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Alice: Madness Returns – Xbox 360

Alice: Madness Returns – Xbox 360

71yFf7NePAL._SL1074_Platform: Xbox 360

Developer: Spicy Horse

Publisher: Electronic Arts

Release Date (NA): June 2011

Genre: Horror

Nerd Rating: 7.5  out of 10

*Reader Beware! This here review contains some slight spoilers!

Oh, Alice.  The madness just follows you everywhere, doesn’t it?  But that figures since sanity never lasts very long. This is unfortunate for you but a blessing for gamers everywhere who are thirsty for more time in your Wonderland, no matter how badly it has fallen apart.  American McGee’s Alice was an outstanding game on its own merit, so it’s obvious the sequel would try to raise the bar.  Unfortunately, the game tries a little too hard with forced shock value and jump scares.  But that doesn’t mean Alice: Madness Returns isn’t  fun, however, as the whole vibe seems to give lip service to the Hot Topic clique.

Now, before all of you show up on my porch with pitchforks and torches, let me be clear:  I fell deeply in love with this game and the franchise overall, but it isn’t blind love.  Where there is one flaw, there are two more good things about the game, so let’s get this tea party started.

Alice: Madness Returns begins with some disturbing reenactments of the previous game through Alice’s own unique perspective, all the while being coaxed to “let the new Wonderland emerge” by the over-seeking Dr. Bumby.  Alice is spiraling into madness again and is doing everything in her power to fight against it.  She can barely remember anything about the fire that killed her family and is convinced she may be the reason they are dead.  Alice is awoken by her trance and is instructed to pick up her medication and be on her merry way.

"I know you're unstable but that doesn't mean you can't pick up your own damn drugs."

“I know you’re unstable but that doesn’t mean you can’t pick up your own damn drugs.”

Strolling through town, Alice comes across a white fluffy pussy cat and, of course, follows it to a back alley.  This should start the adventure in Wonderland, but sadly that’s not what happens.  Alice hallucinates being surrounded by people with fish heads before being confronted by Nurse Witless, an unnecessary character that we hardly ever see again and does nothing to contribute to the story.  Alice goes home with Witless to “look at pigeons.”  Nurse Witless receives her own personal bit of screen time with a flashback of how she became a part of Alice’s life, but unfortunately we don’t care.  Witless suddenly transforms into a fish person and Alice falls through the roof and finally into Wonderland.  For the time being, Alice is happy to be back, but quickly learns (from the bad ass Cheshire Cat, of course) that Wonderland is being consumed by a new, more vengeful evil, and it is her responsibility to save it and also save herself.

Kicking ass with a pepper grinder.

I nit-picked the gameplay in my first Alice review and I’m glad I did because HOLY COW ON A POPSICLE STICK did these controls improve!  It was elating to finally be able to jump multiple times floating from mushroom to mushroom, and to be able to dodge enemies by transforming into a cloud of butterflies; even the weapons system is so much better!  The weapons include the Vorpal blade, a pepper grinder, a hobby horse, an umbrella, a bunny bomb, and a tea pot cannon.  Weapons can be upgraded by collecting teeth and are even mapped on the controller.  I was so happy that I no longer had to continuously scroll through weapons in the midst of battle.  Alice’s health is measured in rose parts and no longer is there a magic limit when it comes to weapons.  Furthermore, Alice now has “shrink sense” which allows the player to see invisible paths and secrets that were invisible before.  There are special flowers in the game known as “shrinking violets” which shrink sense can be used to heal any damage done to Alice while in combat while showing hidden paths or rooms.

The new "Hysteria Mode" offers a last chance survival when Alice's health is low. She can take no damage and her weapon damages doubles.

The new “Hysteria Mode” offers a last chance survival when Alice’s health is low. She can take no damage and her weapon damages doubles.

And if the graphics weren’t outstanding enough in the first game, the environments, color, and open space in Madness Returns are breathtaking:  Giant slugs in an oasis of a garden garnished in shrinking violets and rainbow snail shells, an underwater adventure teeming with electric jellyfish,  a fleshy kingdom with zombified card guards and walls penetrated by the Red Queen’s tentacles, and much more.  Every level is unique.  There are a total of six long chapters with plenty of puzzles, but the mini-games left me mad as a hatter.  There’s one in particular that left a bad taste in my mouth, and that was the Voodoo Doll Head in-level game that is REQUIRED to pass that particular level.  As colorful as it is, it’s annoying and doesn’t add anything to the game but actually takes away from it.  My mood quickly changed from glee to morbid frustration in seconds.  The other mini-games and puzzles are OK with the best one being the Radula Rooms where Alice’s only goal is to destroy all enemies and survive while a disgruntled White Rabbit and Mad Hatter look on.  So to clarify:

Radula_Room_Battle_and_Survival_challenge

Magic tea room with floating china while fighting to the death? Yes, please.

228px-Amr_the_dollhouse_61

Annoying, frustrating mini-game that makes me want to throw myself into a meat grinder? Nope.

So, the overall gameplay for Madness Returns is solid and so much more enjoyable than the first game, save for the one particular mini-game.  But it’s only a mere mole on the face of a masterpiece.

*Spoiler Alert: The following paragraphs contain heavy doses of spoilers.

If I was allowed to spend the entire review just praising the gameplay, I would, but the story and characters also need to be discussed.  The story completely derails from the original Wonderland books, but serves as more of an unofficial sequel.  It’s surprising as it twists and turns but the ending is somewhat anti-climatic.  When the ending leaves the player asking, “Wait, that’s it?”, something went wrong.  I felt no closure, in fact, I wanted to see more.  We see more of Alice’s real-life characters than we do the Wonderland characters.  The story seems to favor and focus on these uninteresting characters like Nurse Witless, Radcliffe, and Nan Sharpe over the Mad Hatter, Red Queen, Cheshire, Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum, Caterpillar, and even the White Rabbit who we never see again except for briefly in the Radula Rooms.  The brief conversation with the Red Queen was one of the most disappointing info dumps I’ve ever seen (Seriously? I went through an entire kingdom massacring card guards just to talk to you for less than three minutes?!).  Alice herself is enjoyable, however.  Smart and quick and never boring with an attractive character design as well (not to sound creepy).

I especially wanted to see more Cheshire Cat. Am I becoming a furry? I think I’m turning into one. Meow.

The story and characters have flaws, big flaws that are confusing yet I still enjoyed the game greatly.  Then at the same time, I also found myself feeling nostalgic and missing the first game.  So what the hell was happening to me?  Was I echoing Alice’s character and spiraling into madness myself?  The answer only came to me after some deep thinking:  Alice: Madness Returns is full of creative, innovative, and intriguing ideas, but they are not organized in a plot that makes sense.  It’s the creativeness that lures people in, such as myself, and it’s the creativeness that gave American McGee such a huge fanbase.  If a little more time was spent re-writing and editing the ending so it wouldn’t feel so rushed, the results would have been much better.  Then there was the next question: Why was I missing the first game so much like it was a long-lost lover?  Then I figured that one out while comparing the two soundtracks (Yes, I took the time to analyze and compare the soundtracks… Don’t judge me).

American McGee’s Alice is true horror. The atmosphere of the first game is much creepier than the second one.  The environments are dark and can be claustrophobic, bleeding out the feeling of helplessness and feeding on fear.  Madness Returns is also creepy, but it feels forced most of the time.  It doesn’t have the “I should play this in the dark” kind of effect.  In fact, while playing through the Hatter’s Domain, I felt like I was playing a steam punk game. As much as I loved the open environments, it conflicts with the tone and did not really add much of a horror factor.  If Madness Returns would have retained the same atmosphere of its predecessor while maintaining the currently improved gameplay, it would have been much more effective.

I also felt like this asshole was going to pop up at some point.

I also felt like this asshole was going to pop up at some point.

But despite the unanswered questions, and choppy and rushed ending, Alice: Madness Returns is a damn good game. The gameplay is remarkable and fun, Wonderland is amazing, and the graphics are superb. The only thing I’m waiting for next is Alice possibly becoming a trilogy to suffice those unanswered questions and plunge us all back into madness.

On a side note, I highly recommend the DLC for dresses with powers and upgraded weapons.  But mostly because playing dress-up is fun.

On a side note, I highly recommend the DLC for dresses with powers and upgraded weapons. But mostly because playing dress-up is fun.

Written by Sarus Vakarian

Sarus is an alien princess training under the best of the MemeLords in a town that is South of Southern Canada. She hates Mass Effect, Invader Zim, Tomb Raider, South Park, and heavy metal. Sarus currently has two Hellhounds under her care. She thoroughly enjoys harassing Butch Hartman on Twitter, and occasionally sits and drinks alcohol on the Girls Got Game Twitch streams with NerdyFriend.
Feel free to add her on Steam under the name: Commander Lara, and on Xbox Live: Not Lara.
Twitter and Instagram: Sarusvakarian

 
 

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