A Tale by Alex
A Tale by Alex from Digital Dreams is a side-scrolling platform adventure told in three areas at the same time. You control Alex in three worlds simultaneously, jumping, attacking, and collecting coins like synchronized swimmers gone to ground. The bottom level is Alex's real self, but up above is the fantasy realm conjured by his imagination. Evil goldfish, a dark forest, and turtles the size of a Buick? Hey, if he can dream it, it can take form and attack his imaginary avatars!
The bottom world is the only place where Alex is safe. Here, he can walk through enemies and there's nothing to squish or stab him. In the middle, things start to get a bit crazier, as Alex's imagination starts to turn ordinary objects into dangerous objects. At the top of the screen is Sir Alex, knight extraordinaire. The toughest enemies and the biggest obstacles are packed here, so naturally you'll want to put a little more attention on the knight than the other versions of Alex.
Control Alex using the [arrow] keys and tap [Z] for a melee attack. Melee has a very short range, so don't rush into things before you've assessed the situation. When you have a long range weapon, you can fire it using the [X] key. Keep an eye on your ammo, though, because Alex can't carry an infinite supply of rubber bands around!
When one of the upper characters dies, you still have control of real Alex and the surviving avatar. Keep pressing ahead and you can often resurrect the fallen character by passing a certain point in the stage. If both top characters die, your game ends. Fear not, though, for A Tale by Alex includes an in-game shop you can use to purchase items between rounds. Gather coins and points, meet your inevitable doom, then buy better weapons, armor, and keys to unlock treasure chests at the shop. Then, saddle up and do it again!
Analysis: A Tale by Alex employs an increasingly familiar mechanic of controlling multiple characters with the same key strokes. Games like Jack in the Box use the same sort of design, though in Alex's case, the multiple screens/characters plays a much more important and artistic style of role.
Controlling Alex is simple, but minding two or three versions of him is anything but. Most of the obstacles are similar or identical between the worlds, but you can't count on symmetry to get you through the day. Keeping the characters lined up and watching their actions across the screen takes some getting used to. Even when you've got that down, you'll find yourself staring at the game over screen on many occasions. The nature of A Tale by Alex is focused on replays, and the more you play, the more stuff you can buy in the store, making your in-game time much easier.
While a lot of players may find the voice acting endearing, I found it a bit on the excessive side, giving speech to Alex far too frequently for my taste. The sense of wonder and imagination is unique, however, and since this is a tale by a child, you can expect an appropriate sense of fun, even when a goldfish drowns you with water.
A Tale by Alex is charming no matter how you cut it, and the divided screen makes for an interesting gaming experience. It's challenging to get used to splitting your attention, but when you get it, it's a much smoother game than you might imagine!