Ten dark years ago, adventure games were getting stale, predictable and safe. Then a game was born from the mind of American McGee, a game that was like a breath of fresh air, a laxative to unclog the constipated adventure genre. That game was American McGee’s Alice. The game design was surreal and boasted a female protagonist not cut from the same cloth of say, Lara Croft.
In 1865 Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland enticed and enthralled the open minded general public with its hallucinatory charms. To this day Alice’s allure remains untainted and she’s a true icon in popular culture all around the world.
Utilising Lewis Carroll’s classic as a stepping stone, McGee had Alice locked in the Rutledge insane asylum, driven mad by the loss of her parents and sister in a terrible house fire, leaving both her mind and her imagined Wonderland in pieces.
Now, fast forward ten years and (big thanks to EA and Spicy Horse – American McGee’s studio) Alice is back for another dose of Wonderland (but not as we know it) in Alice – Madness Returns, the first major western-published game created entirely in China.
Alice is now living in an orphanage where she is very much disliked by the other children. She’s still suffering from hallucinations and with the help of her psychiatrist trying to save her sanity by discovering the true cause of her family’s demise. The only way to do this is to start rebuilding her past to give her a future. But this turns out to be harder than Alice realises. And of course all the answers (and more) are hidden deep down that rabbit hole.
Aliceis sent by her psychiatrist to collect her medication from the local chemist, and it’s on the cobbled streets of Whitechape lthat Alice once again finds herself lost in her unstable and overactive imagination. It’s not long before she notices a scrawny white cat lurking teasingly in an ally. Her curiosity kicks in and she decides to follow it. The white cat leads our troubled heroine through the twisting alleyways where you can hear the local community’s sly whispering opinions on Alice (doesn’t anyone like this girl?) and into another dark adventure where Wonderland now lies in tatters.
Wonderland itself commands centre stage. Each of the six chapters explores a different theme that’s brimming with artistic flair. The levels do lack detail at times regarding the graphical prowess but this should be overlooked when you take into account that the entire game has been hand-drawn. This is what gives Alice – Madness Returns its unique look and feel. The sheer artistic value alone makes this journey with Alice well worth it.
At its heart Alice – Madness Returns is a platformer with action sequences, which isn’t a bad thing. The first title American McGee’s Alice had a fair amount of platforming itself but gamers didn’t take kindly the short length of the game. The new game doesn’t seem to have this problem as the chapters are long and fun (but a little repetitive). This is balanced out by the varied combat system which is great as you’re forced to use different weapons like the Vorpal Blade, the Pepper Grinder which acts like a Gatling Gun, a Hobby Horse, an Umbrella to deflect missiles back from whence they came and a Clockwork Bomb that can be detonated using the O button. With Wonderland’s many bosses, sometimes you’ll have to use numerous weapons in one single battle so keep this in mind. You can also dodge with the R2 button.
Controlling Alice is effortless and the fluid gameplay is a treat. Alice can also jump by pressing the X button; press the X button twice and she will jump even higher whilst using her dress to glide gently down. And when she’s descending she leaves a trail of flowers petals which adds to her gracefulness.
Some of the puzzles which Alice has to solve involves her gliding between massive floating landscapes. You will actually have to use some of that grey matter as you try to negotiate these gorgeous gravity-defying puzzles within the dark realm of Wonderland. Although some may grow tired of these puzzles, most will appreciate the environments enough to enjoy the experience and will relish the challenge of pressing on ahead to see what macabre scenes lies in wait.
Another aspect that you learn early on in the game is the ability to shrink using theL2 button which allows you to see hidden messages and pathways. It also gives you hints about what to do and where to go next; keyholes too can be uncovered in this mode so you can retrieve collectibles in the game.
Players will also come into contact with rooms that consist of either a fighting task or a mental puzzle that they’ll have to solve. They’re given by the guide throughout this adventure, the Cheshire Cat.
Alice – Madness Returns is an enjoyable affair marred by little niggles such as pop-ups and the game freezing at certain loading points. This should not put you off buying or even hiring this wonderful and trippy experience. This adult action platformer has something to offer all who enter the domain known at Wonderland. There’s fun aplenty to be had while slicing and dicing your way through Wonderland which only serves to makes this a twisted guilty pleasure.
Alice – Madness Returns is pure dark blood-splattering fun.You’ll also get the added bonus of the inclusion of the first game (free) in new copies purchased; this is a great incentive. Sure this game has received some less than positive reviews, but it throws everything you’ve ever read about Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland into a blender and serves up a treat (yum yum).
If you’re still sitting on the fence about Alice – Madness Returns, give it a rent. The gleefullyaddictive surreal eye-candy of Wonderland just might surprise you.