PLATFORM: Xbox 360
PUBLISHER: Electronic Arts
DEVELOPER: Spicy Horse
When American McGee’s Alice was released for PC in 2000, it took gamers on a dark twisted journey through a reimagining of Lewis Carroll’s classic tale Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. For its time, the game had amazing graphics and psychedelic scenery. However after recently playing American McGee’s Alice, I can honestly say that the game did not age very well and was actually quite terrible. So now that its successor Alice Madness Returns has released in 2011, we finally get a sequel that improves all the mistakes found in the original right? Well not exactly…
::SPOILERS FOR AMERICAN MCGEE’S ALICE::
If you haven’t played the original game, it’s included as a free download if you bought Alice Madness Returns brand new. However you really wouldn’t miss very much if you skipped that god awful game. For those of you who just want to get up to speed, I’ll go ahead and spoil the first game for you. At the beginning of the game we find Alice in an insane asylum years after the untimely death of her family due to a house fire. Alice feels responsible for the accident, which causes her to become even more crazy. Meanwhile, in Wonderland, the Queen of Hearts has taken over and its up to Alice to delve into her shattered mind to redeem the peaceful wonderland she once knew. Throughout the game, Alice meets twisted versions of classic characters that help or hinder her progression. After defeating the queen, Alice wakes up from her wonderland and we witness her smiling as she leaves the asylum. Alice has finally cured her madness… or so we think…
At the beginning of Madness Returns we find our heroine Alice living in an orphanage somewhere in Victorian London. She comes under the supervision of a psychiatrist named Angus Bumby who attempts to aid her with the re-occurring nightmares of the night her family died. It seems that Alice is still a serious wreck and the townspeople don’t quite take nicely to her condition. After pursuing a white cat through the city, we are transported back into Alice’s Wonderland once again.
The first thing you’ll notice when you enter Alice’s Wonderland is how amazing the world looks. The developer Spicy Horse did an outstanding job of creating imaginative worlds for the player to explore. The game is fitted with such a unique visual style, it’s hard not to appreciate the beauty of the world, even when the world looks like something out of a nightmare. The character Alice herself looks fantastic and for each new world she enters, she gains an appropriate new outfit rather than just her standard blue dress. The graphical punch of the Xbox 360 does make everything look a lot prettier but there are some cases of rough textures littered throughout the game.
Combat in Madness Returns is much more improved than its predecessor and allows Alice to wield up to four different weapons. Weapons include the Vorpal Blade (knife), Hobby Horse (Hammer), Pepper Grinder (Gatling Gun), Teapot Cannon (Grenade Launcher), and Clockwork Bomb. Each weapon is upgradable (excluding the Clockwork Bomb) with teeth that are collectible throughout Alice’s journey. Alice also has the ability to shrink herself to reach new areas and dash to avoid dangerous situations. While in Wonderland, Alice can also collect bottles, memories that provide background story, and pig snouts that reveal hidden areas. In addition, Alice can also enter secret areas throughout the world where she is given a certain task. If the task is completed correctly Alice gains a fragment of a red rose. These red roses serve as Alice’s life bar and if you collect four fragments, you gain an extra rose.
At its core Madness Returns is an action/adventure platformer. Gameplay mainly consists of jumping from area to area and combating enemies. The platforming is fun for a while, but quickly gets old and frustrating. You will definitely die hundreds of times trying to jump or glide around obstacles and invisible floors. This is due mostly to the fact that Alice can’t grab a ledge, which is shocking considering that she could in the original game. Thankfully the checkpoint system is forgiving and loading times are fast, otherwise these cheap deaths would be unforgivable. Enemy encounters are fast and fluid at first, but quickly fall prey to repetition. That’s because each enemy has a certain weakness to expose before they can be destroyed. It’s not very noticeable at first, but by the end of the game you’ll groan at having to fight the same enemies over and over. This becomes even more annoying when you’re in a room filled with different enemies that require you to wait for their own unique opening just to kill them. Luckily if you’re beaten to a pulp and manage to still have one rose of life, you can trigger a special that makes Alice invulnerable for a short time.
If only the gameplay could have matched the impressive visual style, Alice Madness Returns could have been something great. The developers tried to mix up the gameplay by adding mini-games throughout the story, such as a side-scrolling shooter but they are ultimately forgettable. Another gripe I have was the fact that there weren’t even that many boss encounters. There were two instances, I remember in the game, where the developers chose not to include a boss when it looked like there was about to be an epic battle. It baffles me why they chose not to consider these confrontations with classic Wonderland characters as boss battles. Also, the game just feels too long for its own good. Alice Madness Returns really drags its way to the end, and it takes a patient gamer to want to reach its conclusion. The only thing that motivated me to finish this long game, was to see what world I’d be taken to next. If you’re a fan of Tim Burton’s dark style, or the trippy tale of Alice in Wonderland, then you’ll probably have some fun exploring American McGee’s twisted sequel. Gamers who are impatient should probably stay clear of this game, or rent it before you buy. Alice Madness Returns has some amazing worlds, but suffers from poor game design and repetitive gameplay that runs out of “wonder” about halfway in.