The Rivers of Alice – Extended Edition PC Review
The Rivers of Alice is a curious game and one I was never quite sure I entirely enjoyed. It follows the surrealist dreams of Alice, a girl of indeterminate age, who must complete puzzles and confront the fears of her everyday life, with the occasional help of a creature called Sloth. It should be noted that I never played the original and so, not knowing what makes this edition extended, I shall review it as a complete newcomer.
The stand out feature of the game are the beautiful hand-painted watercolours which make up the world of Alice’s dreams. They give it this surrealist quality that underscores the entire game and make it very easy on the eyes, as you can see from the screenshots.
The other great quality is the music which is utterly charming. I thoroughly enjoyed every piece and each can be played in the home screen of Alice’s bedroom. They are appropriately mellow and very well composed. The downside was that most only last for as long as Alice remains in a single setting which might be for as little as a minute, meaning you may not hear more of a song you really enjoy.
The music and the watercolours really do conjure up a subconscious dream world of mystery and interest. They afford it a mellow atmosphere, which is well placed for a slow game.
It is a shame therefore, that the artistic whole is rather dented by odd problems. The font, for example, clashes with the aesthetics the developers want to create and on my small 11” screen, the text boxes were huge, taking up at least a third of the screen. Some of the mundane sound effects are obtrusive such as Alice’s plodding walking sound that doesn’t match her gait or the feel of the game. Some of the character models do not quite fit with the watercolour aesthetic, appearing a little too bold or detailed when set against a hazy but stunning backdrop. The dragonflies which the player must collect are represented by circles of blue light and a trail of what can only be described as sparkles, which again, smacks of a children’s game, not of an artistic and philosophical indie game which uses phrases like ‘a Goyaesque vignette’. These are all great shames because they are easy to rectify and do affect the overall aesthetic quality of the piece which would have otherwise been very high indeed.
However, it was the puzzles that really made me consider whether I was enjoying or tolerating the game. Some of them are incredibly frustrating, requiring you to traipse through many different scenes to complete, with Alice’s slow walk getting more and more infuriating every time. Some mean that if you miss one very minor detail, such as a small cup in the very first puzzle, you will be slowly plodding around in circles. Some are fairly illogical and require a very certain mindset. One I never even figured out, I just clicked randomly and managed to get it on the first try. Another took me so long to try and work out that I eventually used a walkthrough, in which it turned out that if Alice walked (very slowly) all the way back to the very start, Sloth would have directed me through it fairly easily.
But then, other puzzles were fun to complete and actually made sense. For example, one puzzle requires the player to recreate a musical phrase using different stepping stones which make different noises; it made utter sense, was incredibly fun and very satisfying to finish. Another was to match astrological patterns with lights in a building. The variety of puzzles was welcome; there was not one core mechanic but rather a medley of varied ones.
It might have been nice to have some sort of context as to what this all means for Alice. In that sense it played rather like the Lewis Carol namesake in which rather than plot, Alice trips from one bizarre setting to the next. But all that left this game were questions – why was Alice dreaming about a boy in a spider’s web or indeed several blocks of flats in a desert or a boy fishing or flowers that can play musical notes? I craved some kind of clever character contextualisation or even philosophical denouement that never materialised. The byline of the game is that it is a journey of self-discovery and enlightenment for Alice but without knowing anything about the central character’s start it is impossible to tell if she has gone on such a journey.
The Rivers of Alice is not a long game, even in the extended edition, and thank goodness because this is a game to which I could not commit long term. However, it did have some moments which were intriguing and even fun. That said, my abiding memory is of clicking until something sticks. Ultimately, it is an interesting and beautiful concept marred by minor aesthetic problems and puzzling infruriations, interspersed with moments of excellence.