The Average Gamer

Alice: Madness Returns Review (360)

American McGee is back with the sequel to the original Alice video game. Now, I’ll admit I’ve never played the original, which was a dark twist on the Alice in Wonderland story. This clearly rules out the children’s market – these games are a long way from the original Alice in Wonderland story. Alice: Madness Returns has been designed as a 3D platformer, so think of a darker version of Ratchet & Clank.

The game starts further on in Alice’s life, having been released from the asylum into the care of Doctor Angus Bumby. The good Doctor has been working with Alice, trying to get her through the repressed memories of the fatal house fire that killed her family. The introduction really does draw you into the game explaining what’s happened in the missing years between the games. It makes it so the game stands on its own, meaning you don’t need to play the original (although who doesn’t know the story of Alice in Wonderland?).

The initial area is set in the real world, showing parts of Victorian London. There are a few niggles here such as a woman at the butchers talking about fish. The lip syncing seemed to be non-existent, however these are only minor points and don’t spoil the start to the game.

Shortly, a white cat dashes out and off you go following it, eventually leading you to a cut scene about Nurse Witless. Alice is slowly starting to fall into the nightmare, and ends up back in Wonderland.

The areas Alice has to run through are well thought out, fitting into the story perfectly. Of course the Cheshire cat features in the game, turning up all over the place to help Alice out. You can ignore him, but listening does add to the game’s story-telling.

It wouldn’t be Alice without the ability to shrink. Being a platform game, there are the obligatory hidden areas to try and find, so you get the ability to shrink very soon in the game. Shrink mode also shows scribbles on the walls, giving you tips about what is coming up. Pay attention to these if you are into collecting things, as various items are hidden all over the game. The main (and most interesting) set is Alice’s memories. While not required for the game, they help Alice (and you) figure out the mystery behind who murdered her parents.

Let’s talk weapons, all of which are a take on what you’d expect in a modern game. At the start you get the vorpal blade and pepper grinder. The blade is clearly a close area weapon, very good when surrounded. It’s fast, and can be used to cleave your way through lots of enemies. For heavy hitting there is the hobby horse, basically a dual-handled mace. It is used by Alice to hammer things to death. In addition, the pepper grinder is an interesting take on the ranged weapon allowing you to lock onto enemies and fire pepper at them. Hidden around are snouts. You fire pepper at them until they sneeze, causing a secret area to appear. This isn’t the only ranged weapon. There is the Teapot Cannon, which is pretty cool – it launches watches that then explode into steaming hot tea. Then there’s a clockwork bomb. As you can guess, it’s a bomb on a timer. Alice also has an umbrella which gives her the ability to defect the enemy’s attacks.

Alice introduces you to enemies slowly and with the weapons in mind. There’s quite a broad spectrum of creatures you have to kill so to help with this, Alice can dodge just like in most games. In regards to enemies there are over 20, as well as the main “evil” guys. The Eyepots are the bane of my life. For some reason I find them the hardest to kill. They look like giant tea pots, with a big eye. You only need to shoot them with the pepper grinder, and then finish them off with the blade. The trick is to hit the eye, and that’s where I seem to fail. All the others enemies fit into the story very well and have their own tactics, like the Ice Snarks ability to freeze Alice in place.

The platform game works quite well. It’s pretty standard though, with nothing amazingly new. You do definitely need to get the hang of the double jumps though, timing them is very important if you want to collect all of Alice’s memories. There is the odd place where you lose control of the view point which can make timing the jumps tricky and has lead to frequent death on my part. Jumping around on invisible platforms that are moving may lead to edge-of-your-seat moments and possibly screaming NO if you miss and die.

Overall the game looks very dark, quirky and sometimes creepy, giving it a Tim Burton feel. Alice splitting into butterflies to dodge is done very well as you can see all the little butterflies individually. However, don’t expect the graphics to make you go “wow” but they really do work. There’s a twisted feeling to the whole game. The enemies are all warped versions of their Wonderland counterparts. Cut scenes are pretty neat, having been done been done with stylish artwork showing the story and helping set the atmosphere.

I was really looking forward to this game, but it fell slightly short of my expectations. That’s not to say it’s a bad game. I feel it’s actually a very good game. The bit that annoyed me was the 2D side scrolling levels as they get stuck and it can be challenging. Altering the difficulty only assists you getting past some tough enemies, not the actual puzzles. OF course, this is true in all platform games, so nothing unique here.

Longevity of the game is also a problem. There’s only so much you can do and repeating it to get the achievements can be boring. Would I recommend it? Definitely if you like platform games and really enjoy darker takes on modern classics, however it might be worth holding off till the price drops. Interestingly enough, the game does include a download code for the original American McGee’s Alice. This helps make up for the shortfalls, because basically you’re getting two games for the price of one. Bargain!

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