Alice: Madness Returns Review

  • Developer: Rogue Entertainment
  • Publisher: Electronic Arts
  • Platform: PC, PlayStation 3, Xbox 360
  • Release Date: June 14, 2011 (NA)
  • MSRP: $19.99

I’ve always thought the setting of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland would make for an interesting video game.  Alice: Madness Returns takes Wonderland and plunges it into the depths of hell (more of a hell than it already was).  It is the stuff of nightmares.  Alice: Madness Returns is a sequel to American McGee’s Alice, released in 2000 for the PC.  It was developed by Rogue Entertainment and published by EA.  For whatever reason, EA showed interest in reviving the IP after a decade since the original release.  In 2011, Alice: Madness Returns was released on PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, and PC.  This time EA handed it to Chinese developer Spicy Horse.  Now let’s go deeper down the rabbit hole!

Story

The story goes that Alice Liddell has been released from the Rutledge Asylum, after coming to terms with her family dying in a fire when she was a child.  Upon release, she begins to live at an orphanage run by Dr. Bumby, a psychiatrist who uses hypnosis to “help” children forget bad memories.  All is not right with Alice.  She feels Dr. Bumby might be hiding something from her.  Alice’s goal in this game is to recover her lost memories.  There is a piece missing pertaining to her family’s deaths.  The game switches between the real world and Wonderland.  Technically, Alice is still in the real world but she is hallucinating.  Upon arriving in Wonderland, she notes that it was more peaceful than when she was at the Rutledge Asylum.  But it doesn’t last.  Wonderland plunges into chaos and Alice must somehow regain her sanity while she pieces together the bits of her past.   More of Alice’s past will be revealed as you progress through the game.  By the end, it will be obvious who the villain is.

Alice Madness Returns pt.1 Screenshot 2017-06-21 22-07-54

Many Characters from the novels make appearances in this game.  The Cheshire Cat is like Navi.  He gives hints but seems more interested in giving you riddles.  A dismembered Mad Hatter briefly helps you out.  They don’t really explain why his arms and legs were ripped off.  Just roll with it.  The Queen of Hearts and the Caterpillar make appearances as well.

Alice Madness Returns pt.1 Screenshot 2017-06-21 22-10-47
The Cheshire Cat.

This might be because it’s a sequel, but the story felt vague at times.  I wasn’t really following what was happening.  Figuring out what happened to Alice’s family is rather easy despite the confusion.  The story isn’t necessarily important to the feel of the game.  Alice: Madness Returns succeeds in creating an unsettling and disturbing atmosphere.  The 19th century London setting adds to the dark atmosphere.

Gameplay

Alice: Madness Returns is a third person action game with platforming and puzzle solving.  As Alice, you will traverse through worlds inspired by the original books, except everything has fallen into ruin.  The worlds shown are varied and provide a creepy atmosphere.  In each new world you enter, Alice’s dress changes to fit the design of the level.

Madness Returns is a combat heavy game.  Alice is given several upgradable weapons to dispatch enemies.  You can purchase upgrades by collecting teeth, the main collectable in the game.  Her primary weapon of choice is her Vorpal Knife.  This is used for light, speedy attacks.  A Hobby Horse is used for heavy attacks that can break enemies’ defenses.  A pepper grinder is used as Gatling gun.  A more powerful projectile weapon is the Teapot Cannon, which fires explosives on an arc and has a sizable splash radius.  One more weapon you have is the Clockwork Bombs.  These are used to distract enemies as well as blow them up.  The bombs cannot be upgraded.  An umbrella is used to reflect projectile attacks back at the sender.  Madness Returns gives you many weapons to use to keep combat fresh.  Combat is fun but gets repetitive by game’s end.  My problem with the combat is the lack of enemy variety.  Each world has some unique enemies but you will see the same 6 or so enemies throughout the entire game.  Which is unfortunate considering the possibilities the setting could provide.  The game also uses the old trick of throwing hordes of enemies at the player as a form of artificial difficulty.  It gets stale about 2/3 of the way through the game.

Alice Madness Returns pt.2 Screenshot 2017-06-21 22-15-11

Puzzle solving and exploration is a significant portion of the game.  Much of this is done by using Alice’s ability to shrink in size.  Shrinking is used to reveal secret passages and invisible platforms.  If you find yourself stuck just remember to shrink.  Exploring the world is how you find Alice’s memories.  Some are either right out in the open while others require you to actively search for secret spots.  Even if you fail to collect all her memories, you should be able to follow the story.  Another item you can collect is bottles.  If you collect every bottle in each chapter, it unlocks concept art for that chapter.  Flying pig snouts are hidden throughout each world.  When one is nearby, snorting can be heard.  Once found, shoot it with the pepper grinder and a secret passage will be revealed.  Sometimes it leads to another collectable or opening an area needed to progress through the chapter.  Several Radula Rooms are hidden in each chapter.  In these rooms, Alice will perform tasks such as destroying all enemies or simply survive.  When successful, a paint pot will be given to Alice.  Getting 4 will give her an extra rose on the health bar.  Madness Returns does an excellent job of getting the player interested in exploring its distorted hellish nightmare of a world.  This was one of the strongest aspects of the game.

Alice Madness Returns pt.2 Screenshot 2017-06-21 22-19-27
Invisible platforms.

For the most part, the game controls well and combat is responsive.  Attacks go where they are intended to land. The camera kept fighting with me and this made it difficult to see all the enemies on the field.  Jumping also becomes difficult as the camera decides to take a vacation.  Is that Lakitu controlling camera?  He seriously needs to stop drinking on the job.  Alice can jump multiple times and float.  Floating is fun but can have its frustrations.  This might be problem with my depth perception, but I found the jumps to be unreliable.  It can be hard to tell if your jumps will make it to the platform.  There were many times I overshot or undershot my jumps.  Too much trial and error for my liking.  Luckily, the game doesn’t punish harshly for missing jumps.  Alice is respawned nearby.  Auto-locking can be frustrating when there are many enemies on screen.  It kept trying lock on enemies I had no interest in aiming for.

Alice Madness Returns pt.1 Screenshot 2017-06-21 22-08-54
Alice floating around.

The game also likes to throw gameplay elements at the player that come from nowhere.  At one point, the game became an underwater shoot’em up like Gradius or a 2D platformer that looks like it was hand drawn.  They even throw in a matching gaming and chess.  Seems like the people at Spicy Horse have been taking lessons from Sonic Team in game design.  These elements only make up a small portion of the game but feels jarring.  It keeps things fresh though.

Graphics/Polish

Being a game from the previous generation, it does not have the greatest graphical fidelity.  Madness Returns has fantastic art direction.  Its cartoony yet dark and gloomy at the same time.  Madness Returns has a Tim Burton feel to it.  I don’t mean the mediocre version he made himself.  It has serious Nightmare Before Christmas vibes to it.  All the human characters, other than Alice, are hideous to look at.  This was intentional on the developer’s part to show how Alice’s cognition is extremely distorted.  Reality and delusion becomes near indistinguishable.  Alice is rather cute herself but still fits with creepy atmosphere.  She is given different dresses to fit whatever world she’s in.  I like the touch of blood on her default dress.  A small detail that makes a difference on how you view the game.  Spicy Horse nailed the Gothic look of 19th century London.  Wonderland truly looks nightmarish.  The visual design in this game was fantastic.

Alice Madness Returns pt.3 Screenshot 2017-06-21 22-21-59

While playing Madness Returns, I experienced a small number of bugs.  A common occurrence was walking into invisible walls in places they shouldn’t be.  This was most noticeable while shrunk and walking through a secret passage.  There were several instances where I missed a platform but the game respawned me at the platform I was aiming for.  Thanks!  Maybe this game was rushed.  Wouldn’t be surprising considering its EA.  Madness Returns could have been better with more polish, a reliable camera and auto-aim, and enemy variety.

Sound

Honestly, the music wasn’t that memorable.  When I rate a game’s music, I look for stand out tracks.  Madness Returns didn’t really have that one track that immediately comes to mind.  The game’s score is more intended to complement the atmosphere.  In that regard, it succeeds in doing just that.  The Oriental Grove had the best music.  An eerie and calm sound to it that fits with the East Asian setting.

The voice acting was up to par.  Actual British people are voicing the characters, not Americans pretending to be British.  That makes a difference.  Shout out to Susie Brann as Alice.  She was delightful.

Verdict

Alice: Madness Returns is a charming game.  The game has a unique look to it, especially when compared to other games released at the time.  Madness Returns is a call back 3D platformers but with a morbid twist.  The art direction is excellent and makes up for the lack of “realistic” graphics that were all the rage in 2011.  Unfortunately, the game starts to get stale about 2/3 of the way through the game.  The enemies get repetitive and increasingly cheaper.  Madness Returns outstays its welcome.  Too bad, since it was enjoyable for most of the first 2/3 of the game.  With that said, I give this game a 6.5/10.  It’s an above average game that is bogged down by repetitive gameplay and a lack of polish in certain areas.  Madness Returns almost reaches a point of being considered a hidden gem. Still worth playing but not needed for any collection.

6.5/10

Above Average

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