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Madness Returns is a delightfully imaginative journey back to American McGee’s
take on the weird and often creepy fantasy world of Wonderland.
Although technically a sequel, I found myself easily understanding what was going on fairly quickly despite having never played the original game. A free copy of which comes with new purchases of Madness Returns.
The game has an art aesthetic rarely seen in many modern titles. Every character and location brims with personality through visual design. While the core gameplay is relatively simple and derives heavily from platformers of past generations, my interest was maintained simply by wanting to explore the next location. Locals relate to Alice’s fragile mental state and unusual way of envisioning a world within her own mind as she travels from beautiful vibrantly colored outdoor scenes to filthy industrial areas. Her adventures show her how to deal in situations after having suffered tragedy when her parents died in a horrific fire.
Visual symbolism is consistent throughout the game as Alice faces difficult struggles in her mind and is presented with dark oozing monstrosities and a generally more mad-than-usual cast of characters and creatures.
The primary gameplay focus is platforming with the control over Alice feeling a little too floaty for my tastes and often strangely inaccurate for a 2011 release. Thanks to a great checkpoint and save system, even if you die repeatedly trying to make a specific jump, you will be respawned very close if not right in front of where your misstep occurred. Give yourself a half an hour or so with the game and you’ll be adjusted and notice Alice isn’t like Ezio or Nathan Drake in terms of avoiding falls to your death, but she’ll get the job done the better you get with jumps. 3D platformers were some of my favorite games during PlayStation 1 and 2 eras so I had very little trouble navigating Alice’s world. There were several times where you can’t actually see where you’re landing due to a less than perfect but manageable camera and some overall quite old-school level layouts.
The other big emphasis is combat. Events occur where you have a handful of items at your disposal, initially being just a simple blade for quick attacks and a pepper grinder that acts as a heat-based ranged weapon for both weakening enemies and solving puzzles. You can unlock things like a heavier melee weapon; in the form of a child’s riding horse no less, for dealing with the tougher enemies and a wind up rabbit used for planting bombs and opening doors.
While hardly God of War, Alice can dodge, block and wear down enemies just fine. The game really is meant to be more of a puzzle platformer but it would have been nice to get a little more variety, like in last years Darksiders, a favorite of mine. Enemies will vary greatly as you progress, ranging from little goblin guys you can hack up in seconds to big lumbering mini-bosses. To eliminate them, it is best to vary up your attcks between melee and ranged, opting to stun when possible or in the specific case of the walking tea kettles' stab their eyes like crazy once they are incapacitated.
The difficulty ramps up through numbers and increasingly more chaotic encounters rather than simple damage sponges. By mid game, you’ll be dealing with sizable waves of enemies. Prioritizing targets and keeping on your toes is vital to survival. The standard upgrade system uses teeth as currency and it will keep you dishing out the damage. Should you get low on health, Alice can go in to a berserker frenzy in which she is invulnerable and can deal powerful attacks for short periods while a cool visual effect where all color is filterd, save red and blood is given much more emphasis. Very cool.
Early on Alice gains the ability to shrink. It not only allows her to reach areas she otherwise couldn’t, but it also gives her the ability to see invisible objects such as platforms and secrets. As a collection nut myself, it was yet more reason to explore every nook and cranny of this crazy game world.
My only real major complaints with Alice are that the game gets fairly repetitive at times and overall feels a bit old in terms of design and not having much interactivity. While clearly showing this isn't a hugely high budget title it could have been so much more jaw dropping. Unreal Engine 3 texture pop-in is also too frequent to be ignored, but like other Unreal titles I’ve never been too bothered by it. It usually makes me wish I was playing the PC version instead.
Perhaps it's not everyone’s cup of tea, but if you’re sick of brown and grey shooters and can get in to some genuinely crazy game worlds, you should check out Alice Madness Returns.