Alice: Madness Returns Review! Another trip to the insane world of Wonderland!
Overview:Systems: PC, PS3, XBOX 360
Pros:stunning visuals, intense and varied battles.
Cons:far too easy in some parts, some poor voice acting.
Just when you thought Wonderland couldn’t get any more bizarre… On the brink of insanity, Alice returns to find her world in ruin and filled with twisted, shambling abominations. Vorpal Blade in hand, it’s up to you to help her cleanse Wonderland, once and for all!
American McGee is the man who gave the world the gift of Alice in 2000, a video game adaption of Lewis Carroll’s popular literary character placed against the backdrop of a horrific and deformed version of Wonderland. Alice: Madness Returns takes another peek through the looking glass and forces our heroine to traverse the macabre landscape that once was Wonderland, making death-defying leaps, solving puzzles and riddles, and engaging in ferocious battles with creatures that are not all that they appear.
It is 1875, and a teenage Alice Liddell has since been released from care after the mental trauma she suffered when her family was killed in fire. Her psychiatrist, Dr. Bumby hopes to use hypnosis to clean up the disturbed memories that plague Alice’s psyche but she continuously suffers from hallucinations of her time in Wonderland. Spiraling back there, she finds her surroundings being corrupted by a demon train that is running through the land, spawning grotesque and deadly creatures in its wake. Under the guidance of the Cheshire Cat, Alice sets about trying to defeat the Infernal Train and must travel across the darkened world of Wonderland in search of her friends and foes alike, including the Mad Hatter, Mock Turtle and the Queen of Hearts.
Alice: Madness Returns is a 3D platformer, and so focuses on jumping, dodging, and some combat. Alice’s jump ability allows her to double and triple jump, as well as glide in and out of jumps. Throughout her journey, Alice will also piece together a formidable arsenal, including the Vorpal Blade, the Hobby Horse sledgehammer, and the Pepper Grinder gatling gun, all of which can be upgraded by collecting teeth from breakable objects and hidden areas. With all of these tools at the player’s disposal combat is quite varied and can flow well, as the game allows switching between melee and ranged weapons swiftly and effortlessly. The variety of enemies in the game means that each weapon has its use, as different strategies are needed to overcome some of the tougher beasts.
If the player is to die at any point, Alice will simply respawn not far from where it happened, sometimes even spawning onto the ledge you were making a leap for when she fell. This seems to remove any true sense of danger from the game, knowing that you can make mistakes and simply reappear nearby and without being penalized, really takes away from being a very difficult game. As much fun as the battles can be they are few and far between in some places, leaving you to navigate Alice through plenty of empty corridors and expansive rooms without any creatures turning up to try and halt your progress, and making Wonderland can feel quite empty at times. Alice also has access to a shrinking ability that can get you into small nooks and crannies to find secret items, but while active can reveal directional arrows scribbled on the walls. Considering that the game is quite linear, to put prompts and hints in there as well feels a bit redundant, and removes the challenge of finding any hidden areas for yourself.
Alice: Madness Returns has some replay value, with hard and nightmare difficulty settings in there for more of a challenge. Alice also has a number of dresses that can be equipped once unlocked in the story, with each one having either a positive or negative effect on Alice’s health or the item drops from enemies.
Visually, the game is a treat for the eyes. Victorian London actually looks like it is rotting amidst the bustle of industry, with plumes of black smoke rising into the sky. Wonderland is filled with vibrant colors, as is Alice’s hair and her various outfits that all move with the breeze as she runs. Both the characters and the environments look smooth, shiny and very cartoon-like, and you can appreciate the great lighting effects and contrast in shades as you move through dark industrial fortresses and frozen wastelands. Most common enemies are comprised of a thick black goo and look quite realistically sticky from far away, while the metal surfaces of the tea-pot creatures look brilliantly metallic. With the graphics and colors being so strong, it’s a shame that there aren’t more cutscenes in the game. Narrative between chapters is told via scratchy pen drawings with dialogue on top and makes you wish you could see the action as it would appear in front of Alice there and then in a cut sequence. Nevertheless, the visual design of the game is superb and it is always worth stopping to look at the view when moving through Wonderland- there are some awe-inspiring sights.
The game is accompanied by a haunting score, with atonal chimes in the background following you and adding more mystery into the land you inhabit. When an enemy has spotted Alice and shambles into view, the music changes to a more exhilarating pace, with trembling strings and harsh drum beats helping to crank up the excitement of battle. Even the intro music in the main menu of Alice: Madness returns is worth mentioning: a poignant violin melody that seems to capture the grim mood and strangeness of both worlds that Alice inhabits. In London, you can hear a blend of numerous voices as you enter the streets, and all of a sudden the environment you’re in feels so much vaster than it is. The voice acting of the characters is actually not bad, too. Alice’s voice is cold yet a little scared, which captures the essence of the character perfectly. And her accent is brilliant, especially when she is talking. Most of the Wonderland characters have eccentric voices that suit them and you might even get a few laughs out of the dialogue. My personal favorite was the drunken octopus playwright with the Scottish accent, very funny. Some of the voice acting can seem a bit lackluster and can become a bit of chore to listen to.
Overall, Alice: Madness Returns is a steady 3D platformer with some interesting ideas behind it. The gameplay is enjoyable and the combat is fun and exciting in itself, but the game may render some players bored due to the easiness of the puzzles and the linear paths that are not always populated by enemies or things to do. The quality of sights and sounds throughout the adventure make it a rich and endearing one, as the player is bombarded with smooth graphics, an array of deep colors and the odd bit of humorous dialogue. In terms of replay value, Madness Returns has plenty of collectible artifacts to find and dresses to unlock for Alice, each with their own special ability leading to some extra challenge in the game’s harder difficulty modes. The game is a fun and certainly atmospheric platformer that has an intriguing story and setting that is worth checking out for yourself, but does occasionally run out of things for you to do and may alienate some gamers who are looking for more of a challenge.
Written by Guest Reviewer B. Jackyl