ALICE: MADNESS RETURNS: Should you take the plunge down this rabbit hole?(review)
Unlike movies, the summer time for video games is pretty dry with barely any blockbuster releases hitting stores from June to August. While this may seem like a bad thing, it’s actually a blessing because the lack of new titles gives everyone a few months to catch up on any overlooked games they missed out on the first time.
Take Alice: Madness Returns for instance. I was intrigued by the dark take on the Alice and Wonderland story but never got around to playing it three years ago. While it definitely has some problems, I’m glad I finally played it. Read on to learn if it’s worth your time and money.
WHAT YOU’LL LIKE
Alice: Madness Returns isn’t the most impressive game powered by Epic Games Unreal Engine made famous in Gears of War, but I was constantly amazed at the stunning artwork in each of the games six chapters. The graphical level variety is very imaginative with each one offering something new such as traversing a beautiful world underwater, walking on a level made of cards and a colorful playhouse village.
Character and enemy design is great too with a realistic mature Alice, who changes outfits frequently and hideous monsters like the hilarious named Bitch Baby. Decayed looking card soldiers, creepy doll faces, and samurai wasps are notable standouts.
Another strong point is Alice’s voice actress, Susie Brann, who speaks with a British accent and reminded me of Lara Croft. The other supporting cast like the Cheshire Cat, who talks in riddles, is fantastic too. As is the games music which during the games combat encounters and more quiet moments helped elevate the experience for me.
The plot picks up right after the original game, American Mcgee’s Alice and does a good job recapping the first title through storyboard cutscenes. So, don’t fret if you haven’t played the original. Without spoiling anything Alice: Madness Returns is about Alice recovering her memories after being mentally disturbed by the death of her parents and being sent to an orphanage. She returns to Wonderland hoping to learn the truth and find answers. It’s a pretty grim tale and kept me motivated to reach the conclusion.
Great combat with easy to learn controls
Alice: Madness Returns combat is an improvement over its protege where combat felt like a PC third-person shooter. Alice has only four weapons a Vorpal blade, pepper grinder, teapot cannon, and hobby horse. All have their specific advantages against certain enemies and switching between targets is a breeze. The camera can be a real pain sometimes, but a great dodge move where Alice briefly turns into blue butterflies helps ease the frustration. Combat is fair and rarely felt cheap during my playtime.
When Alice health gets low, a hyper mode similar to Devil May Cry appears, and the screen turns white allowing you to do greater damage for a brief time before things go back to normal. Upgrading weapons are easy and at the end of chapter five I had maxed out everything by collecting the game’s currency, white teeth. You can also increase your health when you get red paint obtained from completing the hidden challenge rooms and solving the Cheshire Cat’s riddles.
None of these are spectacular, but they helped add some variety to the core gameplay. Highlights include becoming a giant Alice, a 2D platform section in a painting, solving chess puzzles, a Resident Evil 3: Nemesis style chase sequence and more.
WHAT YOU WON’T LIKE
Extremely Repetitive Level Design
Alice: Madness Returns has a lot going for it. However, it repeats the same gameplay ideas way too frequently. Platforming feels fresh at first, but you’re constantly doing the same things over and over again. Like jumping through steam vents, setting bombs on platforms so you can run over to a cliff and shoot a target, going through small keyholes as a tiny Alice, sliding down slides, etc. It’s fun for the first few hours, but it’s incredibly frustrating that each chapter plays out the same way instead of offering something unique.
Even some of the mini games, which luckily change with each level, sometimes repeat themselves too often and quickly lose their charm. Combat never really bored me, but all encounters play out nearly identical, and only one boss encounter awaits you at the end. I’d like to have seen more Legend of Zelda style enemy encounters and puzzles to liven up the gameplay.
Bloated Game Length
Alice: Madness Returns would be much better as a shorter five-eight hour game instead of 15 hour one. The gameplay is fun in short sessions and seeing each new chapter’s graphical variety is exciting, but they overstay their welcome, and you just wanted it to end after awhile. The story, combat, and stunning art direction kept me motivated to finish, but it was tough to push through all the repetition. If each chapter’s length was cut in half and there were more variations on the core combat/platforming, then the longer game length would be justified.
Pointless collectibles and unsatisfying audio logs
If you’re a completist, Alice: Madness Returns has you covered. Such as shooting all the hidden pig snouts with pepper, completing all the combat challenge rooms, solving riddles, collecting bottles, and finding Alice’s memories. Unfortunately, all the extras don’t really add anything to the experience other than unlocking artwork and costumes. I was also disappointed that all the memories you find scattered in levels don’t go into great detail like Bioshock audio diaries do and feel very unsatisfying.
One bright bonus is that the full original game American Mcgee’s Alice is included for free with the only requirement being that you own Alice: Madness Returns. I found the original game to be less repetitive, and if you can look past the rough graphics, it’s definitely worth playing.
Alice: Madness Returns is a refreshing dark take on the Alice and Wonderland storyline with gorgeous art design, an interesting plot, great music, and fun combat. However, it’s hampered by repetitive game design, and the journey lasts too long. While flawed, it’s worth playing if you’re a fan of the Alice and Wonderland universe, but for everyone else a rental will be enough to satisfy your curiosity.