Alice’s Mad Tea Party (iOS) review

Alice’s Mad Tea Party is a new iOS game from Poppin Games, the developers of Peter Rabbit’s Garden. Like its predecessor, the game is a premium-priced ($1.99) game with additional in-app purchases of hard currency, and is currently enjoying a brief period of being available for free until Feb. 20. It’s available now from the App Store.

Alice’s Mad Tea Party is very similar to Peter Rabbit’s Garden in more ways than one. For starters, both games feature absolutely beautiful presentation, with hand-drawn artwork that is very distinctive and bursting with character rather than adopting the usual vector-based “Flash game” aesthetic seen in many other social games. Both games also feature high-quality sound, animation and story sequences to give the player a feel of progression.

And, sadly, both games also feature tired, derivative gameplay that would be better off in a true free-to-play title, because they certainly don’t offer sufficient entertainment value and unique features to justify a premium price point — especially with the amount of in-app purchases available.

In Alice’s Mad Tea Party, players take on the role of Alice a year after the events of Alice in Wonderland. It’s not entirely apparent what she’s doing back in Wonderland, but her cat Dinah is missing and the game’s long-term quest is to reclaim her from the Queen of Hearts. For some reason, the only way which this can be accomplished is through throwing a tea party and inviting all the residents of Wonderland, who have apparently all become buried between a large amount of undergrowth which only Alice can deal with. Eventually, Alice’s legendary tea party and the snacks therein will attract the Queen of Hearts, allow Alice to reclaim her cat and everyone to live happily ever after without losing their heads.

The basic gameplay in Alice’s Mad Tea Party is straight out of a very conventional farming sim. Players plant trees and bushes that grow various cakes and sweets, and harvest them at regular intervals. The trees and bushes may be upgraded by spending mushrooms that randomly sprout around the play area, and the produce of the various plants may be used in several ways. Firstly, if the player expands their territory enough to uncover a “market” house, they are able to sell their produce in exchange for soft currency. Secondly, uncovering a market house also unlocks a minigame whereby Alice can throw snacks at various characters by flicking them on the screen — successful completion of this rewards the player by unlocking an iconic Wonderland character to sit in the garden and occasionally generate soft currency. Players must ensure they have the right snacks on hand to feed the various characters, as they will find the minigame difficult to complete otherwise.

The game’s monetization stems from the hard currency Hearts, which are primarily used to speed up growing new plants or producing crops. There are also a variety of premium items available in the in-game shop which may only be purchased using Hearts. It’s also possible to acquire soft currency via in-app purchase, and free hearts can be acquired through a Tapjoy offer wall.

The game also features some rudimentary social features that allow players to view each other’s gardens and add each other as friends, but there isn’t all that much that can be done when there. Once players have added one another as friends, it is possible to send gifts to one another, but otherwise interaction with each other is somewhat limited. There is also no connectivity with external social networks to share progress or promote the game.

On the whole, Alice’s Mad Tea Party is a disappointing game. The audio-visual aesthetic is absolutely gorgeous, which is why it’s such a shame to see it wasted on such a derivative game. It’s also a somewhat questionable expectation in the long run to think players will pay money to download this when there are numerous very similar games already available on the App Store for free — all Alice’s Mad Tea Party has to distinguish itself is its excellent production values. It remains to be seen whether it will enjoy some success in the long-term, but it’s difficult to shake the feeling that this would have been better off as a free-to-play title permanently rather than just until the end of the month.

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Beautiful presentation but derivative, uninspired gameplay make this one to skip.