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Alicemare (PC) artwork

Alicemare (PC) review

"Hell is for children"

Alicemare (PC) image

Horror examines the parts of culture we sometimes want to ignore or forget, while using often implausible scenarios as a backdrop. Subjects like abuse, mental illness, identity, sexuality, economics or even our own smallness in the greater scheme of the universe commonly come into the spotlight. However, you're less likely to encounter a story that outright deals with one of those topics, as opposed to one that veils its commentary behind a horrific event, like a zombie apocalypse, demonic possession or mass murder. Even video games have picked up on this method of storytelling, offering titles that explore the harshness of the human condition. The top-down adventure game Alicemare, for instance, deals with childhood trauma, while crafting a world that borrows from fairy tales, nursery rhymes and the classic novel "Alice's Adventures in Wonderland."

This title isn't your standard, gritty piece filled with buckets of gore and shambling enemies. Its scariest elements typically found in implications, offered in the detailed backstories of five characters. Each of these people is a foster child living with the protagonist, a recently orphaned boy named Allan. Throughout the campaign, the game drip feeds you tidbits of information regarding each kid. For instance, you learn that one girl named Letty potentially has an imaginary friend called Rick, whom she is convinced is real. However, other little hints suggest that maybe Rick is an alternate personality of hers, used to cope with the tragic life she led before coming to the orphanage.

You discover more about your friends when you enter your closet one night and pass into a nightmarish realm. This place is also home to strange creature, such as an anthropomorphic white rabbit who attempts to guide you through this madness, and a demonic Cheshire Cat.

Leaving these grounds is simple: you only need to enter the hearts of your fellow foster children and help them to face the the traumatic events they survived. In one section, you walk with a girl through an abusive relationship involving her stepmother, who intentionally left her in the middle of the forbidding woods one day. However, it wasn't only this event that sent the poor dear to a special home, but a fire that broke out in her house that took another person's life...

Alicemare (PC) image

Each world you investigate is fittingly peculiar and dark. You don't encounter many jump scares or in-your-face frights, but more disturbing touches: flowers that scream and bleed when you pick them, strange men made of dice and a murder scene populated by shadow people, to name a few encounters. All the while, the game maintains a somewhat lighthearted vibe that's perfectly at odds with the harsh threats you face. In one scene, a talking spider asks you to find his legs. That task sounds silly and childish, except that failing to aid him leads to your bloody demise.

That's where Alicemare generates a lot of its scary material, too. Cheshire pops up occasionally to ask you to solve a riddle or complete a puzzle, usually something with an innocent theme like guiding cute animals across a river or picking flowers. However, if you give the wrong answer three times, he offers you a simple farewell before brutally murdering you. And bear in mind, you're a child. I'm honestly not sure what's worse: unraveling each supporting character's heartrending past or failing to help them and staring at a hideous "game over" screen, complete with your tiny, blood-soaked hand lying limp on the ground.

Don't expect these challenges to demand much of you, though. Most of them are simple, common riddles and trick questions. These parts might prove a little tricky for some, but most players will power through them with a modicum of critical thought. Other trials allow you to save scum and use process of elimination when choosing from a list of items, and these tasks feel like a waste of time. The worst example, though, involves searching for piano keys in a graveyard, as there's no intellectual process to it. You just examine each tombstone one by one until you've nabbed four keys. There's also no rhythm- or note-based puzzle after that, either. You just gather the event items, return them to their home and move on.

Alicemare (PC) image

After you've pounded your way through these dreams and glimpsed the tragic lives your friends lived, you can then access one of seven endings. Four of them are easy to earn, although they require you to kill someone. This took me completely off guard, but I still I decided to experiment with one character. I interacted with her, leaving her a bloody corpse in the middle of her room, only to be ushered to a segment that closed her character arc.

And that's pretty much how all of the endings play out, except with different characters each time. A couple of them also require you to complete certain tasks (collecting all of a certain item or selecting the certain dialogue choices at key points) within the campaign, and are missable if you don't meet the requirements.

Alicemare (PC) image

Unfortunately, I'm of two minds regarding what's considered the best ending. On one hand, it offers closure to one of Alicemare's most enigmatic characters, Teacher. At the same time, though, it's underwhelming. A few light dialogue sequences play, you get your answers regarding his past and the credits roll without much fuss or drama.

Alicemare is a wonderfully dark interactive story that will leave you heavy-hearted, though it doesn't fully make use of its genre's qualities. It would've been nice if it featured a variety of interactive puzzles to solve, not to mention a fulfilling special conclusion rather than one that fizzles out. Still, this game aims its lens at a horrible subject in childhood trauma, and handles it with frightening finesse. Though its plot may not close on the most thrilling note, the game at least leaves you with properly realized character arcs. That alone puts it leagues head of most of Steam's horror offerings.

Project Horror 2019

Bonus Content

JoeTheDestroyer's avatar
Staff review by Joseph Shaffer (October 21, 2019)

Rumor has it that Joe is not actually a man, but a machine that likes video games, horror movies, and long walks on the beach. His/Its first contribution to HonestGamers was a review of Breath of Fire III.

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