November 26, 2015 will mark the 150th anniversary of the original publication of Alice in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll, and I’m actually really excited about that. If you’ve never actually read the books, I insist you give it a try. They are an amazing read, and have so much more to them that never made it into any of the movies. If you do read it, you might want to try one of the annotated versions. The story is intentionally very silly and confusing, and the annotated version gives you a lot of insight into what’s actually going on.
As part of my celebration for this anniversary, I’ve decided to play Disney’s Alice in Wonderland for the Gameboy Color. The 1951 animated Alice in Wonderland has always been my favorite Disney movie. Growing up I would watch this over and over again until I think I eventually broke the tape. However, it’s only loosely based on the book, and actually received quite a negative initial reception for being too far from the original source. It has since gained a huge cult following, and is regarded as one of the greatest Disney Classics. So with that in mind, let’s jump in and see how far the Gameboy Color can be pushed.
Just like in the book and movie, the game starts with Alice day dreaming during lessons from her older sister. It is her older sister right? She could easily pass for a young mother. Anyway, Alice spots the White Rabbit running off, and out of curiosity of seeing a rabbit with a pocket watch, she chases after it.
There is a lot of detail in this game that is impressive for a Gameboy Color game. Little details like the reflection distorted in the water. Or the upside-down reflections in the mirrors as you fall down the rabbit hole avoiding random objects. These little details are just so uncommon for Gameboy games.
In the Hallways at the bottom of the rabbit hole, the game begins to play like a typical platformer. Alice, the innocent girl she is, has no weapons, and can only defeat enemies by jumping on them. These enemies include giant stop watches, and the musical instrument frogs from the movie.
Scattered around wonderland, you’ll also find mushrooms which allow Alice to grow or shrink in size. These add some puzzle elements into the game by forcing you to find the mushrooms to make your way through openings too small for regular Alice. Then find a way to change back to make jumps too high for small Alice. It’s a fun element added to the game that nods at the numerous times Alice changed size in the movie.
The goal, at least in these early stages, is quite simple. Hidden in the level are keys to the doors. Find the keys and bring them to the door to continue on your adventure. Though, this is often easier said than done.
The game isn’t necessarily HARD, it just has instances that cause a lot of backtracking. The moving platforms for example gave me no end of annoyance. Jumping from one platform to the next requires patience and timing, and a missed platform will send you back to the bottom. With 15 moving platforms to reach the top, this section took me some time to get through.
Your reward for making it to the top however is the first boss battle of the game, The White Rabbit’s Pocket Watch. It’s a rather simple fight, jump on its head until he is defeated. As an added bonus, every time you hit him, an accordion bird will fly by with power-ups like temporary invincibility or restore your health. I also got a super jump once. This made Alice jump to the ceiling, which was nice for jumping over the boss, but it threw off my timing and made it hard to actually land on his head to damage him.
Death Count: 3
After the fight with the pocket watch, Alice becomes frustrated that she’ll never catch the White Rabbit. This causes her to start crying enough to create a river. She shrinks down, lands in a bottle, and needs to navigate her way through the river of her own tears. It’s a dangerous river full of rapids, fish, and krakens. Forgive me for trying to find logic here, but this river is made of her tears, so where did the fish and kraken come from?
From here, the game becomes a bit open world. You’re free to explore several iconic areas from the movie, like the Tea Party, and the White Rabbit’s House. To fully explore them, you’ll have to help recover lost items for some Wonderland’s Residents. The Walrus and the Carpenter, The Dodo, and The Red Rose, each have lost something important to them, and will reward you with an item necessary to explore the other areas.
Find the Walrus’ cane in The White Rabbit’s house, and he’ll reward you with a compass. This will let you navigate through the Caterpillar’s Woods. Here, Alice can float up inside giant bubbles to find hidden smoke letters the caterpillar blew. This area is primarily a puzzle maze. There are lots of branches making small passages which require the shrinking mushroom. There are also a few spots that required perfectly timed jumps. Ultimately not a hard level and it was quite enjoyable. Collect all the letters to make “ALICE” and the Caterpillar will reward you with a Medal, in this case the Spade. You’ll have to collect all 4 medals if you want to be allowed into the Queen’s Courtyard.
While exploring the caterpillar’s woods, you should have found the Carpenter’s hammer. Return it to him and he’ll give you some fresh baked biscuits to bring to the tea party. This is no normal tea party however, not when the Mad Hatter and March Hare are involved. To proceed from this area, you need to unlock the gates. Where is the key you might ask? Well, that is attached to the Dormouse’s tail. He runs just as fast as Alice, so you’ll have to be clever and cut him off if you watch to catch him. But beware, because the Mad Hatter and March Hare will steal the key back if they catch you, and they actually can run faster than Alice. You’ll have to do this 3 times to unlock all the gates and escape this madness, as well as recover the Dodo’s lost Handkerchief.
Trying to escape the tea party apparently greatly offended the Mad Hatter, as he attacks you when you try to leave. As far as boss battles go, he’s pretty easy. He will throw his hat at you, which is slow moving and easy to dodge, and then just stand there waiting to be attacked until his hat returns to him. Stomp some sense into his head, and he’ll reward you with the Diamond Medal.
Death Count: 9
After fighting the Hatter, you’ll be thrust into a foot race with the White Rabbit. I’ll be honest, these races were the hardest part of the game, and I’m sure some people will be thankful they’re optional. The race isn’t very long, but it’s through a maze, and you have to run it PERFECT, or there’s no way for you to win. The White Rabbit is just so much faster than Alice and the slightest slip up or hesitation will be enough for the rabbit to navigate to the exit before you.
If you do beat the rabbit, talking to the Brush Dog will grant you access to a secret area. Ultimately nothing very special, but the completionist types will probably love it. Personally I wasn’t very thrilled since it didn’t really add anything.
When you’ve had enough of secrets, let’s go return that handkerchief to the Dodo. He is so grateful that he gives you the Tweedle Brothers’ hats to return to them. More of a chore than a thank you, but either way it progresses the game. The Tweedle’s area was actually a bit frustrating for me. It’s a rather large maze with lots of enemies like the pencil birds and glasses birds wondering around, as well as the Tweedles themselves. The objective is actually quite simple. Make to the exit at the top of the map without dying. A very easy task for the patient, but the impatient like myself will have some trouble running though this area. To make matters worse, when I did eventually make my way through, I realized I had never found the Red Rose’s conducting wand which was hidden in the maze. This forced to run the maze all over again, plus actually search for the wand.
Death Count: 12
The Tweedles are so happy you came to visit, that they just have to dance. Alice, however, is apparently not in a dancing mood, because this becomes another boss battle. As with the other battles, it’s not too hard. The Tweedles will mindlessly jump and dance around as you stomp on their heads. They’re also spaced nicely apart allowing you to jump from one’s head straight onto the other’s. A few head stomps each, and you’ll have won. They’ll thank you for playing, and reward you with the Heart Medal. Oh, and if you were wondering, yes I had to fight this particular boss battle a second time after I went through again to retrieve the conducting wand.
Having further brain damaged the Tweedles, let’s repent with the good deed of returning the Red Rose’s conducting wand. She’ll be grateful and reward you with the key to the White Rabbit’s house. An odd thing for her to have, but this is wonderland, so no point questioning it. This obviously will grant you access to fully explore the White Rabbit’s house, and retrieve the last of the four medals.
Inside the White Rabbit’s house is very similar in play style to the Hallway area earlier in the game. There weren’t a lot of enemies in this area, and instead the focus is put back onto platforming and well timed jumps. VERY well timed jumps actually, even a tiny split second off would be enough to ruin a few of the jumps. True mastery of the running jump ability is required for this area. The moving platforms also return, testing your patience as you wait for the perfect time to jump to the next one. I really wish they were just a little bit more synchronized.
Just like in the movie, while exploring the White Rabbit’s house, Alice eats some cookies and grows to monstrous size, becoming stuck in the house. It’s up to the loveable lizard Bill to climb up the house and pull the monster out. Changing the play style yet again, you now control Bill instead of Alice as he makes his climb up to the chimney. I’ll admit I had a bit of a hard time with this section. Not because it’s actually hard, but because it requires patience which I simply didn’t have at the time I was playing it. Bill can’t jump, he can only climb his ladder and fall off ledges, so getting lost is kind of out of the question in this section. That didn’t stop the developers from putting arrows everywhere to make sure you knew where to go. The only obstacle comes from the various birds flying around that will damage Bill or push the ladder off the platforms.
It’s a short section with a big payoff. After guiding Bill to the chimney, you’re treated to several images making up the scene of bill being stuffed into the chimney, causing Alice to sneeze, and launching him unfortunately into space. Mistaking you for the hero who vanquished the monster, the Dodo rewards you with the Clubs Medal, thus finishing the set.
Death Count: 27
You’re also forced into yet another race with the white rabbit. This one seemed even harder than the last. It’s still not a complicated maze, but the level of perfection required is just so unheard of, and feels out of place with the rest of the otherwise fairly easy game. Beating him again unlocks a secret area with the Brush Dog, but that’s again underwhelming. The real reward is knowing you can now enter the Queen’s Courtyard.
Upon entering the courtyard, you quickly come across a card guard frantically painting the roses red. Being the kind person Alice is, she agrees to help. With only a limited amount of time, Alice needs to find all the white roses and paint them red, or it will be off with her head. As true to the movie as that is, I don’t recall any of the rose bushes ever trying to EAT Alice as she painted them.
Death Count: 30
With all the roses painted red, the Queen of Hearts remains in a fine mood and asks Alice to play a game of croquet with her. Just like in the movie, the cards don’t exactly play fair. Not only does the flamingo Alice is using as a club act up, but the cards move around when it’s Alice’s turn. Patience and timing, once again it’s all about Patience and timing.
OFF WITH HER HEAD!! It’s the only logical conclusion to losing a game of croquet, at least if you’re the Queen of Hearts. Alice must run for her life through the hedge maze if she wants to survive. This section is very similar to the Tweedle’s area. The map is a maze with lots of enemies, but they’re not particularly interested in Alice. Instead they just walk around in patterns. Hurry, but be careful as you make your way to the outer edge of the maze.
In one last act of desperation, the Queen of Hearts sends the full deck of card guards after you. Alice must fight them all off if she ever wants to get home again. On their own, the card guards are pathetically weak, dying instantly with one hit. But as the battle progresses, they become faster, and appear quicker. The later parts of the battle actually do become quite hectic. But keep at it, and Alice will surely escape back to the real world in no time.
Falling through a magic portal, Alice wakes to find it was all just a dream. A crazy, seemingly drug induced dream. Either way, you have completed the game, congratulations.
Gameplay – 7 / 10
The ever changing game styles really make this an interesting game. One second it’s your standard platformer, the next you’re running a maze from a top down perspective. You just don’t know what’s coming next, and it’s so much fun. However, the controls aren’t as tight as they could be. Alice’s jump in particular feels a little short, making some of the platforming elements require more precision than should be necessary.
Graphics – 9 / 10
Considering it’s a Gameboy Color game, these are some of the best graphics I’ve seen from the system. All the character sprites are detailed and the backgrounds are very impressive. Then there are the cut scene images that seem to be pulled straight from the movie. Admittedly, there were the rare graphical hiccups, but nothing that ever really detracted from the experience as a whole. In the end, the graphics were thoroughly impressive.
Audio – 8 / 10
Just like with the graphics, the audio was top notch. Most of the songs were compressed versions of the movie soundtracks and were easily recognizable. One little touch that I thought was great was how the music changed pitch when Alice changed size. Whenever she shrunk down, the music would switch to a slightly higher pitch, then back again when she grew to regular size. It’s the little things like that that really stand out. Unfortunately, some of the sounds were a bit too high pitched, which probably wouldn’t be a big deal, but with headphones on like when I played, they can be deafening.
Story – 8 / 10
It followed the story of the movie rather well, touching on most of the major scenes. From chasing the rabbit down the hole, to the tea party, even the crochet match with the queen, you can’t really ask for much more from an Alice in Wonderland game. The choice to make the second half non-linear I think made the story a bit choppy, but the ability to freely explore wonderland like that was fun in its own right, leaving me with a bit of a mixed emotion. Being one of my favorite Disney movies, I was just happy to be able to relive some of the more iconic scenes on my own.
Total Playtime – 2 h 04 m
A little short maybe, but a wonderful amount of fun.
Total Deaths – 31 Total Deaths ( 20 of which were lost races against the White Rabbit)
Over all, this was a relatively easy game. The final boss battle against the deck of cards got a bit hectic, and those races against the rabbit could seem impossible, but I was rarely frustrated with the game as a whole. The younger audience might have a tough time with a few spots, but most veteran gamers will rarely struggle. At times, patience was the real key to this game, which made it harder than necessary at times for me.
Overall Score – 8 / 10
It has a few flaws, but this was still a wonderful recreation of the classic Alice in Wonderland movie. Everything you could have asked for was there and more. Not just that, but it felt like it really pushed the handheld to its limits to create the best game possible for the system. Search out a copy for yourself and be happy to have such a wonderful game in your collection. While you’re at it, pick up a copy of the books, and celebrate 150 years in Wonderland.
Happy 150th Anniversary to Alice in Wonderland!!
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