Alice: Madness Returns Review

By on June 22, 2011

Prepare to descend into madness.

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First Impressions
My reaction is

Childhood fairytales are meant to be just that, to be left alone in the memories of the past. So when American McGee’s Alice first staggered out onto the PC, gamers were left in complete shock. A Wonderland featuring a knife wielding Alice? A place of death and decay? The morbid take on Alice in Wonderland was certainly interesting and got a fair bit of attention. Fast forward to present day, and we’re set to take another dive down the rabbit hole in Alice: Madness Returns.

Set in the bleak tones of London, the story once again revolves around our beloved Alice and her descend into madness, as she struggles to overcome the horrific memories of her parents engulfed in a fire at their house. Helped (or hindered) by her psychologist, she revisits Wonderland in the hopes of uncovering long-lost memories. But the Wonderland she comes back to is even more dangerous than before, filled with possessed tea pots and exploding rabbits. Guided by the ever-watchful Cheshire cat, you will need to guide Alice through the madness of Wonderland in her quest to rid the land of the evils that lurk and regain her sanity.

Before you even begin to play the game, the first thing that will grab your attention is the art style. It’s clear that this game was a labour of love, as every cutscene and character stands true to McGee’s vision of Wonderland. The levels are designed beautifully, with each one more well-crafted than the last. You go from jumping on mushrooms in a forest to a production plant with rivers of boiling tea – your imagination goes into overdrive with every level you go through. Each character and enemy you encounter is always a treat, with some recognizable Wonderland favourites getting a very macabre makeover.

As Alice, you’re surprisingly skilled at wielding a variety of weapons, and the first one you acquire is the Vorpal Blade, a fairly innocent looking knife that can quickly slice through enemies. You also later pick up a Pepper Grinder that acts as a long-range weapon to fire at enemies and switches, as well as an exploding rabbit that you can detonate on command. You can also choose to upgrade your weapons by collecting teeth that are scattered around the levels and are dropped by fallen enemies. If you find yourself suddenly surrounded by enemies and low on health, you can activate a Hysteria mode that does double damage and makes you invincible for a short amount of time. What helps to mix the combat around is that not all enemies can be defeated in the same way, which means that you have to experiment with different weapon combos to find out how to take down certain enemies. She also has a very nifty dodge ability which sees her erupting into a small cluster of butterflies, which is great for getting away from attacks in time.

The game also makes heavy use of platforming, so when you’re not fighting through waves of enemies you can jump and float your way around the levels. This may turn out to be a bit of a drag at times, as the only things you end up doing is jumping from one platform to another, turning a lever to reveal more platforms or a steam vent, and then moving on to more platforms. Alice also has the ability to instantly shrink to access hidden areas and reveal hidden platforms, but these hidden platforms are mostly annoying to traverse, and will result in plenty of mis-timed jumps and deaths. Luckily Alice re-spawns close to where she died, so you don’t have to back-track too much. Still, the platforming element can tend to drag on a bit, so it’s almost a relief when you come across enemies.

Where the game really does do badly is in the almost constant texture problems that seem to crop up on the PS3. Alice’s skirt seems to have a mind of its own in some segments, and it was awkward when the game stopped for a few seconds to save or load a new area. What really irritated me was the camera, which at many times swung around to the wrong side during combat or when jumping. It also had an annoying tendency to snap under Alice when she was on a platform that was moving up and down, almost as if we wanted to really look up her skirt. It’s a shame, as these graphical glitches tarnish what is otherwise a fairly well-presented game.

Alice Madness Returns is a brilliant return to the perils of Wonderland. Given that the original Alice game bundles as a free download is also a bonus, so gamers new to this twisted tale have a chance to acclimatise them selves. Still, there are a few areas where the game could have been improved upon, especially in the somewhat dull platform segments and graphical glitches. But as it stands, Alice’s presentation this time around is second to none, with some devilish level designs and equally delightful characters.

The Scorecard
The platforming may get a bit dull, but the frantic combat and weapons make up for lost time.
Amazing level design is hampered by bad camera angles and irregular textures.
An excellent musical score that ties in well with the game’s presentation.
The bundled remastered original game is an added bonus.
You’ll never be able to look at Wonderland in the same way again.
A fairly competent game that is held back by some mediocre platforming sections.


A former IT & Marketing Manager turned full time Editor, Nick enjoys hurling fireballs and tinkering with the latest gadgets. Follow him on Twitter as @theregos

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