Alice: Madness Returns is the sequel to the classic American Mcgee’s Alice from October 2000 and is set 11 years after the events of the first game. Alice was released from Rutledge’s Insane Asylum from the original game and now lives in Victoria, London at Houndsditch Home for Wayward Youth, under the care of a psychiatrist. The psychiatrist tends to Alice’s awful and haunting memories of her parents death in a fire. Alice seems moderately stable for a while but soon begins to experience repressed memories of that fateful day. As she is slowly haunted by hallucinations and emotional struggles, she returns to Wonderland.
The game finds Alice sitting with a psychiatrist after one of Alice’s sessions, images and visions of the fire and her parent’s death constantly at the forefront of her tortured mind. She constantly wrestles with the notion that she must discover more of what happened that day. After a session with the psychiatrist, we find Alice wandering through Houndsditch Home through a selection of corridors. Standing in the hallways and in the darkness are other children playing. Alice walks around very wary. Using the R3 button, players can enter first person mode to view the surrounding area. Left stick is used to move around and the right stick is used to adjust the view. As Alice explores the home, she sees drawings on the wall and children playing hopscotch on the floor. The game is dark and gritty as I move around discovering various newspapers and a group of children playing cards. It’s all slightly unnerving and feels displaced as I wander outside. Out on the London cobbled stone road called Pichin Lane, I discover a group of people standing on the corner of the street, all of whom have something to grumble about. A violinist plays quietly on the corner and I turn down the back alley streets of London. Alice wanders around White Chapel Market, where the locals are selling fine meats and vegetables on their stalls. Alice observes everything, but her attention is distracted by a white cat who pops out and startles Alice. She’s intrigued, but soon enough the white cat disappears down a narrow backstreet.
Alice pursues the cat but the chase comes to a dead end. The cat looks back and soon enough Alice is surrounded by enemies. The cut-scene sees Alice falling into a vortex filled with dolls heads, ticking clocks and giant dominoes in the sky as she makes her descent. Slowly but surely she stops falling and awakens to find herself in Wonderland. Wonderland is a technicolored paradise filled with wondrous beauty. It’s here that she’s greeted by a somewhat disturbing looking Cheshire cat, who gives her a scare and then some friendly warnings.
Walking around Wonderland you feel a sense of foreboding, even though everything looks beautiful, you kind of think it’s just too good to be true. Looking around the environment, you catch a glimpse of giant dice and dominoes and a flowing cascade of waterfalls and fountains. Up above you, you soon begin to understand this is no ordinary place as cows with wings fly above your head. The game gives you the incentive to explore, as you begin to recover memories from Alice’s life.
An early tutorial shows you how to jump using the X button and double tapping allows Alice to twirl in the air. This is often needed for large open areas, where a simple jump won’t suffice. Wonderland is filled with plants and giant red toadstools. Once you step onto these, they spring you into the air. The environment is pretty amazing as each corner Alice turns, brings new adventure and magnificent scenery. Making my way through the level, I came across a giant purple bottle hovering in the sky, which poured bright purple liquid to the stream below. Alice is capable of shrinking by pressing the L2 button to shrink and while she is shrunken she gains shrink sense which allows her to wander through keyholes and other areas.
After bouncing my way up on giant toadstools and twirling my way across a series of ledges, I’m confronted by a giant slide which spirals downwards. I slide along collecting teeth, some of them ordinary while others were gold. At the same time you’ll have to avoid bashing into the giant snail shells that just so happen to be quite contentedly sitting in your way. Eventually you’ll reach the bottom where you’ll find a giant flowing red river, it looks eerie, and actually looks like maybe several people have been murdered in it.
Alice has many different kinds of action. The L1 button allows Alice to focus her attention on something important while wandering around and Alice can use her Vorpal Blade to inflict the swiftest damage on a single target enemy at close range. Alice can also float as players can press and hold the X button to initiate the float move when she needs to get across certain areas. During battle, I had the chance to use a pepper grinder that allows you to shoot at a pig snout. Once the snout is full of pepper, it goes onto reveal paths and collectibles.
Alice: Madness returns does a great job of depicting the mind of someone riddled with insanity. The game has some really freakish enemies in it, so don’t be too surprised to find enemies dressed with teacups on their heads or other such craziness.
Most of the gameplay throughout Alice consists of jumping from different pillars and ledges, or swiftly cutting and blasting various different enemies to pieces using different weapons. The Hobby Horse is a great weapon which can be wielded like a massive hammer and used to thud into enemies, although it is quite slow so needs to be used on enemies that don’t move quickly. The Hobby Horse also allows the player to smash their way through certain barriers that can be found in the levels, allowing progression or access to extra goodies.
The different environments through which the player travels are very well designed and offer quite a variety. Alice may spend her time leaping from platform to platform in a depressed factory environment, find herself sliding through ice caverns, or even avoiding lakes of lava. There is also plenty of variety when it comes to the different weapons and the different enemies. But despite all of this variety, the gameplay remains more or less the same throughout.
There is the occasional break to the action platforming though, such as sliding down ice chutes or the particularly welcome break found in the the ship sequence. Here the player has to guide their ship through a side-scrolling environment whilst avoiding mines and other vessels. These breaks from the somewhat repetitive levels are certainly welcome, but do not happen nearly often enough.
The task of finding all of the hidden memories and collectibles will certainly bring the completest gamers back for more. These items are often camouflaged and hidden away in difficult to reach areas. Some gamers will find this a good reason to play through the game a second time, but for most one playthrough will be enough.
The two-dimensional cardboard cut-scenes are really enjoyable to watch, following the overall macabre feeling of the game. In fact, the entire game is incredibly pretty in a particularly dark and twisted way. The characters found throughout the game are hideously deformed versions of the characters that many of us grew up hearing about in the stories, or watching in the movies, and provide an unsettling familiarity. They are dark and sinister, often providing a humourous comment or teasing Alice and enticing her into dangerous areas.
Alice: Madness Returns is a very enjoyable action platformer that will no doubt bepopular amongst fans of the genre, but the core gameplay can become repetitive and doesn’t really offer anything new that hasn’t been seen before. There is quite a selection of collectibles and players will find themselves collecting as many teeth as possible in order to upgrade their weapons. The game doesn’t take itself too seriously and players will be amazed at how graphically inviting it is as they explore deeper and deeper into Wonderland. But the repetitive nature of the action will deter most gamers from playing through the entire game more than once, despite the lure of the collectibles.
Whilst Alice: Madness Returns does not offer anything groundbreaking from a gameplay point of view, the disturbed setting and beautiful graphics provide an experience that will remain in the memories of most gamers for a long time to come. This is something that the original Alice game managed very well and in that respect Madness Returns has succeeded. It may not be for everyone, but those who enjoy the action platforming genre will be treated to a memorable experience.