Fictional rivers usually come in one of two forms – either gentle and beautiful, moving softly through mystical forests, or fast and dangerous, destroying everything in their path. Luckily, in The Rivers of Alice: Extended Version the former idea is adopted, leaving us with a game that is just as satisfying to look at and listen to from afar as it is jumping right in and experiencing it for yourself.
As Alice it is your task to travel through a world of fantasy, interacting with people and objects to try and solve puzzles thrown your way. The idea is extremely simple – the only control input available to you is the GamePad's touchscreen and the only thing you have to do is work out what objects need to be used, where and when, to solve basic puzzles. But that doesn't mean that the game is a walk in the park – with a river in it of course. The puzzles are rather challenging; they're the sort of puzzles that have you stuck for what seems like forever, making you kick yourself for being so silly when you finally realise that all you needed to do was press a switch.
When the game starts up it is impossible to miss the beautiful art and sound. The graphics are made primarily with water colours, enriched with dashes of ink and graphite. Hand-drawn worlds often draw the attention of your happy-to-be-alive eyes and this game is no exception. Although the world around her is bursting with colour, Alice herself is completely colourless – is this just an art style choice or is it a deep, meaningful metaphor? Sitting alongside the visuals is a stunning soundtrack written by indie rock band, Vetusta Morla. The main theme – heard upon starting up the game, as well as in the first section that allows you to roam free – starts to feel incredibly warm and welcoming when you load the game for the second, third, fourth time, almost as if this is where you belong.
After allowing your senses a few moments to take everything in, it's time to get to business. A character you stumble across very early on turns out to be extremely important: Sloth. Sloth, who oddly enough isn't actually a sloth, becomes your guide. Communicating exclusively by doodles, he will provide you with clues whenever you get particularly stuck. Returning to Sloth's home whenever you feel puzzled is a good habit to get into.
You travel through numerous screens, each with its own puzzle or two. Sometimes these puzzles need to be solved to progress to the next screen, others can open up new ways in screens you've already been to. Often, solving a puzzle can present you with a new item which can be used to solve puzzles from the previous screens. This means that backtracking is a major part of the game, re-thinking puzzles that you previously couldn't solve. Although in some games backtracking can be a nightmare, it never feels like a chore here.
The puzzles never feel the same. You won't find yourself thinking that ideas have just been copied and pasted without any imagination. With each new screen comes new possibilities – exciting possibilities. Easily the best puzzles are the ones that really make you think, almost Professor Layton-like with the way in which you find yourself sitting back, revisiting every little detail, trying to discover something you might have missed.
Despite being a delight to play for the most part, the game does suffer from an incredibly aggravating glitch - at launch - which was frustrating enough to bring our overall score down. Occasionally triggering the use of a particular item in a particular room can make the game freeze. There is no logic to this and it seems to be unavoidable. This is a huge shame because the majority of the game flows so beautifully that you feel like escaping into its fantastical world, only to be struck down when it has to be replaced by the Wii U home screen. Luckily the game autosaves between entering and leaving each screen meaning that you'll never lose more than 20 seconds of progress, but that doesn't mean it can be ignored. There are only so many times that you'll want to return to the home screen, restart the game and hope for a better run before you decide to give up completely.
The Rivers of Alice: Extended Version is an absolute treat for the senses. Your eyes and ears will thank you for introducing it into their lives and thanks to the training it will receive, your brain power will finally be strong enough to work out which shoe goes on which foot when it's 4:30 in the morning. As wonderful as this may be, the game's 'freezing' characteristic will start to grate on you should you fall victim to it and whilst it isn't game (or soul) destroying, it will naturally dampen your experience.