From the creatively artistic mind of American McGee, a new and twisted spin on the beloved Alice in Wonderland narrative takes center stage. Taking place ten years after the original game, Alice in her newly corrupted Wonderland being a bit more grown up this time around, once again embarks on a haunted and psychological journey to uncover the truth of her tormented past.
Alice Madness: Returns is a dark journey where memories need to be gathered and surreal characters beckon your aid and in return promise to grant you knowledge and a better understanding of that which you seek the most, a piece of mind.
After the events of the original game where Alice loses her family in a brutal fire, she spends the better part of 10 years in an insane asylum where she is then released to an orphanage under the care of a psychiatrist who helps Alice confront her nightmares and hallucinations.
As with the original title, Wonderland is in a terrible rut and visually it is portrayed quite well. Upon entering this world, you find the overall presentation of the game somewhat disturbing, creating a depressed mood to the microcosm Alice finds herself in. Before you ever enter Alice’s new Wonderland, she takes to the streets which are somewhat populated with NPC’s depicted in a form of watercolor exhibition. Some bit of back story can also be drawn from certain NPC’s as you walk up to them and make like you want for a pleasant conversation which is never returned graciously. These interesting or should I say visually challenged characters speak to one another about your difficulties as though you are nowhere to be found which builds more upon an isolated atmosphere as this is only the beginning.
Entering Wonderland and Alice’s new world is arduously designed with each puzzle filled platforming chapter introducing a new level design completely different from the last. Each level in Wonderland is uniquely depicted with an element of platforming that while somewhat original, does draw an influence from Crash Bandicoot and Jak & Daxter, as Alice jumps, spins, floats and quickly morphs into a collection of beautiful butterflies but for a brief period of time as she traverses each level and evade numerous attackers.
Now with the ability to shrink her size to find those hard to find child-like drawn clues, keyholes and invisible floating ledges throughout, I spent much of my time in Wonderland carefully investigating each area in order to uncover much of the clues and bonuses hidden in the most unlikely places. Whether trying to collect memories, bottles or pepper up as many pig snouts as possible in order to uncover more red roses, teeth, white or gold I certainly took my time during my journey.
Each level plays well enough to offer just the right amount of difficulty which for me came in the form of traversing disappearing platforms and ledges which were eventually mastered in no time. The biggest challenge came when certain platforms whether moving or not, could only be seen when you shrunk Alice. Nevertheless, you are also unable to jump when you are shrunk, so players are forced to carefully time their jump after Alice quickly grows back to normal while the platform slowly disappears from view. However, you able to walk these ledges even when they are completely invisible.
Aside from the many colorful setting and characters which expressly steal the show, Alice: Madness Returns offer a simple yet entertaining combat system complimented well with an upgradeable weapons list beginning with the trusted Vorpal Blade. For those in-close attacks which Alice can nicely string together, the Vorpal Blads is introduced early along the journey followed by the Pepper Shooter. Given to you in order to track down and take out the many pig snouts about the several maps, as well as for shooting a collection of clocks which allow for systematically operated objects within the levels to appear, giving Alice access to other levels. In addition and just as important, the Pepper Shooter is extremely handy in a fight against multiple enemies. Alice is eventually equipped with an infinite supply of Rabbit Time Bombs which are set to a timer so sometimes our Alice has to be swift.
Next on the list is the projectile deflecting Umbrella, and then my personal favorite, the Toy Horse or the hammer of Alice which ever you would like to call it. Last but not least is the no nonsense Tea Pot coming along later in your journey to mix up the combat for good measure. The combat system comes equipped with a lock-on system giving the player more control of Alice as she seamlessly goes in and out of lock-on mode to attack multiple enemies while beautifully morphing out of harms way. By acquiring as many teeth as possible which are found from downed enemies, clam shells, or high reaching platforms, Alice with the right amount can purchase upgrades for her weapons constructing a more powerful and cool looking arsenal.
While there are a wealth of positives associated with the game, Alice: Madness Returns isn’t perfect. This of course is more readily found from the unbalanced textures. There are times when playing where some impressively smooth looking textures were directly in-line with muddy out of focus textures, making for an ugly mess. Instances such as these did not spoil my experience but were certainly unforgettable. In addition, while the combat early on is poised for great potential to expand, it really never does. Aside from the weapon upgrades which offered more powerful strikes and character to weapons, combat does become a bit stale and mundane after a while.
Alice: Madness Returns is about the mood and despite the overall underwhelming visuals, the presentation absolutely takes you there. You are in a dark Wonderland and you know it. Still, the soundtrack does not quite hit the right note to harmoniously bring it all together. Cut-scenes and story narrations while great could have been better realized with audio tension to drive the home the atmosphere.
Overall, Alice Madness Returns is a great time despite it’s obvious shortcomings. Not quite hitting the marks as convincing as American McGee’s Alice, Madness Returns is certainly enjoyable. Longing for a platformer packed with a rich story history in a twisted reality, then you probably shouldn’t pass on Alice: Madness Returns.