Alice: Madness Returns Xbox 360 Review

July 9, 2011 by  
Filed under Reviews & Features, Xbox 360, Xbox

Publisher – EA – Developer – Spicy Horse – Genre – Platformer – Players – 1 – Age Rating – 15+ – Other console/handheld formats – PS3

Weird worlds full of twisted characters and lots of imagination often make for some very special gaming experiences. We’ve had the likes of BioShock, Silent Hill, Epic Mickey and Deadly Premonition, to name but a few. Back in 2000, American McGee’s Alice (which is included as a free download with new copies of this sequel) also presented a weird and wonderful universe, which took inspiration from the famous Alice in Wonderland fairytale.

But, following events that saw her family killed in a house fire, this version of the character is crazy in the head. She spent her days in a lunatic asylum, but is now living in an orphanage in this sequel. But it’s not long until Alice returns to Wonderland for a haunting and compelling story once again, and it’s this imaginary universe that really defines the game.

This version of Wonderland is a twisted place, and certainly not the child-friendly Wonderland that author Lewis Carroll dreamed up. It’s a dreamy and wonderful place, but also one that feels depraved and random. I almost felt sorry for Alice when I saw some of the things that had manifested inside her fragile head.  It’s certainly one of those interesting and atmospheric worlds that many will find themselves lost in for hours and hours.

The art direction is also magnificent. It would be pushing it to say that the visuals are working the Xbox 360 and the PS3, but they’re still outstanding in the style and detail that have been poured into the appearance. Many of the characters have a twisted cartoon-look to them, while Alice herself is detailed, particularly in her well animated hair, which moves and acts realistically and parts into individual strands. There’s also a huge amount of variation in the look and feel of the environments, making each one feel unique in its theme. The story may be a bit confusing at times, but the voice acting is largely impressive and the music is fittingly chilling, if a little too repetitive at times.

I’ve championed the art style, the sound and the universe, but it would all basically be moot if the game itself was at odds with the rest of the positive stuff. Alice: Madness Returns is a blend of platforming and action, and it’s as traditional as a game comes, with most of the invention being reserved for the warped world.

The platforming portion, as typical of many games in the genre, gives you the opportunity for triple jumps, while Alice can also glide towards further platforms. There are moments in which jumps look completely impossible, but Alice’s shrinking ability allows you to see platforms that are otherwise invisible. Strangely though, in what could be classed as regression, in this sequel Alice is unable to cling to ledges, which makes falling down holes rather annoying, during situations in which grabbing a platform by your fingernails would have saved you from the plummet. Also, don’t go into the game expecting Mario Galaxy style platforming brilliance, this is more basic and straightfoward stuff.

When it comes to the action, Alice can use everything from a bloodstained knife, alongside more unique weapons such as the Pepper Grinder and the Teapot Cannon. You won’t begin the game with all of these, but you’ll receive them over time, until the rather innocent looking Alice has quite an arsenal to whip out, when the situation calls for it. There are some very strange enemies, including crabs with cigars in the corner of their mouths, shadowy creatures with faces, and giant dolls, amongst other weirdness. Alice is obviously very crazy, to have some of this stuff in her head.

Combat is enjoyable enough and each of the different weapons are situated on their own individual buttons (other than the Pepper Grinder and the Teapot Cannon, which must be switched between). The lock-on feature is a little unreliable though, but enemies can be quickly switched between with the nudge of the stick, which means it isn’t a huge problem, just a slightly annoying one.

There are puzzles as well, but these are generally very simple and just have you seeking out levers or other objects. It certainly keeps you moving through the world with little pause for thought required, which will be welcome to those who just want to get on with things. It’s just a shame that certain puzzles are overused, and the game itself does begin to feel a little too repetitive, but not overly so, and the world is so well realised that the 15-20 hours playing time barely dragged during my time with it.

This weird and imaginative Wonderland is certainly well worth exploring – there are hidden bottles, pig snouts, brief memories, teeth (used to upgrade each weapon up to four times) and more to be found. Some are hidden away, meaning you’ll really have to be on the look out for walls to break, small gaps to enter as mini Alice, and so on. Such collecting always goes down well with a certain type of person, and it’s one other reason to stay in this wondrous world for longer, which can only be a good thing. It’s just a shame that the occasional invisible wall spoils things, dampening the immersion somewhat.

Alice: Madness Returns may have its downers, but it’s a lengthy adventure through a personal Wonderland that is both twisted and memorable. The beautifully envisioned world is distorted and atmospheric, while the game, if never coming across as extraordinary as its disturbing world, offers plenty of madcap fun.