Welcome to Wonderland. Population:Demented
Here’s a question for the parents amongst you, especially those with teenagers. If you were given a chance to delve into your adolescent child’s psyche, would you do it? On one hand, you could stop coating your face in honey and attempting to stick it to their friends pelvises and find out what would truly embarrass your kid. You could find out every unwanted question they’re about to ask you and combat puberty quizzes with simple ‘yes’ and ‘no’ answers, avoiding both awkward silences and actual parenting. On the other hand, the teenage mind can be perhaps the most twisted dimension you could ever enter. One which revels in darkness, blood and twisted machinations in belief that nothing is pure and everything is corrupt in an effort to sound the least bit deep and intelligent. Thank God the infamous Alice from Wonderland isn’t your child, otherwise you could be forced to tidy up a bedroom which seeped from head to toe with darkness and the crazies. Welcome to Alice:Madness Returns.
11 years after a stint in Rutledge Asylum, the imaginative marvel that is Alice now spends her time seeking psychiatric help in an orphanage to escape the memories of her past. With the brown soaked alleys of London and the terrible turmoil of reality creating a burden on her, however, Alice is too tempted to fall back into the Wonderland she had made for herself. Unfortunately, it’s not exactly fairing any better there, with maniacal smiles from the friendliest of faces and blood soaked…everything. With Alice believing the now decrepit haven is a sanctuary for her own psyche, it’s clear that she must save Wonderland in order to save herself. It’s all something of a blur that assumes you’re on board from the get go, but thankfully new copies come with a downloadable edition of the original American McGee’s Alice should any (and I suspect there will be) catching up need to be done.
Alice:Madness Returns has done an utterly fantastic job of recreating and reinventing a now delapitated Wonderland, far better than Tim Burton ever could. All the locations you tumble into are bright and beautiful early on, in contrast to the horrors they become later. The Mad Hatter’s abode becomes a steampunk infused playground coated in lava. The Queen of Hearts’ palace soon turns from a mystical structure of floating cards amongst the clouds, hastily building floating pathways around your progress, to a jungle of (literally) heartless palace guards and grotesquely large intestines to traverse. No matter where you find yourself in Wonderland, imagination will always be overflowing in an effort to spill into your eyes and burn out the pupils with its grim imagery throughout the 6 chapters.
Could have been a twisted modern day classic
Although 6 chapters doesn’t exactly sound like much on paper, they are incredibly long and littered with loads of collectables to grab. Cryptic ‘Memories’ are scattered throughout areas, all adding context to the mysterious and sometimes creepy entities that surround Alice’s life, and there are various new routes to uncover should the keen eared be focused to hear them out. Delving further into Wonderland also earns novelty weapons in the forms of pepper grinder machine guns and teapot canons. Despite Wonderlands’ camp and over dramatic undertones, Madness Returns plays these strengths to its advantage with brilliantly dark humour.
The issues with such long quests however, is that it shoots itself in the decrepit foot it creates for itself. Though the aesthetic relishes itself in the darkly humorous and twisted tones it has created, there’s nothing left on the gameplay side of things to balance the fascination of the newly inspired Wonderland. Getting from one end of a level to another relies on platforming tactics recycled from the 90s. Jump, jump jump, run, wait for moving platform, jump, wait, jump, jump, run. There’s no denying the process of gliding and dashing through Wonderland is fluent, but my God does it start to grind. Puzzles and other brain hindrance are minimal throughout, and even when they do crop up, you can practically make Alice bat her eye lids to pass them they’re so insultingly easy.
If you’re not jumping, you’re fighting, and the mixture of bizarre upgradeable weapons used in combat heighten the peculiar wittiness Wonderland offers. Unfortunately, it suffers the exact same problem as the platforming segments. Battling plays out like a standard hack-‘n-slash, with no combos or finishing moves to spice it up. Enemies have a horrible tendency to repeat themselves, appearing simply as assailants consisting of nothing but small, medium or large compounds of goo. The refreshingly unique locales unfortunately don’t translate into the locals most of the time, and mixed with a fairly uninspired combat system makes for only slightly more exciting segments of the game.
It’s the repetitive gameplay that screws up the decrepit beauty Madness Returns creates for itself. It makes nigh on no effort to step either combat or adventuring up a notch. Occasionally you’ll face up to a new enemy based on the world you’re exploring. Occasionally you’ll have to scan the area for a hidden platform sequence in order to progress. Because you’re never forced to rethink your game plan in order to progress, it feels like you’ve just been lumbered on board an epic ghost train rather than a video game.
Alice:Madness Returns feels like it has got nothing but its psychotic imagination going for it. The twisted machinations Alice is forced to explore are all marvellously wicked in their own right, yet the basic platforming and tedious combat doesn’t fill the journey with whimsy and disgust, but a combination of awe and boredom by the fifth hour. If you’ve been watching this with a keen eye for months on end, you won’t feel quite so underwhelmed, and uncover an aesthetically pleasing and twisted adventure. It’s such a shame that Madness Returns doesn’t take a plunge on innovating the core of its experience, otherwise it could have been a twisted modern day classic.
The Bad: Slightly dull combat, Even dulled platforming sections