Monday, April 27, 2009

AliceX. ($1.99, version 1.0)

I had a hard time coming up with this review because this is one game I did not personally enjoy.  Enjoying a game is so subjective that a game I don't like might become your most favorite game in the whole world.  The reason that I did not enjoy this game is because the gameplay was totally different from what l was expecting, so I hope that by writing this review you will know what the game is about and will get exactly what you expect if and when you buy it.

This is a port of the first game ever developed for the Mac.  Having never owned a Mac (until now, three weeks or so after getting this game) I had never experienced this game before.  It was made by Steve Capps, who went on to do a lot of projects for the Mac, including writing the Mac Finder (which allows you to find pretty much anything stored on your Mac).  So this is not a new developer but someone who has years of experience and expertise in the business.

When I first heard about the game my excitement ran sky-high because I read it mixed Alice in Wonderland and chess.  I love chess, and have been playing it for about 26 years.  I'm not a chess purist and love variations of it, my favorite being Crazyhouse.  There's other games in the app store that have mixed chess and other game genres and created games I love.  And l love the story of Alice in Wonderland.

I didn't connect with the game because instead of starting with chess and creating a game out of that, this is a quick-reflex game that incorporates chess rules.  So it's not chess with something else added to it, it's something else with chess added to it, which makes a huge difference.

When you first start the game you get a nice splash screen which disappears after a couple of seconds.  Then the rules to the game start auto-scrolling on the screen.  You can swipe up or down to stop the auto-scrolling and go back and forth through the rules.  The rules are very detailed and include graphical explanations and also explain how chess pieces move.  A quick screen tap or reaching the end of the rules takes you to a difficulty-selection screen which provides four difficulty levels.  Once you select the difficulty level, you are thrown into the game.

The game screen is simple and uncluttered.  On the top you have your score and on the right the current level.  There's no level-selection screen.  It would be great if you could re-visit earlier levels.  You can touch anywhere near the top to bring up the in-game menu.  In here you can turn the music and/or special effects on or off, change the theme, start a new game (in the same level), or go back to the rules by selecting About.  The majority of the screen is occupied by the chessboard.  You are on one side and the regular set of chess pieces on the other.  The goal is to capture those pieces and earn points, and letting some of those pieces queen (letting the pawns get to your bottom row and turn into queens) so that you can reach 750 points.  Be captured and you lose points (but it is possible to pass even if you are captured a couple of times; be captured too much and you won't reach the goal of 750).  You lose 27 points each time you are captured.  If you are captured the game pauses and you get to move first.  As soon as you make the first move in the game or after being captured, you and the opponent can move as you please without having to wait for the other player to move.  You move by selecting which square you want to move to.  Each time you play as a new piece, you get a highlight of where you can move to help you out.  Then you are on your own after that level.  There are a total of 96 levels and a challenge to get a perfect score of 999 in each one of them.

The game has a few visual themes, including red opponents against Alice (the characters seem to resemble characters from the story), politicians including Bush, Cheney, and Rice look-alikes while you are in a suit (which obviously wasn't part of the original Mac game), regular-looking chess pieces against Alice, and what looks like a singer, his posse, and his woman against a dressed-down you.  You can't directly choose the theme, you can only cycle through them.

Back to the main gameplay.  This game is all about moving fast and having quick reflexes.  In order to avoid being captured you're going to have to constantly be tapping on squares to move out of the way.  lf you just frantically move from square to square you will be able to escape 99% of attacks.  There's a moving trapdoor that doesn't take points away from you but pauses the game until you make a move.  Pieces can also fall through the trapdoor, which takes away from potential points.  This game is mostly a quick-moving, quick-reflexes game.  If you like this type of gameplay, this game will be perfect for you.

The music changes depending on the theme.  Sound effects are minimal - Alice "Ouches" when captured and there's a pinging noise when capturing other pieces.  

When you start the game you can move as a queen, which means you can move in any direction any number of squares.  Next is the rook.  Now you cannot move diagonally anymore.  As you progress through the levels your movements get more and more restricted and hence the game becomes harder.

The game seems to be a straight port with dated graphics but it doesn't deter from the gameplay.  It would be great to have the ability to change to a specific theme without having to cycle through all of them and it would also be great to be able to select the level or at least any level previously unlocked.  Ideas for further gameplay modes could include options to do single-board games as the piece of your choice.  If you go into the game with the mindset that this is a quick-reflex game with some movement restrictions based on the game of chess, you will get exactly what you bargained for.  If you go in expecting a chess game with some varied gameplay thrown in, you might end up disappointed.  $2 is a bargain price for a Mac port, and highly recommended if you are a fan of quick-moving games (and specially if you have played and enjoyed this game before).

1 comment:

  1. I almost bought this game, just for the sake of seeing what the first Mac game was like. I still might just for kicks, though it sounds like I'd mostly be kicking myself. I agree with you that there is a big difference between Chess games with added play elements and games that incorporate chess elements into them, and to be perfectly honest I'm not a big fan of the latter. Thanks for the in depth review.