Review: Alice: Madness Returns
Alice: Madness Returns puts players in control of the mentally deranged and cynical Alice Liddell, as she hacks and slashes her way through Wonderland in an attempt to regain her sanity.
- Worth The Time?Definitely. Come for the platforming and hack and slash gameplay. Stay for the twisted and gruesome aesthetics.
- Things LovedThe dark and mature setting; mature and tragic story; beautifully designed platforming sequences; immense and stunning world; fantastic art design; large range of enemy types; various and upgradable weapons; great voice acting; beautifully realised characters and script; long game length; tons of collectables; great value with original game included; some fantastic minigames.
- Things HatedThe repetitiveness after a few hours; the slow point in the middle of the story; animation pop ins; some ugly textures; story takes a while to gather steam; certain minigames are boring.
- RecommendationAlice: Madness returns is both a fantastic platformer and action game. While it may not stand up to the likes of God of War, its aesthetic beauty really sets it apart from the rest of the competition. The story is compelling and players will feel exactly what Alice feels as she transcends deeper and deeper into her own insanity. The Cheshire Cat deserves a standing ovation for voice acting, and all round the script is good. While the game does clock in at around 14 hours, it may become repetitive and the slow middle portion of the game may become distressing. All in all, you will be getting your money's worth, with a lengthy campaign and the full original American McGee’s Alice available as a free download with a new purchase.
- Name: Alice: Madness Returns
- Genre: Horror Action Adventure
- Players: 1
- Multiplayer: N/A
- Platforms: Xbox 360, Playstation 3, PC
- Developer: Spicy Horse
- Publisher: EA
- Price: R599.95
- Reviewed On: PS3
Alice: Madness Returns begins immediately after the events of the first game. Alice has been released after a decade within the walls of the Rutledge Asylum for the Wayward and Lost Souls. She is released into the care of Dr. Bumby, who attempts to cure her of the trauma she suffers from her family’s death. Alice still holds on to the thought that she was responsible for the fire that took the lives of all her family members, and struggles to come to terms with what has happened, even ten years later. It does not take long before Alice’s insanity gets the better of her, and once again she is plunged into the world of Wonderland. Again assisted by the Cheshire Cat, Alice explores Wonderland in an attempt to regain lost memories and hopefully piece together what happened the night of the fire. At the same time, a terrible evil has taken hold of Wonderland, and it is Alice’s duty to not only help herself, but also her refuge of Wonderland.
Alice: Madness Returns tells a very mature tale, one with themes of insanity, rape, murder, prostitution and abandonment. These events all take place after the events portrayed in Lewis Carol’s cherished books, so players are introduced to a older and more cynical version of Alice, as was in the original game. Wonderland has become a twisted nightmare, with hordes of Alice’s ghoulish imaginations populating the realm. The setting itself is probably one of the strongest aspects of the game. One moment you will be strolling with the real world Alice down a gloomy and depressing London street, rife with black smoke and oddly shaped characters that look like something Tim Burton would design. The next you will be in a beautiful part of Wonderland, with colourful and seemingly odd environments, such as a garden with floating dominoes or an oriental backdrop with origami ants. This beauty is not always long lived, and Alice’s beautiful refuge is quickly plunged into darkness, with daunting mechanical machinery and clocks dangling on a smoky yellow backdrop, or dead plant life and red vines breaking the walls of the Red Queen’s castle.
It is sometimes simply refreshing to stop a moment and take in the amount of detail that went into creating such a vast and twisted Wonderland. Another nice touch is the different dresses that Alice will equip, that change according to the scenery and tend to let Alice blend in with her environment. That said, not everything is perfect. While the visuals may immerse you in Alice’s world, frequent animation and texture pop-ins, as well as some occasionally ugly textures will remind you that this is just a game, and break the spell that the beautiful Wonderland is putting you under.
Another great characteristic about Wonderland is just how easy it is to manoeuvre Alice around her own imagination. Alice can jump, double jump, triple jump and glide, all using the same button. At its core, Alice: Madness Returns is a platformer, so it is especially important that movement is easy and graceful. Flower petals whirl around Alice as she floats from platform to platform, providing an image of innocence against all the evil surrounding her. There are rarely any moments where you will feel that Alice’s motions aren’t enough to get you from A to B. That said, the platforming is never particularly difficult and the most challenging parts involve invisible platforms that can only be seen when Alice shrinks, which can be done at any time from the beginning of the game. There are also instances where you will have to use a timed bomb to weigh down switches to get platforms to appear or move, which can be just a bit challenging at times. Platforming rarely evolves throughout the entire game, sometimes leading to very boring segments such as the middle portion of the game, which is almost constantly running and jumping. However, there are some standout moments, such as jumping between giant cards in the clouds, or navigating the twisted liar of the Red Queen.
Alice being able to shrink on demand adds an entirely new dimension to the gameplay, and this form is often used when searching for the many collectables scattered around Wonderland. While going about your usual business, you should be on the lookout for keyhole sized spaces that you are able to enter, though these can be tough to see as only while shrunk that will become open and visible. Some platforms will also only become visible when shrunk, leading you to hidden areas. There are numerous collectibles that can be found in each chapter, including bottles, memories that add in some back story, flying pig snouts that when shot with the pepper grinder reveal hidden areas, and Rondula Rooms that present you with challenges in order to increase your maximum health. Taking a break from the action in order to look for puzzles is refreshing and rewarding, and helps keep the game feeling long. It also allows you to further explore the wonderful land, sometimes taking you to different viewpoints and entirely new locations all together.
Wonderland isn’t all about beautiful scenery and jumping, there are also various different horrific beings that are out to get Alice. Players will encounter familiar characters from the original tale, all with their own dark twist. The Mad Hatter wears a strait jacket, while the Cheshire Cat is a creepy skeletal being with a seemingly evil nature. Card Guards are now horrid images of the undead, and Ruins are hideous blobs of a black substance will porcelain doll faces. There is an array of different beings that Alice will come into contact with, not all being friendly. This type of variety is very good, giving you a host of different enemies to lay siege on, all with different strengths and weaknesses. Luckily, Alice has a varied arsenal of weapons to deal with the nightmarish threats. The Vorpal Blade returns and acts as Alice’s light attack, while the new Hobby Horse acts as a heavy attack that is able to break enemy defences. The Pepper Grinder is the standard ranged weapon, while the new Teapot Cannon fires huge blobs of steaming tea and acts as an improvised grenade launcher. Alice also has an umbrella which she can use to block and deflect enemy attacks, as well as an exploding rabbit which can be used to distract enemies as well as weigh down pressure pads. While that may not sound like a massive arsenal of weapons, what truly makes combat special is how you are forced to use various weapons all in the same encounter. That said, combat is rarely difficult, and again this can making the tons of fighting a bit of a chore.
Hysteria also adds another level to the combat system, allowing Alice to go full blown crazy when nearly dead. When Alice only has one rose of health left, players are able to activate Hysteria for a short period of time, letting Alice remain in her insanity and granting her invincibility and increased damage for the duration. The colour scheme also shifts to black and white, making blood a deep and vibrant red that is splashed all over Alice and the screen. In amongst all the jumping and fighting action, there are a few minigames that help pace the game nicely and attempt to act as a bit of filler. While some of these minigames are an absolute blast to play, such as rolling a dolls head through obstacles or navigating a ship through a sea of metal sharks on a 2D plane, some are just boring and way too easy. The picture and chess puzzles would have been entertaining had it not been for the fact that each puzzle should not take you more than a minute to solve, and the 2D side scroller on the oriental setting is just plain bad and boring. It would have been fine if these types of puzzles were optional, however they make up critical segments of each chapter, sometimes forcing you to do it more than once.
Alice: Madness Returns has its problems, just like many other games out there. However, these problems aren’t nearly enough to distract you from the wonderful world you’ll be plunged into, and you will soon find yourself haring Alice’s madness as you push forward. A rich combat system wasted on weak enemies and occasionally ugly textures may put you off, but nothing can trump the 14 hours or so gameplay that you will experience, not to mention a New Game+ mode as well as the original Alice included as a download for console versions. American McGee has delivered another breathtaking experience, and I was left happy when the credits rolled, pleasantly surprised by a game I wasn’t too sure about when announced. So, grab your Vorpal Blade, equip a dress and get ready to face the horrors that are awaiting you in the world of Wonderland.