When I say Down The Rabbit Hole is VR adventure worthy of Wonderland, clearly, I don’t mean on a literary level.
Cortopia’s rendition of the long-loved, well-trodden fantasy world doesn’t compete on that plane. Instead, what Down The Rabbit Hole wants is to ensnare that celebrated weirdness of T. S. Eliot’s creation, recognize its best elements and then repurpose them for a new medium. In this, it is the virtual equivalent of a page tuner; a whirlwind tour of one of fiction’s most beloved and surreal realities.
Down The Rabbit Hole is a brilliantly experimental virtual world; a churning cement mixer of ideas, free to splatter out around you and let you poke and prod at the remains. You follow a young girl that takes a tumble into Wonderland in search of her pet, but ends up descending further into the mad depths as she meets a cast of characters both familiar and new.
The game unfolds like a panoramic comic book, with new panels appearing when your protagonist enters new rooms. Though it’s technically a third-person game, there’s brilliant first-person interaction, like navigating environments by climbing stray vines growing between the scenes, or reaching into levels to dislodge items from cracks in the walls. Look up above you and you’ll see past scenes still present and accounted for, plus an ever-diminishing glimpse at the top of the rabbit hole you’re burrowing into.
You might not ‘be’ these characters, but you’re certainly in the ever-enchanting company of Wonderland itself. In one scene an over-inflated king can be hand-fed jam tarts as you trace his sprawling arms and limbs into other sections of a castle. In another you zig zag between reflections in the water, revealing a flipped reality below the surface. Later down the line you’ll encounter the Cheshire Cat, who then skulks in the shadows and can be petted with the waggle of a controller. It really is a wonderful indirect translation of the source.
Every path inexplicably leads you back to a hub world with an opium-smoking caterpillar huffing out misguided beads of wisdom to which your companion, a playing card shunned by his kind for having a decimal in his number, returns witty wisecracks. Plus, when the game has something it’s particularly proud to show you, it shifts perspective to first-person for dialogue trees and certain puzzles.
Quite rightly, the world is just as much a character as your protagonist and her companions, and proves to be Down The Rabbit Hole’s strongest asset. It was the promise of something equal parts unexpected, amusing and amazing around every corner that pulled me through the adventure, not that there’s much room for tedium in its punchy, all-too brief two hour run time.
If there’s anything more pedestrian about the game, it’s the puzzles themselves, which only rarely embrace the erratic situations that necessitate them. At one point our hero takes a sip of a rather unorthodox recipe and suddenly sprouts upwards, filling the room. It’s another fantastic VR moment that has you marvelling at Down The Rabbit Hole’s technical accomplishments, but saving her is just a simple fetch quest away, backtracking a few minutes or so to gather items previously committed to memory.
It’s not always the case — the best puzzles have you sticking your head into the middle of sets to hunt down every last clue — but Down The Rabbit Hole can’t keep the same spark of invention alive when it comes to gameplay. Something like, say, Astro Bot straddles the line between both immersion and mechanics, but here it’s the wider experience that instead carries that torch. At least they never get in that way; the entire game is perfectly solvable with little help, though it does come at the cost of occasionally over-simple solutions.
More entertaining is the hunt for invitations from the Queen, the game’s answer to collectables, which are necessary to get the best of the three endings. This requires careful study of each and every level, making sure that, on a visual level at least, you get the most out of Cortopia’s minuscule miracle. Plus they serve as a handy reason to pad the game out, should you so desire.
Down The Rabbit Hole Review Final Impressions
Even Down The Rabbit Hole’s sheer existence seems like lunacy. It’s as strange a VR game you’ll find, one that refuses to be pegged down to any one demographic or tick any certain box. There might be a touch of tameness to some of its puzzles and the adventure is over a little too soon, but when the game tips its box of ideas upside down, magic usually falls out. Down The Rabbit Hole is as Mad as a Hatter, and that’s exactly what you’d want it to be.
Final Score: 4/5 Stars | Really Good
Down The Rabbit Hole will be available from March 26 on Oculus Quest and PC VR headsets for $19.99. The PSVR version is coming in early April. You can read more about the new five-star scoring policy here.
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