Alice: Madness Returns takes place one year after American McGee’s Alice. After defeating the twisted Red Queen and being released from Rutledge Asylum, Alice finds herself living in an orphanage run by Dr. Bumby. Dr. Bumby uses hypnotism on the orphans to make them forget painful memories, but he struggles to help Alice forget the memories of the fire that killed her family. While running an errand on the London streets, Alice starts following a mysterious white cat through the winding alleyways side streets. In the midst of chasing this cat, she has a hallucination that she has returned to Wonderland. While Wonderland seems to be a pleasant and euphoric at first, it is corrupted by the rampaging Infernal Train. This train is an outside force, ripping through Wonderland and only Alice can bring it to a halt.
Alice: Madness Returns brings back most of your favorite characters from the first game: The Mad Hatter, The Cheshire Cat, The Caterpillar, The Red Queen and The White Rabbit. While some of these characters were defeated or killed the original, they all seem to make it back into the sequel, taking on key roles. Alice has to travel through six (lengthy) chapters, each taking on a unique flair and style. The Mad Hatter still resides in a steampunk castle, The Caterpillar has hidden himself away in a Japanese/Origami mountain, and The Red Queen is in a chessboard motif….surprising, right? Alice’s dress will change to match and go with her scenery, but don’t expect much more than an assortment of Gothic dresses and knee-high boots.
Sadly, A:MR has a serious issue with pacing the story throughout the game. While the story itself is pretty good, the story only takes place in between the chapters. So, that means that you get a snippet of story, only to drag yourself through an hour or two of gameplay with the generic “Go There” objective. Nothing about the story is told through the gameplay, but your levels only point you in the direction of the plot point and force you to run there for a cutscene.
The gameplay of Alice: Madness Returns is delightfully simple, bringing back old school platforming. The meat of A:MR is solving puzzles, collecting memories and teeth (acting as currency), hacking through hordes of badguys, and jumping to your heart’s content. The teeth that are dropped by enemies and destroying pots are spent on making your arsenal stronger. While there are only four main weapons, the ability to upgrade each one keeps your inventory feeling relatively fresh. Each weapon also has a second purpose outside of combat: the pepper grinder chaingun can unlock secret areas, the teapot canon breaks through walls and the hobby horse can smash through barriers.
The combat in A:MR is exactly what you’d expect from a modern platformer, requiring you to have purchased a new “X” button by the time you beat the game. Also, the secondary purposes for the weapons tends to make you look at it as more of a tool, instead of a viable combat option. Honestly, I never used the hobby horse in combat unless it was required. You relentlessly hack, shoot and lob at the monsters until you move to the next puzzle. Sadly, the combat takes up a large part of your time playing A:MR and tends to drag on longer than it should. By the end of the game, I found myself dreading the combat scenes.
I have to give marks to Alice: Madness Returns for creativity, though. While there are only six different settings, they completely change every piece within it. They only repeat a few key badguys, but each level offers unique music, characters, enemies, etc. Hell, they even change the look of generic boxes for each chapter. They also try to spice up the platforming gameplay with several mini-games strewn throughout. While I appreciate the break from “Run-Jump-Fight-Run”, the mini-games fall prey to the same issue with the combat. They aren’t that fun. Whether it’s a Zelda: Ocarina of Time-esque music game, a chess game involving mirrored pieces, or a strange 2D pinball obstacle course, they all tend to take too much time and provide too little entertainment. While you can see the good intentions of adding these games in, they don’t really fit with the game and feel painfully out of place. If the core gameplay is genuinely fun, you won’t need to add in a smattering of random mini-games. I have to admit, there was one mini-game where Alice is placed into an old Japanese scroll and you can collect peaches. Those were oddly fun, but short-lived.
The biggest problem of Alice: Madness Returns is that the charm and fun doesn’t last. The fact that they chose to only have six levels doesn’t mean that it’s a short game, I spent around ten to twelve hours on this one. The length of each chapter makes you feel as though you’re grinding through it, just to get to the next chapter. Not to mention, the achievement for beating each chapter is only worth ten points. Call me a snob, but ten points for two hours of grinding through puzzles seems more like an insult than a reward. At first, A:MR seems to be a macabre, darkly funny platformer, but the fun fades quickly after the second level. At that point, you realize you’re going to do the same thing over and over, until you give up or beat it. I think that this game is a good choice to buy and play over a long period of time. In little tastes, A:MR can be very fun, but playing continuously turns into a chore.
The soundtrack actually was quite well done, bringing an ever-changing ominous
tone to each section. When you add the creepy scores to the twisted gameplay and beautifully animated cutscenes, you create an altogether captivating world to run through. The voice acting, while not stellar, was completely satisfying for the setting of the game. The supporting characters sound crazy and over-the-top, while Alice stays a little too calm for the situation. She only seems to have two settings: calm and really calm. But, I can’t say that her mellow voice acting detracted anything from my overall experience in A:MR. The graphics are a bit of a mixed bag, ranging from delightful to blocky and dated. I’m not sure how there could be such massive differences in one game, but A:MR tends to switch from wonderfully rendered settings, to something that could’ve come out of Mario Kart 64.
Alice: Madness Returns is a solid platformer, bringing back the old school components that made so many hit games. With a solid soundtrack, beautiful and unique settings, and a good premise, Alice: Madness Returns should have been much better than it ended up. Sadly, it fails to maintain the interest of the gamer. Despite the occasional mini-game, everything tends to drag to the point of boredom. While it’s resting on the makings of a great game, it doesn’t quite fill its full potential.
I give Alice: Madness Returns 3.5 “Bitch Babies” out of 5