Developer: Spicy Horse
Publisher: Electronic Arts
Designer: American McGee
Platform(s): PC, Xbox 360, Playstation 3
Genre: Action-Adventure, Platform
Rating: 2/5 Buggy but Beautiful
Madness Returns picks up shortly after where the first Alice game left off. Alice is free of Rutledge Asylum and is seeing a hypno-therapist by the name of Dr. Angus Bumby. Alice is still coming to terms with the death of her family in the fire that engulfed her childhood home. As she finds her madness returning, wink wink, she reenters Wonderland to find it once again corrupted. Alice must take up the Vorpal blade once again as she cut her way through the twisted horrors of her mind to confront the source of its corruption. All the while Alice must make friends of past enemies, depose the new self-proclaimed rulers of Wonderland, and heed the advice of her constant companion, the Cheshire Cat, as she holds onto what memories she has left.
Many feel as though Madness Returns is more of a port of the original Alice to a modern graphics engine. While it’s true that the aesthetic remains the same, only with layers of beautiful polish, the story is better than ever. The beautiful and twisted imagery of Wonderland guarantee a degree of replay value, as does the New Game + mechanic that would allow you to replay the game with all the weapons and upgrades of the previous playthrough. One delightfully subtle touch is Alice’s dresses, which change depending on what part of Wonderland she’s in. From the dystopian clockwork realm of the Mad Hatter, to the charnel decrepit realm of the Red Queen, Alice is always dressed the part.
The controls on the PC version feel very much like they were designed for a console controller. With platforming making up the majority of the gameplay, you may find yourself remapping keys or springing for a gamepad. One Madness Returns biggest flaws is in its buggy mechanics. With a new lock on system for ranged combat a step up from the card throwing of the original, far too often it will glitch and now allow you to unlock if the enemy fell into a bottomless pit. The melee combat has taken more than a few pointers from the God of War series, and for the most part I feel it benefits from it. Once again, the controls will feel more natural with a gamepad controller than a keyboard.
The platforming sections are just as good as ever, but often make Wonderland seem both expansive and empty. Often times buggy collision can cause Alice to miss a jump, or pass straight through the walkway she’s on. More than once I got stuck on a tricky platforming section because the camera decided to swing around me mid jump.
The story explores the motley cast of characters that populate American McGee’s delightful interpretation of Wonderland, and shows how they’ve changed since Alice’s departure and the new corruption. Far too often however, the final showdowns with many of these characters is handled in a cut-scene leaving me pondering if the boss fight was simply not available unless the game were set on a harder difficulty. The most drab sections, understandably, are the section where Alice explores the real world. The transitions back to Wonderland are satisfyingly uncanny, and always signified for me the return to the fun.
With passable platforming, bugs, and average combat it’s hard to recommend this game to a broad audience. If you have played the first Alice, or simply want to explore a visually stunning decent into madness, then you’ll enjoy this game.