Review: V&A’s Curious Alice VR experience
Image credit: V&A
This VR experience – commissioned to accompany the V&A’s upcoming Alice in Wonderland-themed exhibition – drops the user into a beautiful, dreamy Wonderland but offers little in terms of gameplay.
It has been a rough year for museums and galleries. Forced to close their doors, many have made efforts to continue sharing their collections with their public, such the British Museum’s revamped digital collection or the Louvre’s Google Street View-like virtual tours. These are wonderful resources, but – like most activities at this time – they involve sitting and looking at a computer screen.
Ahead of the opening of its much-anticipated Alice: Curiouser and Curiouser exhibition in March 2021, London’s Victoria and Albert (V&A) Museum has released a VR experience: Curious Alice. This is not a dodgy reconstruction of its existing galleries or upcoming exhibition; it is a creative little companion piece well suited to the medium and offering a brief escape from reality.
The VR experience, created by Preloaded, places the user in the role of Alice. She begins by opening a book and tumbling down the rabbit hole into Wonderland. The experience is made up of short animated scenes and three minigames: helping the white rabbit find its missing kid glove, playing croquet with the Queen of Hearts, and answering riddles from the hookah-smoking caterpillar.
Curious Alice provides around 15-20 minutes of play and exploration. The minigames are simple and do not have any replay value (the caterpillar’s riddles are always the same and the missing glove always hides in the same places). It would be a bit of a stretch to call it a video game.
What Curious Alice does well is immerse the user in Wonderland. The virtual Wonderland is brought to life with fantastical illustrations by Icelandic artist Kristjana S. Williams, commissioned by the V&A for the Alice: Curiouser and Curiouser exhibition. Williams blends Victorian engravings with digital collage techniques to create dreamlike landscapes; there is something of the original Tenniel illustrations in this art, injected with chaotic, psychedelic colour. Scenes melt into each other. Many look good enough to frame.
The Queen of Hearts' croquet lawn is a particular treat; the user is surrounded by painted rose bushes, a gigantic pink V&A looms in the background, and a nearby flamingo skitters as you reach out to touch it.
In this reviewer’s experience, VR content often underwhelms when it tries and fails to imitate the real world, often invoking the uncanny valley. Curious Alice doesn’t aim for realism, and instead feels like falling into a children’s picture book.
Through most of Curious Alice, the user remains rooted to the spot, but the few moments of movement – falling down the rabbit hole, growing, and shrinking –make the most of the medium; these are the moments which could not be experienced any other way.
For those looking for an exciting or challenging game to play, Curious Alice won’t fit the bill, but it is a charming, visually-appealing little experience sure to enjoyed by fans of Lewis Carroll’s books.
Curious Alice can be downloaded through Viveport and other major VR platforms for £3.99.
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