Alice Aforethought - Hanon Ondricek

This is an immersive and very well-orchestrated whirlwind of lighthearted chaos that weaves together scenes from both of Lewis Carroll’s Alice books. Where Carroll’s text has not been directly lifted, other concepts and episodes from Wonderland have been adapted, in the proper style, by Hanon Ondricek. Alice, our protagonist, has been given a child-like yet unflappable inner monologue that is perfect for dealing with the madness. You are nominally playing as a voice in Alice’s head, not Alice herself, which is fittingly silly and redundant, and which gives ample opportunities for witty, neurotic banter. Hanon doesn’t miss a single one.

You won’t have to play long to feel the madness, which is really driven home by the excellent choices of music in the game. At one point early on, I was juggling the concepts of: being able to switch between the real and looking-glass worlds… being able to move through time… in both directions… perhaps also in two distinct ways, each… and possibly encountering one or more “other” Alices. Later, the directions you can move increase further with SHRINK and GROW, thanks to your magic mushrooms. That’s a great deal of (apparent) freedom to give the player without employing a full parser.

This was “created with AXMA Story Maker”, with which I’m not familiar, but it seems to have a few tricks up its sleeve. Most of the interaction is choice-clicking, but there really was an impressive variety of subtle variations on the input/output model. Sometimes I felt the story was interacting with me instead of the other way around, and it was just darn effective for the subject matter and very well done. This game’s strongest point is the synergy between tone, story, writing, interaction style, and puzzles.

Negatives? Some. I’ll put them under spoilers, because I advise players to avoid using the walkthrough. I think you really need to get stuck for a while to get the full effect.

[spoiler]I was slowed down somewhat by a bug that Hanon has now corrected, but even without the bug, I’m sure the game is too long to be totally comfortable in the IFComp venue. And putting aside the venue, the game’s weaknesses boil down to not being long enough. Or robust enough.

This game could have delivered on its potential a little better. Even with a great deal of movement options available, there’s not actually that much freedom. You are pretty much kept on the path.
That is probably okay for a story like this, but it’s related to other flaws. Plenty of elements turn out to be largely superfluous: the hourglass, the rook, being able to move forward in time, being able to move the looking-glass around. These things scream out as being puzzle solutions; it’s a shock for an Adventurer to find no use for them.

I’d also really like to see the chess game shored up to the point where it makes perfect sense as a real chess position (as well as having all of the correct position images, some are missing). Do that, and this game’s a masterpiece right away.

My other immediate suggestion, which is also difficult, I know, is to introduce a final puzzle section after the chess game that involves time-travel to the future and, ideally, moving the mirror. The last few scenes turn out to be mostly non-interactive story.[/spoiler]

Anyway, this is a fantastic game with a great deal of intelligence and effort already put in, and it should be competing for high stakes this year.

I have posted a review on my blog:

  • Jack