Backtracking is part of the game's makeup, but thanks to the gradual introduction of new toys to play with, it's usually a pleasure. The map of Underland is a jigsaw that you can manipulate and reconstruct at will, creating shortcuts between faraway levels. You find new pieces at a gradual pace, and for me, wrapping my head around the subverted, distorted reality of the gameworld was Alice in Wonderland's most challenging and inventive concept.
There are plenty of lovely DS-control-based moments - blowing away stacks of cards, or boats with playing-card sails across rivers. Walking and jumping work well, assuming you remember to point the cursor exactly where you want to go, and Alice only occasionally has attacks of stupidity and fails to follow you. You activate character powers by holding down any button and tapping the screen.
But Alice in Wonderland asks rather a lot of touch controls alone. Basic combat is needlessly fiddly, involving a confusing combination of frantic tapping and precise swipes. From time to time, the Red Queen sends her knights to try to capture Alice; they appear from a vortex, sending Alice running away screaming. You attack by tapping, but sometimes you're required to roll or block with accurate timing, and it can all be a bit of a muddle.
Boss fights are much better, as they're usual more puzzles than straight combat. They look fantastic, too - the character design and animation standards are strikingly high. The Cheshire cat runs and leaps with grace, giant dogs lumber menacingly, McTwisp runs with a spring in his step, the Mad Hatter ambles distractedly and Alice always follows along with an appropriate expression of wonder.
Alice in Wonderland is rarely actually challenging. Even if one of the Red Knights does get the better of you, you simply get up on your feet again after a few seconds. Health pickups are in absurdly bountiful supply, bursting from every enemy and patch of grass in the Underland. Save points crop up every few minutes. The enemies wandering around are superfluous, as there's never even a remote danger that they'll prove fatal.
It all serves reminder that Alice in Wonderland is designed with children in mind, which of course isn't necessarily a bad thing. Kids will appreciate the game's warped, cartoony look, cleverness and sense of humour more than its difficulty concessions.
Alice in Wonderland is surreal, dreamlike, well-crafted and very beautiful. It's always an unexpected pleasure to find a game that both understands and respects its licence, but more than that, it understands its audience - it's child-friendly without being patronising, and endlessly creative in its puzzle design. A few control quirks and repetitive combat hardly dull its appeal.
8 / 10