American McGee’s Alice was met with a significant amount of praise upon it’s launch back in 2000, but more important for the game was the consumer response. Quickly developing a cult following, the fans of the original game pined for a sequel for over a decade, but now that follow-up is here in the aptly named Alice: Madness Returns.
It would seem that the Platform genre is a dying breed these days. Once the dominant format of story presentations and licensed products, even the genre stalwarts have begun moving closer to their aspirations of becoming ‘adventure’ games. It could be argued that the only truly progressive 3D Platform games on this generation of consoles so far has been the Italian pioneer himself in the Super Mario Galaxy series. That is of course, until Alice: Madness Returns came along.
Now, Alice: Madness Returns doesn’t redefine the rules of the genre like Mario’s aforementioned journey through the stars, but it does dress it all up with an adult aesthetic. Alice: Madness Returns is a whimsical adventure through a world created from madness; its equal parts intrigue and horror. The game plays as a Super Mario style Platform game, with the position and momentum gameplay taking precedence, but the structure has more in common with Prince of Persia: The Forgotten Sands: a linear structure providing enough intrigue around every corner to create a desire to see just what each new room has to offer. The game does of course feature just the right amount of switch puzzles and navigational tasks to offer more challenge than a simply A-to-B jaunt, and the combat is also surprisingly well implemented.
Lifted wholesale from The Legend of Zelda: Wind Waker, the combat system includes long range and melee weaponry, as well as dodge manoeuvres, bombs and a few other surprises. As the player progressing through the game, new enemies will be met which demand a different set of tactics: some may need to be shot at long range before charging at them with your knife, while there are others with which the timing is more crucial for defeat than which attacks are used.
The visual design of Alice: Madness Returns is undoubtedly the highlight, with the aesthetic changing drastically as time progresses, and several occasions in which the artists have clearly let their minds run wild, with all sorts of interesting and obscure machinations. While the game’s intro sequence is filled with blood and violence, the game itself is often more psychedelic than psychotic in it’s appearance.
The Cheshire cat acts as both a story teller and a guide throughout the game, offering hints and tips as well as being one of the most prominent and colourful characters. A number of further individuals are met throughout the adventure, some more memorable than others.
Despite any preconceptions gamers may have as to what kind of game Alice: Madness Returns is, the game is a thoroughly enjoyable Platform experience. It’s a step aside from the run-of-the-mill adventure game that’s currently en vogue, and though it’s still linear, it’s more readily willing to challenge the player than the thrill-ride that many games have become. It’s equally as entertaining as these games, but with an agenda designed for the knowing gamer.