Alice: Madness Returns
For a while it seemed like American McGee was destined to be the next genius of videogame development after his morbid creation American McGee’s Alice became something of a cult classic. Sadly, a series of missteps caused McGee to fall off the radar and undo whatever good Alice had done. Over a decade later, American and Alice finally return to take one more stab at Wonderland, but the return trip down the rabbit hole isn’t exactly a triumphant one.
Picking up after the original game, Alice is still quite mentally disturbed from the memories of her family dying in a fire as a child, though she’s graduated from an asylum to an orphanage where she undergoes fruitless therapy. It isn’t long before her hallucinations of Wonderland return with a vengeance and a demonic train threatens to tear the place apart. As she journeys through the twisted Wonderland she recovers hidden memories and the true origin of how the fire started that shattered her life and psyche.
There’s not much of a plot to speak of, although it’s fun to watch events unfold through cutscenes that mimic the style of a pop-up storybook. Segments where Alice is mucking about London serve as the precursor to the Wonderland bits, but they don’t serve much purpose or even characterize Alice much. She’s a troubled young woman, and that’s as intimate as the player will ever get. Story and substance are not Madness Return’s strong suit, it’s style.
The world of Wonderland is vast and vibrant, not to mention unrepentantly colorful. It’s a world filled with oversized teacups, enormous mushrooms, and platforms precariously floating in midair—essentially all the calling cards of a classic acid trip. Madness Returns captures the feel of a whimsical Tim Burton movie, sans Johnny Depp, and its visual style sets it apart from other games on the same shelf. That said, it’s rather disappointing how empty and lifeless the world often feels. So much of the levels are dead space with platforms seemingly miles apart from one another.
Alice spends most of her time in Wonderland jumping from one platform to another. Their spacing seems to account for Alice’s ability to quadruple jump, glide, and air-dash which takes out much of the tension and skill involved with platform jumping. Even so, it’s sometimes difficult to stick to a landing due to the unrefined controls and occasionally schizophrenic camera.
Combat plays a minor role in Madness Returns. Alice’s arsenal consists of the Vorpal Blade, a hobby horse, a pepper-grinder and a teapot which both sub as a machine gun and grenade launcher respectively. The majority of the combat sees Alice slicing and dicing cartoon enemies, but even so it’s an incredibly dull spectacle as she has no moves to speak of and most fights can be won by mashing away with the Vorpal Blade.
When not engaged in jumping and fighting, Alice can be found solving the occasional sliding puzzle, navigating slides, answering riddles, and even going full-on 2D in a bizarre salute to side-scrollers later in the game. None of the elements gel in any kind of cohesive way. They’re all tedious and wear their welcome out quickly.
If the game had been shortened up, it might’ve been a passable platformer, but clocking in at a solid twenty hours is entirely too long with levels that drag on for an abominable length of time. Players will find themselves constantly groaning about how the section they just completed yields another one instead of the end of the chapter. Alice: Madness Returns feels like a grind, even more so if you’re intending to uncover secret areas and collectibles that have no tangible benefit.
Alice: Madness Return has a terrific visual style and intriguing ideas, which is why it’s so frustrating to see what could’ve been a clever game turn into such a tedious, drawn-out mess. It never hits its stride, not once nailing the gory combat or fun platforming that it promises in its long-winded campaign. Madness Returns is an interesting idea in desperate need of involving mechanics to back it up, and unfortunately, it seems once again American McGee and Alice have both blown their shot at gaming greatness.
Four out of ten