Alice: Madness Returns was a game I attempted to play back in 2013 but did not progress very far. Mainly because the first “true” enemy I saw terrified me (I do NOT like mannequin-esque enemies) and the platforming section in the prologue/chapter one. That platforming section was so infuriating after several attempts to clear it. I was actually quite close to rage quitting again when I attempted to do a full playthrough of this game. All because I wanted the collectible at the end. I suffered numerous deaths, and a great deal of building frustration. In the end, I prevailed and got the collectible and proceeded to finish the game.
Three years after that first attempt, I decided to put on my big girl pants on and try finish it once and for all. To say I have finished the game and got 99% completion (I missed one of the collectibles) is something I am genuinely proud of. I found the game quite satisfying even though there were times, that I questioned my decision to try finishing the game. Especially when I got to chapter four.
That was when my friends and even myself, began questioning my sanity.
Alice: Madness Returns is the sequel to American McGee’s Alice, set a decade after the events of the previous game. Here, we find Alice in an orphanage set in the Victorian time period. She is sent off an errand by her psychiatrist, before she can complete her errand however, she is pulled back to Wonderland. Wonderland is being corrupted by an unknown source. In order to save herself, Alice must find the source of the corruption and destroy it. Or risk losing herself forever.
The combat system can be quite awkward at times, as sometimes Alice would focus on the wrong enemy or not swap targets when you are in “auto-aim/lock”. Unfortunately, you may be relying on this auto-targeting system quite heavily in the game. I know I certainly did, very heavily throughout much of the game. The game however, will ensure you do not have an easy time with most battles as they will throw numerous enemies at you, so even if you are using the auto-target in combat, you cannot actively lock on the boss.
Otherwise, the combat would be flawless with smooth strikes/precision firing at enemies. Using melee weapons, Alice is able to perform combo attacks. She is also able to dodge attacks by moving in the desired direction as a burst of butterflies. I think how they displayed her dodging as butterflies was fitting with the theme of being in Wonderland actually. Her health being represented by roses fits quite well with the theme as well.
You are also able to upgrade your weapons at anytime up to four tiers. Melee weapons will be able to do more deadly combo attacks, while the ranged weapons will have more firing power and time before needing to cool down. As well obviously increasing their damage. Watching Alice slay through ranks of her enemies with slick but devastating melee strikes, or havoc with precision firing with the ranged weapons was truly glorious and enjoyable to watch. I am still somewhat disconcerted about the currency to upgrade these weapons….were teeth of all things. Just….why?????
If Alice’s health gets too low, you will be able to use “hysteria” mode. In this mode, Alice will become not only stronger but invulnerable to all enemy attacks for a limited time. Use this time wisely to quickly remove all dangers while taking advantage of her extra damage and invulnerability. Once it runs out, you will be back to low health and most likely die. Also in hysteria mode, the game will change to be black and white and Alice’s appearance will change rather dramatically but I’ll leave that to you readers, to find out for yourselves.
Hysteria mode has saved me many times at critical moments, and other times I squandered that precious time limit and died. Then I got upset because I died before realizing I had not lost much progress…usually.
Platforming is a heavy aspect of the game, while combat would be secondary. However, the game does not limit you to these two aspects. It allows players to explore the world whereupon they can find collectibles ranging from: memories, character biographies and concept art. Not all of these will be easy to find. I did not manage to find all the collectibles, but I figured 98% was a pretty good figure for my first time.
Besides looking for the many collectibles and secrets, the extravagant art direction of the game will bring life to many of the different environments that Alice must transverse. All of the environments were visually striking in their own way, even the creepy setting of chapter four which I think was the chapter I struggled the most with to finish. It was….not only disturbing but quite revolting. Legitimately managed to make me feel ill.
*Shivers at the memory*
However not all of your adventures will take place in Wonderland, some of it will occur in the real world for brief moments at a time. Despite some of the more disturbing moments of the game, the visual style of the game was one of the aspects I enjoyed the most about the game. Sadly I did not have the music enabled for majority of the playthrough, so I am unable to comment about the music.
The game does try to break the monotony by including few different challenges into the game. These include: sliding down a slide/ramp of considerable length, solving puzzles (comes in two varieties: chess puzzle or a sliding picture block puzzle), playing musical notes correctly and running through a 2D painting.
While the game was nearly flawless besides the flaws in the combat. There were two other things that irked me greatly. This annoyed me much more than the combat system; jumping. I noticed and fallen victim to this many times during the platforming sections, where you would try to jump but Alice does not respond to the jump button. Thus you are stuck in a cruel loop of endless deaths. I knew she had a limited amount of times she can jump mid-air; I am pretty sure I did not use all those jumps when she did not respond to the jump command.
Another problem most occurred during chapter four I believe, where you had to run from an enemy but the camera will suddenly flip on you. So you had to run towards the camera with no idea what is in front of you. Which is fine but the abruptness caught me off guard numerous times. Oh, that reminds me something. The camera angles when you swap between combat and non-combat may glitch out at times. The camera can get in the auto-target mode so you need to swap between the modes again to fix the camera. This proved to be really annoying at different stages of the game.
This game is not going to be everyone’s cup of tea per say. Alice: Madness Returns has a lot of moments that can be visually disturbing, only to be amplified by the soundtrack (when I did hear it). It is dark and touches on some topics that people may find disturbing.
However, the environments I saw in Wonderland and Victorian London were fantastic, and so were the character designs. I liked the little touch of making Alice have a unique costume associated with the chapter. The addition of different gameplay styles (i.e. chess puzzles) helped break the monotony of the game’s heavy reliance on combat and platformer, thus making it enjoyable. Combat was nearly flawless despite the near-reliance of the auto-target mode and camera issues. The story was very well-written and I think they did a phenomenal job on the pacing, as well the progression of the story between the real world and Alice’s Wonderland. I truly enjoyed the ending and found it amazingly satisfying. The overall design of the game fits with the story seamlessly.
Regardless, Alice: Madness Returns is a fantastic game and has managed to get itself added into my list of favorite games. If you can handle a little insanity and exploring the depths of Alice’s damaged psyche, then I highly recommend you guys give this a try. Hope you don’t find the fourth chapter too disturbing.