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Posted by on Jun 21, 2011

Review: Alice: Madness Returns

Review: Alice: Madness Returns

Title: Alice: Madness Returns
Platform: 360 / PS3 (reviewed on 360)
Developer: Spicy Horse
Publisher: EA
TL;DR: Platform. Battle. Platform. More platform.
Family Friendly? Click here for more information.

One of the things I always found fascinating was the full-bodied creation of a different world, only to have it be utterly ruined by a poorly constructed narrative or a cast of boring characters. Such was the case with Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland. I simply couldn’t fall that much in love with the characters because the story itself was so…weird.

I did, however, fall in love with Wonderland itself. A world filled with magical elixirs that can make you shrink and grow, a world governed by riddles, rhymes, and the search for something more than what’s on the surface. Toss in just a little tinge of madness, and you have Spicy Horse’s offering: Alice: Madness Returns.

While I could spend a good part of my time extolling the virtues of this game, there are also a lot of things that made it a game wholly difficult to fall completely in love with. As of right now, it’s a very love/hate relationship.

Perhaps the one thing that really sets Alice: Madness Returns back is the platforming concept. Each and every single stage is peppered with them, and they tend to hamper enjoyment, especially if you have poor judgement in regards to distance or height. And of course, in between each platforming bit is a larger platform, in which numerous monsters of a twisted and warped Wonderland assault you. Mind, they’re a bit of a pain as well, as Alice isn’t really well equipped to deal with multiple foes at once.

Just about all of her attacks are focused ones with the exception of a few explosives in her arsonry, such as the ticking rabbit bomb and the teapot grenades, the latter of which you acquire far too late in the game. Targetting your enemies don’t help at all either, as you will continually be assaulted at all angles by all manners of monstrosities. A feisty camera that doesn’t allow you to see your enemies clearly makes for a frustrating battle that will see you dying once or twice (or perhaps a million more times if you’re like me) before figuring out the attack patterns of each opponent.

However, all negativities aside, there are more than just a few things that will make you want to keep going in this story of madness and truth. For one, I was immediately reminded of A Series of Unfortunate Events‘ playful gothic steampunk style, complete with a moody cello that begins the opening scenes. That’s right, the music and artistry had me melting into a puddle. I am that in love with it.

Each chapter contains a particular theme, and I really do have to commend both the artistic director and the composer for capturing the themes. Colorful palettes will greet your eyes and remind you that you are in Wonderland and that it is (or was) a child’s retreat. But if you take the time to look closely, you’ll also see the undertones of madness and destruction (blood splatters, the insides of a frozen penguin spilling out, dead fauna). The music matches the themes as well, from soft chords that convey wonderment to tribal drum beats that herald the oncoming attacks of enemies.

The story itself is actually one of great intrigue to me. You play as Alice Liddell, a troubled young girl who is desperately seeking for the truth. The truth of, you discover, the death of her family in the Liddell house fire. Because of the trauma of this fire, Alice has a bit of amnesia, and was being treated at an asylum. However, that didn’t really help, and this aspect of losing her memory and being at the asylum is a huge deal within the telling of the story.

Alice: Madness Returns actually begins not in Wonderland, but in the real world, in a late 19th century London. As you navigate through the streets, you are transported into Wonderland, a very dark and twisted version of it anyway. And there, of course, is your guide the Cheshire Cat.

What I really enjoyed is the stark contrast between Alice’s colorful visions of Wonderland and the visions of the real world. As the game progresses, a pattern emerges in which the story is told in chunks, with the real world London serving as an intermezzo between each chapter in Wonderland. I thought it was interesting, and I really like it. It certainly lent a more realistic aspect to the game, that Alice is actually trying to find something real in all of this, as opposed to making it seem wholly fanciful and completely surreal.

One of the most interesting parts of the game is the collection of Memories. Throughout each chapter in Wonderland is the scattering of Alice’s fragmented memories. As mentioned before, Alice has no recollection of what happened during the fire that consumed her home and family. In each level, collecting these Memories not only leads to an achievement (admit it, we’re all achievement hunters at heart in a tiny way), but it really adds another layer to the story. We’re given insight to Alice’s family, her doctor’s thoughts, and even thoughts of the people who tried to help her (or save her, or just straight up take advantage of her).

And of course, who would I be to talk about a game such as this without a shoutout to the weaponry? I like big weapons, and I like the innovation some developers have taken to give us a multitude of destructive implements. In Alice: Madness Returns, I liked getting the bigger and better weapons, especially the ones that give me a gratuitous explosion. Disturbingly enough, I thought a lot of the weapons were rather cute. I mean, it’s a damn cute little bunny rabbit that you press a button and send a shade to oblivion! And death by tea? Who would’ve thought of that one. Well, Riddick aside with his tea cup.

While Alice: Madness Returns could do away with a lot of the platforming elements, many other elements more than make up for it. With its haunting story and its macabre beauty, you could get lost in something that is gorgeous to look at but also carries the feeling of being slightly off kilter. If that’s what you want, then Alice: Madness Returns is just right for you. Searching for the truth in such a tragic and beautifully twisted world is well worth your time.

The Good

  • A nice twist to the story that will make you want to know more.
  • Beautifully macabre art style is more than meets the eye.
  • Weapons. I mean, WEAPONS.
  • The Bad

  • Repeated platforming sequences make the game seem a little stale.
  • Large amounts of monsters that often attack all at once make for a frustrating battle experience.
  • Alice: Madness Returns is available now for the Xbox 360 and Playstation 3. For more information, check out the official website.

    Family Focus
    Certainly not. Alice: Madness Returns is rated as an M+ (ESRB) and 15 (BBFC) for themes of violence and some other not-so-fun things.

    Tabitha W.

    Best known for her dumb ass antics on Twitter, Tabs likes to play a lot of games, especially if it involves copious amounts of assassins, swords, and hot cyborgs. She also likes a lot of coffee, and requires a weekly cupcake sacrifice. Don't forget the bacon.

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