Alisa: Developer’s Cut (Nintendo Switch) Review

By Athanasios 07.02.2024

Review for Alisa: Developer’s Cut on Nintendo Switch

The existence of platforms such as Kickstarter made it possible for independent creators to craft shiny gems the likes of Pillars of Eternity, Hollow Knight, and Undertale amongst others. A few years ago, one such crowdfunded project saw the light of day, and it was a survival horror game by the name of Alisa, whose apparent goal was to be the weird sister of the very first Resident Evil. If there was an imitation-is-the-sincerest-form-of-flattery award, developer Casper Croes would get one. This title has the same exact look and feel with Capcom's classic, down to the pleasantly bad voice-acting, and creaking pre-rendered backgrounds, managing to transport you to the distant '90s like no other retraux title out there. A bunch of flaws pushes this a bit into niche, cult game territory, but it's hard to deny how fun and charming it can be with the right mindset. Furthermore, the Developer's Cut at hand happens to be the complete experience, as it is the final, and very content-rich, update.

Taking place in a fictional counterpart culture version of imperial France, the story follows young Alisa, who is one of the many royal agents who have been dispatched to retrieve an important item that was recently stolen. Along with her uber-French, toothpick-munching companion, she disembarks on a tiny, almost deserted town. Few minutes into the adventure and things go very wrong, and she finds herself surrounded by grotesque monsters that drag her inside a mansion that has been swallowed deep underground. She awakes, finds a pistol, a key, and a small, mysterious note. Her quest has just begun… and a strong sense of déjà vu soon kicks in.

Many an indie developer has managed to duplicate the visual style and overall vibe of the golden classics of older systems, but very few have succeeded. Casper Croes has done so in spades with Alisa. Unlike the - magnificent - SIGNALIS, which was influenced by '90s horror titles, but has a unique art style of its own, this is basically time travel in video game form. It's not just the fixed camera angles, low-resolution pre-rendered backgrounds, and so on and forth. Anyone can recreate all that. No, Alisa is Resident Evil all over again, from its old-school-esque FMV cut-scenes and blocky character models, down to the colours chosen and last dithered bundle of pixels.

Screenshot for Alisa: Developer’s Cut on Nintendo Switch

If in look for actual horror, look elsewhere. No, this isn't scary. Not one bit. In fact, it leans heavily into camp territory, with far more wacky elements when compared to Resident Evil, making sure to also emulate the bad voice acting of the latter. The atmosphere is top-notch, though. Halls with old furniture, lights that cast long shadows, and weird stuff like organic looking structures made out of glass and metal, and spooky enemy design. The sound section follows in the same vein. The protagonist's footsteps against absolute nothingness; the occasional creepy scream; and, finally, an assortment of moody tunes that are basically like Resident Evil OST leftovers. Magnificent.

While an exercise in copying Resident Evil, story-wise it offers something slightly more original. Told through minimal use of scattered notes, visual storytelling, and a handful of cut-scenes, the game draws you into its world, and the deeper you go in, the more interesting, as well as mysterious the plot turns out to be. You'll want to know more about the power that created monstrosities out of plastic, metal, and glass, but you'll never really learn enough. It's very, for a lack of a better word, old-school in the way it approaches everything, so it leaves lots of gaps for one's imagination to fill. Like Dark Souls, it expects effort from the player, and not only when playing the darn thing.

Screenshot for Alisa: Developer’s Cut on Nintendo Switch

Those who have played the survival horror classics of the '90s will feel right at home, as the gameplay doesn't stray very far from the genre's core principles. Tank-control a sole protagonist into a mazy microcosm, solve puzzles, find keys, weapons, ammo, and healing items, and finally kill anything that looks a bit too creepy for its own good; aka, almost everything. Throwing away the overused zombies, the bestiary in here is made out of "living" dolls in a variety of forms. The mission? Simple. Escape, and while at it find out what created deadly mannequins and killer clowns. Sadly, in the process of "cloning" Resident Evil's style it also repeats some of its gameplay flaws, and adds some of its own.

There are many disorienting fixed angles, where the camera shifts from left to right when going from one scene to the next. Sometimes it's also hard to "read" distances - especially irritating when being far from the camera, and try to outmanoeuvre something that's out to get ya. There are a couple of boring segments as well, like the traditional push x number of crates "puzzle," and plenty of backtracking (especially near the finale), but thankfully it's never really that aggravating - mainly because the whole thing barely goes past the four to five-hour mark. Many will also appreciate the fact that you won't have to deal with a limited inventory, as the only reason to go back to your storage spot will be to change the weapon loadout or dress type.

Screenshot for Alisa: Developer’s Cut on Nintendo Switch

By far the biggest obstacle between you and your fun with Alisa is combat - and there's plenty of it here. Foes can be annoyingly fast, annoyingly agile, or annoyingly short, with Alisa having a running speed that's essentially a quick walk. The hitboxes are painfully small too, so you are bound to miss a few shots. Auto-aim? It is initially disabled. If turned on not only it won't help that much, but it will also decrease enemy drops, and if bought as an upgrade it won't let you see the "main" ending. Out of bullets? Watch the heroine reload her weapon so slow that it barely leaves her time to get away from danger. We are talking about three to five seconds of reloading time depending on the weapon!

Those willing to try this out must understand that this isn't a typical survival horror where avoiding battles is recommended, but an action game in survival horror wrapping. You are meant to kill everything, or at least as much as it is required to gather enough toothwheels, the "money" that can buy the necessary resources, with which the game can be quite stingy. Leaving enemies alive also increases the chances of getting some stray hits, especially in the second area, where most of the quick shorties can be found. In other words, your enjoyment is dependent on your tolerance of the previously mentioned flaws of the combat system. The weird thing? If you persevere, you'll start liking the whole thing more and more.

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Alisa was made with genre veterans in mind. It's tough and asks from the player to find the right solution for the problems it poses. As an example, in the case of yours truly most issues where solved with the use of melee weapons for like 70% of the enemies (some bosses included). The same goes for everything else. You have to find the right weapon loadout for each occasion, choose the dress with the right boons for each area, and, as is always the case in survival horror, one has to plan how to move on the map, and how the available resources will be used.

This is retro both in how it looks, as well as in how it plays, and how often you'll gaze upon a 'Game Over' screen. Expect no handholding; expect a game world with only three save locations; expect a giant, invincible doll that randomly shows up like the Nemesis of 1999's Resident Evil 3; expect a timed puzzle that few will solve on their first try, something which will lead in death. Yes, Alisa can be irritating at times, but it can also be tons of fun once you start playing the way you are supposed to, with the challenge certainly playing its part in that, as it makes each small win even sweeter.

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The small length of the adventure, as well as the fact that the mansion is basically one small map of just three to four interconnected areas, makes this an experience that doesn't overstay its welcome, and a perfect choice for repeated playthroughs, whether you want to discover everything, speedrun through it all, or try self-imposed challenges, like pacifist runs and the like. The Developer's Cut version, which is considered the complete one, also enables a New Game+ mode, where Alisa keeps all her upgrades, making subsequent tries easier, as well as more interesting, as one can now experiment with more tools, and try out different strategies.

This new and updated edition adds even more than just a mode and a couple of bug fixes. There are seven new weapons to buy, eight new dresses, optional mods (special skills) for our cute heroine, and new endings - all of them pretty neat. Generally, once you go past the few rough edges this has, it becomes obvious that Alisa can safely be considered an indie classic, especially for those who understand that going back to the past isn't just a matter of nostalgia. This "ancient" era of gaming's history had plenty of strengths that are now absent from the industry. Casper Croes has brought them back. So, welcome to the Doll House!

Screenshot for Alisa: Developer’s Cut on Nintendo Switch

Cubed3 Rating

8/10
Rated 8 out of 10

Great - Silver Award

Rated 8 out of 10

Apart from those who find it hard to go back to the past, and simply can't understand "why would anyone play something that looks so old," the rest are highly advised to brave the creepy Doll House of Alisa: Developer's Cut by Casper Croes. Apart from recreating that special vibe of the early survival horror classics, this has a unique magic of its own. There are a few flaws, especially with how annoying combat can be, but as a whole, this is a must have, especially for fans of indie retraux titles.

Developer

Casper Croes

Publisher

Top Hat Studios

Genre

Action Adventure

Players

1

C3 Score

Rated $score out of 10  8/10

Reader Score

Rated $score out of 10  0 (0 Votes)

European release date Out now   North America release date Out now   Japan release date Out now   Australian release date Out now   

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