Touted by its creators Magnetic Scrolls as the most sophisticated adventure ever, Wonderland raises the question - is the most complex necessarily the best?
Lewis Carroll was an odd sort of a chap. For a start he wasn't called Lewis at all, or even Carroll - his real name was Charles Dodgson. He also liked writing maths books and taking photographs of little girls. Blimey! So it isn't hard to see why Magnetic Scrolls decided not to give him much of a billing on the packaging of their computer adaptation of Alice's Adventures in Wonderland. Or, indeed, call it Alice's Adventures in Wonderland at all.
What they have done, though, is attempted to revolutionise adventure games as we know them, taking the unfashionable 'N, E, GET LAMP' concept and turning it into a force to be reckoned with in the Nineties, etc. Quite a tall order, eh, readers?
But before we go any further, let's take a look at the plot. It's Alice in Wonderland, basically, so if you've read the book you'll know just what to expect. Alice gets a bit bored of sitting on the riverbank, so when she sees a rabbit running past looking at its watch and going 'Oh dear, I shall be late' she gives chase and follows it down its burrow. Having done so she finds herself in a spooky world of talking playing cards, Cheshire cats, Mad Hatters and giant sherbet-smoking caterpillars. (What she doesn't find, mind you, are the Lion and the Unicorn or Tweedledum and Tweedledee. They're all characters in Alice Through The Looking Glass.) It goes without saying that you're Alice, and you've got to solve a whole load of puzzles and get out of Wonderland intact.
At the heart of Wonderland is a fairly straightforward adventure game parser. Text descriptions of your surroundings appear as you move from location to location, and you tell the game what you want it to do by typing in ordinary(ish) English commands. As parsers go this is a fairly standard (if sophisticated) one, no different really to the sort of thing that's been around for the last four or five years. It'll understand everything from the basic 'E' (to go east) to huge, unwieldy sentences like 'PUT EVERYTHING WHICH IS IN THE CUPBOARD EXCEPT THE POTION IN THE CRATE THEN GET THE POTION AND PUT EVERYTHING FROM THE CRATE IN THE CUPBOARD' (don't ask me - I copied it out of the manual). But what makes Wonderland different is the amount of clobber Magnetic Scrolls have tacked onto this basic framework. Say, for example, you wanted to pick up a bottle. You could be boring and type 'GET BOTTLE', I suppose. But there are at least 300 more convenient ways of doing it. You could scroll back to a previous 'GET BOTTLE' command and copy it, saving a few keystrokes. No? Right, how about going up to the Verbs menu, selecting Get and then picking Bottle from the sub-menu that appears? Alternatively you could open up the Iems in Room window and the Inventory window and drag the bottle icon between the two. Failing that you could even go to the Graphics window, click on the bottle in the picture and choose Get from there. [I make that four ways - Ed] Whether you actually find yourself using any of these extra facilities is another matter. Most of the time it seemed to me to be quicker just to type things in.
Once you've got to grips with all of that you can start solving puzzles. It starts off easily enough - just follow the rabbit down its hole (not forgetting to take a pear/lamp) and case the joint. You'll notice that almost every location has a picture of some sort to go with it (often animated) and possibly some music too. Pretty soon, though, you'll have picked up everything you can lay your hands on and will be wondering how to enter Wonderland proper. Two fairly serious puzzles need to be solved, neither of which have much bearing on the book (most of the later ones do, though) and, although some pretty heavy hints are dropped in the text and the Help facility, these initial hurdles could be enough to put many punters off adventure gaming for evermore.
While Wonderland has a very professional feel to it, it could be argued that if you strip away all the extra bits and pieces (which, let's face it, serve only to make things a bit more accessible without actually altering what's underneath) you're really just left with a text adventure, a genre which probably evolved as far as it's likely to go several years ago. The other side, however, would jump to its feet and claim that an adventure packs in far more depth and is likely to require a lot more skill than most arcade games, and besides, Wonderland is rather a nice one and to dismiss it for being an adventure would be terribly closed minded.
But what do I think? While admitting that the extra menus and windows (with the possible exception of the map) don't really add much, I did enjoy playing Wonderland enormously. It's a good rendition of the book, capturing its storyline perfectly while tweaking it enough to present a challenge even to those who know the plot inside out.
The pictures are nice too. I reckon that if you've had a good crack at adventures before and they've left you cold, Wonderland isn't likely to convert you. But if you like them, and are looking for something to sink your teeth into, it'll be more than enough to light your torch.
The Bottom Line
Uppers: Decent disks to dosh ratio. Slickly put together, with a very Lewis Carroll feel to it, and some corking graphics to boot. The Mac-style presentation manages to grab the attention of those who would normally avoid adventures.
Downers: Underneath all the flashy add-ons is a fairly ordinary adventure game, the graphics take ages to load, and of course it's another 1 Meg only game. And, when will programmers realise how much of a pain multi-disk access can be?
An atmosphere and cerebrum-bashing adventure game that isn't quite as innovative as it might lead you to believe.