Looking at the title it may seem that Alice: Madness Returns is a game fit for children – after all, who doesn’t remember the story of Alice who chased after a white rabbit only to find herself in Wonderland. But American McGee’s version of Alice is very different – here Alice is a destitute wreck, plagued by the machinations of her mind that’s tearing up her psyche and in turn, Wonderland. The game follows her struggle to reclaim the glory of Wonderland and her quest to find out the truth about the events that managed to land her a padded cell in the Rutledge asylum.
The game is set in a twisted version of Wonderland, where towering spires of teakettles and cups loom over desolate factories where dodos are put to work in grotesque hamster wheels. Each level in Wonderland takes you to different locales that have matching enemies, themes and costumes for Alice. Everything is a twisted, caricatured version of the environs depicted in Lewis Carroll’s book and the art direction pulls off the feel beautifully.
After each level, Alice is transported back into Victorian London, where the damp, depressing grey of the city provides a stark contrast to the colorful and twisted world of Wonderland.
Stripping away all of the colorful art and levels, you’ll see that Alice: Madness Returns is a traditional platformer at heart. There are traditional platforming elements with switches that need to be thrown and floating islands that need to be navigated. Alice has the ability to shrink herself to gain access to secret levels and other places, and there are steam vents (and their equivalents) on levels that help you access hard to reach places. The platforming sections aren’t what you’d call inspired, and it gets tiring after awhile, especially after jumping on another steam vent for the umpteenth time.
Alice has access to four weapons – the Vorpal blade, which in this case is a wicked large kitchen knife, the Gatling-gun like pepper grinder, the clockwork bomb and the hobby horse. Each weapon is useful against a certain type of enemy (the Vorpal blade makes quick work of weak enemies while the hobby horse is used against heavy hitters) and has their use outside of combat.
Combat is pretty straightforward, and the game allows you to lock on a particular enemy when dishing out melee attacks by pushing capslock, and you can switch targets by pressing tab when you start getting mobbed. Sometimes the target cycling is weird, especially when you’re trying to tag the biggest threat first. Weapons can be upgraded depending on your playstyle with in-game currency, namely teeth.
There are also mini-games thrown in to break up the monotony of pure platforming, including one where you stomp around as a giant in castle squishing everything in your way. Some of the mini-games are a bit annoying though, like the one where you’re required to complete a certain puzzle in a limited amount of moves but thankfully, you have the option of skipping it if you chose.
The visuals are pretty good, especially with a top of the line gaming rig – Alice’s hair floats and gets caught up in the wind convincingly; especially dark and gloomy levels like when you go inside a tomb underwater are exquisitely rendered complete with floating debris.
The game does suffer from some inconsistent voice work; there were times where the character’s delivery was spot on in one segment, and unbelievably boring in another. Overlapping dialogue is also a bit of a problem in some of the sections of the game.
Overall, Alice: Madness Returns is a great game for someone who is looking for a different gaming experience, especially when you’ve grown tired from flood of FPS games. It has its faults, but it doesn’t fail to deliver.