Take it from someone with very little experience in Wonderland; Down The Rabbit Hole promises as diverse and fascinating a VR adventure as I’ve seen in the past four years covering the industry.
Cortopia’s upcoming adventure — which finds itself releasing in uncomfortably close proximity to Half-Life: Alyx at the end of the month — deserves to be on your radar. It’s opening 30 minutes promises an eclectic mix of puzzle solving and story-telling, pulling from the best of third-person VR experiences with a healthy sprinkling of its own ideas.
If you’ve read my initial preview of the game, you know Down The Rabbit Hole is an all-new Wonderland story starring an unnamed protagonist that takes a tumble — you guessed it — down the rabbit hole in search of her lost pet. As she ventures deeper into the mad new world she’s discovered, she’ll meet a cast of characters both new and familiar to fans of the many various versions of Alice in Wonderland. But, rather than rigidly translating well worn portrayals, the game insists on inserting its own spin on a lot of core elements.
Cortopia has kept the strangeness of Wonderland alive with reassuring authenticity. A deck of sentient cards huddle round a campfire, spitting casual judgement and unbearable puns about a ‘decimal’; a card with a half in its number. Later on, I encounter a manic chef spitting erratic recipes at me, and attempting to follow one of them ends up with, quite literally, a big problem on my hands.
Shifting perspectives from the usual third-person movement to occasional first-person segments for character interaction and exploration also helps to flesh out scenes, which hold up to close scrutiny down to the last detail. Cortopia is doing justice to a world that invites endless VR iteration, taming its many tangents in sometimes surprising and sometimes logical ways.
But, perhaps more importantly, the developer has applied the spirit of wacky Wonderland invention to the core VR design. Down The Rabbit Hole is presented like a sort of panoramic comic you can pull yourself through using stray vines, perpetually dragging yourself further down. Towards the end of my demo I was amazed to look up and see all of the ‘panels’ I’d played through so far spiralling around above me, with a view of the top of a well growing ever distant.
Every scene can also be reached into to interact with certain elements first-hand. At one point I smashed through a wall to locate one of several collectable letters from the Queen, while at another I discovered hidden messages to finish a bonus puzzle by poking my head into the set itself. Crucially, Down The Rabbit Hole is ready and willing to let you prod and tinker at its world, often rewarding your curiosity.
I was reassured, too, to find the game comfortably ‘doable’. My Gamescom demo from last year featured a fair bit of back tracking and some complex multi-tasking which I feared might slow down the pacing. But, save for a few tiny troubles, the opening section felt much more punchy and progressive. I’m sure tougher challenges present themselves later on, but I’m hoping the experience can largely keep this footing throughout.
Obviously the jury’s still out on the final product, but I might be tempted to label Down The Rabbit Hole as 2020’s A Fisherman’s Tale; a welcome dose of VR-first ingenuity wrapped up in enrapturing presentation. Cortopia could still tumble down the well a little too far, but from what I’ve seen it might well stick the landing.
Down The Rabbit Hole releases on March 26 for Oculus Quest, PSVR and PC VR headsets. We’ll bring you a full review around release.
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