A Shoggy Look at Alice: Madness Returns

Over a million years ago when Dinosaurs roamed the Earth and, a movie about a team of mutants exploded in popularity, there was a development stupid known as Rouge Entertainment who, lead by American McGee, released the PC Exclusive action-horror-platformer based on Through the Looking Glass and, Alice in Wonderland. This isn't a look at that particular game since I don't know if I can maintain a connection long enough to download it so instead I'll talk about Madness Returns. It took 11 years and a completely different developer but this game was released on PC and the two games consoles which support HD graphics last year and can still be found and bought in stores (unlike the subject of my last review).

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Alice: Madness Returns is an action platformer with a heavy emphasis on the platforming more so than combat. Madness Returns takes place roughly a year after the events of the first game. Now 19, Alice has spent time in asylum after a breakdown when she concluded that she caused her family's death in the last game. After time in asylum and, under the care of psychiatrist Dr. Bumby, Alice seems to have come to grips with reality and regained her sanity. Then on an errand for the good doctor, Alice returns to Wonderland where things seem to have gone very wrong.

The bulk of the game is spent in various locations within Wonderland, broken up after each chapter by Alice returning for a moment to consciousness/ the real world. Interestingly enough, as Alice walks about London, she actually gets a sort of glimpse at the next chapter. In example would be a scene in which Alice is walking through a dock and into a bar, The Mangled Mermaid. The following chapter of the game follows this quite well, starting in a dock and moving on to an undersea town in a similar aesthetic to said bar.

Lets continue talking about the aesthetics of Madness Returns though; since this game has a horror bent to it, a lot of the locations you visit are quite dark. Personally, I had to turn up my TVs brightness at some points but my eyes are just terrible. Aside from the lighting, the Xbox 360 version of the game seemed to have a real problem when it came to textures not wanting to pop in. This was never enough to discourage me from playing of course but it was annoying to watch as a bit of wall or, Alice's latest dress struggled to gain and, maintain its true appearance.

The game is broken up into 5 and a half chapters which are distinct enough to keep the game from looking like the same rooms over and, over again. Aside from the colorful glades of Wonderland Alice will get to explore a steam-punk factory, the aforementioned deep-sea town, the far east, a card castle in the sky (which turns into a stone-castle) and, a gigantic train made out of cathedrals. Furthermore, each chapter seems to have its own unique color palettes which further distinguish each chapter and add to the atmosphere of the game. Fear not though because if you're looking for boring sameness then look no further than the enemies.

While I said that a greater emphasis is placed on platforming that doesn't stop Madness Returns from throwing several different types of enemy at you. Each chapter has its own unique enemy type such as zombified Card Guards, samurai wasps, and cannon wielding crabs but, the bulk of the enemies are different flavors of Ruin. Be they slithering, menacing or, colossal Alice will almost always find a ruin to slit up with her signature knife, The Vorpal Blade. The Ruin can be best described as Uroboros from Resident Evil 5 only instead of worms it has baby-doll heads in it. Most forms of Ruin are easy to fight which makes fighting them into a boring routine after a while. The larger enemies are a bit more fun to fight if only to the bodily degradation they go through as you fight them but even that is a bit of cream on a very over-done cake.

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Oh no! slime-covered baby-dolls!!

Fighting monsters in Madness Returns works similarly to games like God of War in that your primary weapon is a knife and you have a secondary weapon which deals heavy damage. Unlike God of War though you also have two ranged weapons and, a remote controlled bomb-type weapon. Alice is also equipped with an umbrella which deflects projectile attacks back at the enemies who cast them out. The combat is fast, flowing and, visceral with larger enemies who suffer incremental battle damage which is always fun to watch. The problem with combat however is a lack of impact and force behind the blows. The best thing that can be said is that it looks convincing when Alice is slashing at foes but reflecting projectile attacks looks, sounds and, feels like you're not doing anything to a monster (with the exception of one monster type but I digress). The four main weapons used throughout the game can be upgraded up to level 4 and they do get noticeably more powerful but there is still a sense of impact that just seems to be absent from Madness Returns. It would have also been nice if minor enemies also suffered degradation such as sparks flying off of bolt-flies or, chips of glass flying off of Eye-Pots.

The bulk of Madness Returns centers around platforming and, navigating from one end of the map to the other in a quest to either find familiar faces or help those friends whom you have been able to find. It seems like the layout of each level is meant to be open ended which sounds like a great idea but in practice can be the cause of a bit of confusion if you're a completionist looking for every collectible item. Alice can find hidden paths and, see hidden doors by shrinking but there's no concrete way of determining which path will take Alice to the next section of the level and which path will take Alice to fabulous cash and prizes. Luckily though, there doesn't seem to be any added benefit with 100% completion but for some players, getting that 100% is its own reward.

To break up the monotony of jumping and slashing, each chapter also has its own mini stage of sorts. In Chapter 2 for example there is a side-scrolling section which is very similar to Gradius whereas Chapter 3 has a few 2D side-scrolling sections. These sections are necessary for completing the game and are mostly functional but personal fun factors will vary considering different they are from the core game. Also interspersed in each chapter are slide sections which are fairly easy and a great opportunity to collect in-game currency. Collecting said currency (which is teeth by the way) is necessary for upgrading your weapons and nothing else. Once all four of your weapons are at level 4 you may lose interest in collecting teeth all together since they're going to be virtually useless by that point.

Like another reviewer said, Madness Returns has a tendency to tease you when it comes to boss fights. There are a few potential boss monsters but those creatures are dispatched quickly and in arguably anticlimactically ways. It seemed like a real shame too since the creatures and, machinations who would have been those end-chapter bosses could have been a whole lot of fun to fight against. Instead there's a single boss fight at the end of the game and while it was fun taking it down I would have definitely loved to have been able to fight against other boss monsters. Another potential pet peeve is how the end-chapter cut scenes are in a completely different art style, similar to a motion comic if they were done in Victorian England. I personally liked that style of narration honestly and considering the texture pop-in issues I mentioned earlier think it was all for the best they chose a more simplified means of showing these story segments between chapters.

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rendering textures is so hard

It only took about 10 hours to beat Alice: Madness Returns on the normal difficulty for me personally but it felt like a much longer game. Madness Returns wants to put players in a creepy, perverted Wonderland where horrors await behind every corner. The game falls flat though with relatively simple combat and enemy patterns. Falling deaths don't even do damage to Alice so there really isn't a sense of danger outside of a handful of combat encounters. The game starts out fun enough and it is engaging enough to make you want to see what the next section of the game looks like but as time passed by the wonderment and desire to continue playing just waned for me. New Game + is enticing in that players can start with all of the weapons, upgrades and, items collected in the first playthrough but it may not be enough to keep everyone interested in playing.

Alice: Madness Returns is available for purchase on Steam for $19.99 and at retail is uncommon to find new but still available with some retailers and on Amazon for roughly $20. Buying Alice: Madness Returns new nets you a download code for the original game, American McGee's Alice. Gamestop's website also seems to have it but at this point its only pre-owned and priced at $24.99 for the physical game. I can't recommend this game for everyone; it was fun for a while but left me wanting more. It does seem like a good deal though if you buy it new since you can look at it as buying 2 games for $10-each and Madness Returns is definitely worth at least that.

 

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