American McGee’s Alice was one of the most celebrated PC titles of all time. Not only did it introduce mature subject matter in a world of mostly senseless shooters, but it also helped define atmospheric platformers for years to come.
Fast forward to the present – Alice: Madness Returns, a follow-up released nearly 11 years later, is finally here. Read on to find out whether or not it measures up to the original.
Following the story of the original Alice, Madness Returns once again puts you in the mind of Alice – a disturbed young girl that lost her parents in a deadly fire. While Alice was released from Rutledge Asylum at the end of the first game, her memories continue to haunt her, and she can no longer repress them any further. As a result, Alice is once again forced to revisit Wonderland and deal with her issues, both physically and mentally.
Graphically, Madness Returns straddles a line between acceptable, and dated. The character model for Alice looks great, but pretty much everyone else looks like it was rendered with very little effort. Alice’s hair sways in the wind gracefully; and her dress moves as realistic as can be, but the other character models feel wooden and lifeless – which is a real shame.
This wooden feel also extends to the game’s level design.While a few set pieces are beyond unique, most of them have been seen before. You’ll traverse generic factories, stale ice caps, and typical looking Japanese landscapes during the course of your journey more-so than say, wonderful theater owned by the Walrus and the Carpenter.
In terms of gameplay, if I had to compare Alice to an established 3D platformer, it would probably be the Spyro series, due to the fact that Alice can both jump and slowly glide on command. While the first three Spyro games controlled great in their own right, here’s where Madness Returns goes wrong:
Alice cannot grab onto ledges, which is a problem because most of the game’s levels are designed in such a way where you would need to. While it doesn’t propel the game to an impossible difficulty, I suffered many a frustrating death due to the imprecise camera and shoddy jump mechanic. There are tons of jumps with little or no direction of where to go, forcing players to constantly make leaps of faith with little help from the jump mechanic.
Combat is set up like Ocarina of Time – while holding down the lock on button, the screen will narrow down like a camera shutter and allow you to dodge, attack, and used ranged abilities all while staying focused on any enemy – a quick flick of the right analog stick will allow you to change targets.
You’ll have access to the most generic weapons available, which you’ll find in pretty much every action game – a quick attack [vorpal blade], a heavy attack [hobby horse], a bomb attack, a “frenzy” mode [Hysteria], and a gun [pepper grinder]. While most contemporary action titles give you a host of special abilities, spells, and items, Alice limits you to the above for the entire game.
Fundamentally I wouldn’t be a opposed to those limitations if the combat system were deep enough, but the depth just isn’t there. Alice will hold your hand and explain how to exactly kill each enemy through very simple tactics well into the game, to the point where it becomes a chore.
You’ll also run across some pretty oddly placed scenes, such as a classic sidescrolling boat section and a bunch of slides that resemble a few parts of Mario 64. Like Darksider’s gryphon ride shooter, these sections aren’t very fun and feel out of place.
The game is also seemingly shoddily put together. Most of the time when you die, you’re sent back to a checkpoint within a minute or two of where you perished. However, in one instance, I was sent back nearly twenty minutes after glitching into a small pit – clearly out of the ordinary. Additionally, I had a few instances where Alice (or her enemies) became stuck in a wall.
Madness Returns should last you in the neighborhood of fifteen hours, which is pretty hefty for an action adventure title. However, a lot of this playtime is padded within dull environments, so more likely than not you may not want to actually finish the game.
If it’s any solace, you can play the original Alice on the disc if you purchase the game new (or buy it separately for $10). The original is a superior game, but it isn’t updated for the 360, and may feel dated to some.
At the end of the day, Alice: MR has a lot of good ideas from a lot of other good games, but never really executes them as well as the originals did. Unless you’re a hardcore fan of the original, or a dedicated platforming junkie, you’ll want to skip this return to wonderland.
Gamer Limit gives Alice: Madness Returns a 6.0/10