Alice: Madness Returns

The first time I played this, some of my friends were watching and said “Hey, she’s kind of hot. Do we get to see her boobs?”
No.

Platform: PS3*/Xbox 360/PC
Genre: Platforming
Players: 1
ESRB: Mature (Blood and Gore, Sexual Themes, Strong Language, Violence)

Alice: Madness Returns is a sequel to the PC title from American McGee titled, quite simply, Alice. The game revolves around Alice Liddell (which is the name of the real girl whom Lewis Carroll is said to have based his original manuscript on. See my Twitter), whose family died in a house fire. Alice escaped, but not without severe mental trauma that has haunted her into her adolescence. In the struggle to regain her sanity, a ferocious train has taken to destroy her imaginary world, and it seems that the only way to save herself is to save Wonderland.

The big draw of this game is the mad spin on the classic children’s tale and an opportunity to show off the imaginary world it encapsulates. The game does not disappoint. The landscapes are huge and quite beautiful, offering tons of variation with every level. From strolling through a macabre forest to traversing the card bridge, Alice’s gorgeous scenery will leave you quite impressed. Even the explosion of butterflies from Alice’s death is a piece of well-detailed eye candy.

The characters from the original story are implemented quite creatively and are always interesting to interact with. The Cheshire Cat will accompany you for the entirety of the game, offering hints when he pleases, while other characters make more subtle appearances during various cutscenes or hallucinations. Each is twisted and drawn in a more disturbing fashion than most of us are used to, contributing to the overall flavor of the game. However, while the dark and unsettling art style was obviously a conscious decision, character models aren’t always particularly well polished. You’ll often see Alice’s hair flash between it’s real life style and the way it appears in Wonderland, while others may just seem under-detailed or sloppily animated.

But the game isn’t just bells and whistles. Alice is a clean game with a fun hack-and-slash sort of combat, mixed well with some very polished platforming and some simple puzzles. The game offers several weapons which are very conveniently mapped, allowing the user to quickly utilize any one he or she pleases. The enemies are varied, however, there seem to have been some overlooked opportunities there. The ending of the game is the only boss battle you’ll find, which is unfortunate, as the player is faced with other opportunities at other parts of the game for such an encounter – one that could have been cleverly done with a variety of puzzle and combat elements. While this doesn’t break the game by any means, it is a bit disappointing to be gearing up only to find that the ensuing battle your predicted will not occur.

Aside from that, there are a few minor movement hiccups. Switching out of shrink sense, the player might abruptly stop moving and need to tap the analog stick again to get going, and other times one might get caught during combat in a situation where the only thing that will seem to get the player moving again will be to dodge. This can be incredibly frustrating, as a major draw to the combat is the hectic-ness with which it is often conducted, which means the player needs to be on his or her toes. Being unable to move on nightmare difficulty for even a moment can mean doing it all over again.

The game is not particularly difficult, and doesn’t offer all that much replay value (unless you count the free copy of the original Alice, bundled with new copies). The collectibles either unlock concept art or memories, presented in the form of short audio clips from various people in Alice’s life. They don’t contribute a lot to the story, so unless you’re shooting for the platinum trophy, they aren’t begging to be picked up. Some people might suggest the game was a little long, but it seemed to me that as soon as I began to think I was getting sick of a chapter, it would be over. The game is constantly presenting you with new features, enemies and landscapes, which keeps things interesting as you go along.

Alice is a great game with a lot going for it. With a relatively flat genre like platformers, it can be difficult to really impress, but Alice has done it with style.

Bottom Line: 9/10

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