Mostly, this blog will focus on the positive side of retro gaming and feature games I remember fondly. Occasionally, though, I’ll stray to the darker side and highlight a title from my gaming past that I’d rather forget.
Thankfully, such titles are rare. When I was a kid, money was tight and games were expensive, so I had to choose my purchases carefully. I faithfully read Zzap!!64, noting the Sizzlers or Gold Medals and drawing up a shortlist. Even with such careful research, though, things sometimes went wrong.
Enter Alice in Videoland from Audiogenic.
Never trust a grinning cat – particularly when it’s trying to sell you a game…
I honestly have no idea why I bought this game. I don’t remember ever seeing it reviewed (if I had I’d have steered well clear); I don’t remember any of my friends talking about it; I don’t even remember how I found out about it. I just remember that once I did, I had to have it.
Big mistake. There goes £8.95 I’ll never see again.
Things started off quite promisingly. The title screen looked decent enough and the opening music was quite pleasant. And that pretty much exhausts the list of positives.
Hey this might be OK…
As soon as you pressed the Fire button to start the game it all goes horribly wrong. In what should have been an impressive (and cinematic) opening, the title screen scrolled right as you followed the White Rabbit. Unfortunately, the scrolling routine was horrible jerky. Even through my young eyes, I could see how rough it was when compared to the smooth scrolling achieved by other programmers of the day.
Alice was based around a series of mini games, some of which were execrable; the rest just poor. The first level saw you floating down the rabbit hole collecting various items as they went by. If I recall correctly, the first item that you had to collect was a basket and if you missed this, you couldn’t collect anything else. After landing, you wandered around a psychedelic floor getting to collect more stuff, before meeting the Cheshire Cat and the Caterpillar and having to collect butterflies and rocking horses without getting shrunk in size (which meant you couldn’t jump). This was virtually impossible, since almost everything on screen seemed intent on cutting you down to size. If you were still sane, next up was a chess style game with the aim of getting Alice to be the 8th row so she can be crowned Queen. I’ll be honest; I never had a clue what I was meant to do here. The final level (a pinball type game based around the croquet match in the book) was the most fun (although that was in the face of not much competition), but still akin to having someone stand on your head for three hours.
Pretty much everything in Alice in Videoland was designed to make you hate your Commodore 64. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised to find that it was written by Sinclair Secret Agents in an attempt to undermine the C64’s credibility and sell more Spectrums.
The graphics were pretty horrible. After the decent(ish) static title screen, the rest of the in-game graphics were awful. The animation (and I use that word very loosely) was dire whilst every level looked like an explosion in a paint factory. Foreground and background graphics clashed dreadfully making the whole thing look like the programmers had been smoking the same stuff as the Caterpillar in the book. You often had only the vaguest idea of where your character was on screen or what anything else was up to.
My eyes! My eyes…!
The gameplay felt aimless. The levels had no structure and seemed to end after random amounts of time, regardless of what you did. You got to play all the levels no matter what happened, so there was no sense of progression or achievement Sure, the aim was to get as many points as you could, but this was rendered pointless because you were never really sure how you scored points anyway. You spent the whole game feeling as though nothing you did made any difference and that you could happily leave the room and the game would play itself. Come to think of it, that would probably be the most enjoyable outcome for everyone.
If you were unlucky enough to play the game on tape (which I was) there was an excruciating multi-load system. Each level had to be loaded separately and took an eternity. This might have been bearable in a decent game, but none the levels were worth the wait. Given that the levels were very short, you spent an awful lot of time watching the tape spool round and not much time actually playing the game. Having said that, it’s possible this was actually more fun.
Alice in Videoland is a very strong contender for my personal Worst C64 Game Ever. Just playing it again briefly to refresh my memory for this review has brought back the nightmares. It was quickly consigned to the “never play” part of my gaming collection where it used to sit taunting me, saying “you paid £8.95 for me and you never play me. Think what other games you could have bought with that money”.