Alice and You in the planet of numbers is a fiendish puzzler that will melt your brain

One of the great things about the rise of digital distribution is that it has enabled a lot of developers to release things that would probably never see the light of day otherwise — and the curiously titled Alice and You in the planet of numbers is a great example.

Alice and You in the planet of numbers is the latest release from an outfit called MindWare, who, over the course of the last few years, have been resurrecting a selection of games from the earliest days of Japanese home computer gaming and porting them to modern Windows PCs.

Alongside this, they’ve also put out a selection of original titles that share the authentically “retro” aesthetic and play style — and Alice and You in the planet of numbers falls into this latter category.

Alice and You in the planet of numbers

In Alice and You in the planet of numbers, you take on the role of either Alice or You, a pair of four year olds (one of whom is voiced by a Japanese wrestler) who someone has rather carelessly entrusted with a spaceship. One day, Alice and You hear of a competition where they can obtain the coveted prize of all-you-can-eat doughnuts — but only if they can complete a puzzling challenge on the planet of numbers.

The game has three main play modes, all of which follow the same basic rules. You’re given a grid of numbers, and your aim is to clear as much of it as possible in order to build a meter up to 100%, which will score our heroes the doughnuts they so desire. Alice and You can move in the four cardinal directions, and the distance they move is determined by the first number they step on in that direction. For example, if Alice faces right and there is a tile that says “5” in front of her, pressing the fire button will cause her to walk five spaces in that direction.

There are a few twists you need to bear in mind. Firstly, Alice and You will always stop prematurely if they come into contact with an item while they are moving. Items can be fruit, which provides points; a gem, which doubles the score value of the numbers they cross over; dollar signs, which provide money; or a heart, which repairs some of the damage they’ve done to the stage.

Alice and You in the planet of numbers

Yes, damage; as Alice and You move around the stage, they destroy the squares they walk over, so you’ll need to plan your moves carefully — since taking a move which causes them to fall into a hole ends your run, and you can’t move at all if there are no adjacent tiles with numbers on them. This means you can trap yourself with objects as well as numbers, so you need to be extremely careful!

The three game modes each provide a different tweak to the formula. In Game A, there are walls surrounding the play area, meaning you can’t fall off the edge. In Game B, there are no walls around the outside, meaning moving too far can cause you to fall into the void. Finally, in the Time Attack mode, you’re expected to clear a stage as quickly as possible — though given how tricky it is to actually do that in the first place, this is perhaps best saved for when you have a better grasp on the mechanics and strategy!

Each time you return to the title screen, you swap between Alice and You being the character who will take on your next play session. You’s special ability causes all the numbers to be removed from the board and then shuffled, potentially allowing you to prevent a fall into a hole; Alice’s special ability, meanwhile causes her to become surrounded by “1” tiles — this also repairs holes around her. In both cases, you can only use the special ability once per game.

Alice and You in the planet of numbers

Alice and You in the planet of numbers is well-presented, with an authentically retro visual style reminiscent of old Namco games. In fact, to further enhance that look and feel, MindWare enlisted the services of one Junko Ozawa to create the soundtrack; Ozawa was previously responsible for the music heard in a number of classic, iconic Namco games, including Sky Kid, The Tower of Druaga and Rolling Thunder — and rather pleasingly, the music for Alice and You in the planet of numbers sounds just like something from that era of Namco’s history; the distinctive sound set used is particularly reminiscent of Sky Kid.

It’s an interesting game because the retro presentation gives it a nice sense of immediacy and accessibility, but the actual underlying puzzle is seriously strategic and absolutely fiendish. Yes, you can have a bit of fun just moving at random, enjoying the quirky graphics and sound — but to attain high scores you’re going to have to think several moves ahead, plot a route back from a “target” to where you are — and figure out how to avoid trapping yourself for as long as possible.

The challenging, cerebral gameplay of Alice and You in the planet of numbers might not be for everyone, but the sheer level of charm on display in this game will inspire many people to make an effort to understand what is actually going on from a mechanical perspective. Allow yourself to get drawn in and there’s potentially hours of number puzzling fun to be had here; certainly a nice bit of light relief from the more chaotic, action-packed games out there.

Alice and You in the planet of numbers is available now on Steam.

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Pete Davison
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