight.

Likewise, the very last obstacle you need to overcome before you complete the game is a series of three rotating disks you need to line up correctly. Itís damning because it honestly feels like developers, Delirium Studios, had run out of ideas as they neared the end of their game. This feels all the more condemning because the relative shortness of the title means the number of puzzles and unique situations is already on the low side. Youíll comfortably see Rivers of Alice to completion within three hours or so, and a lot of that is eaten away by your protagonistís laboured plodding from one screen to the next with no quick travel involved. Perhaps this is a purposeful mechanic put in place to comment of the indolent nature of dreams. Perhaps it was intended to force the player into appreciating the beauties beholden to the experience.

Thatís what The River of Alice conspires to be; an experience. It would be unfair to label it unsuccessful Ė it has moments of stunning splendour. Scored entirely by Spanish indie band Vetusta Morla, the fluttering acoustic soundtrack marries perfectly with the washed-out watercolour aesthetic to effectually construct the dreamworld Alice explores. When the conclusion comes, it does so without warning and without any founding achievement, such is the nature of purposefully aimless narratives. Itís a boon to the commitment of the project and an unfortunate mechanical drawback both at the exact same time.


EmP's avatar
Staff review by Gary Hartley (November 16, 2015)

Gary Hartley arbitrarily arrives, leaves a review for a game no one has heard of, then retreats to his 17th century castle in rural England to feed whatever lives in the moat and complain about you.

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