Game Rant’s William Case reviews Alice: Madness Returns
It’s been nearly eleven years since we’ve seen Alice return to the world of the Mad Hatter, Cheshire cat, and dreaded Vorpal Blade. Stepping out of the insane asylum into the stark and decrepit London streets now, still struggling with the who started the fire that killed her parents all those years ago is something that one can never truly get over. Slipping back into madness, Wonderland is never too far away.
Alice: Madness Returns takes what its predecessor created back in 2000 and expands on it exponentially, giving Alice the ability to solve her family’s murder while also exploring a new — and imaginative — Wonderland, but also the streets of London as well. It’s a game that builds on the foundation from both the original and the books of Lewis Carroll but also tries to take advantage of today’s notion of expansive worlds and larger-than-life adventures (and in Wonderland, what else would you expect?), The problem is unfortunately, madness sets in halfway through, and the message is somewhat lost.
A lot of what made Alice such a fantastic character in her first installment is her quick-action combat skills and spry movements, and here in Alice: Madness Returns, it’s been kicked up a notch. Combat is one of the most pivotal aspects in Wonderland, letting you seamlessly strike with a Hobby Horse (a new and imposing weapon), to slash another with her Vorpal Blade, only to finish them all with the Pepper Shaker. Alice’s ability to dodge and weave are great in the clutch, and will help especially during exploration.
For not only can she attack with the greatest of ease, but she can do many a thing, like triple-jumps, sending her with ease from one end of the map to the other. Floating and shrinking make a comeback, giving the player ample chances to search all the hidden crevices of Wonderland. Not only that, a new ability — aptly named Shrink Sense — will give Alice the ability to find hidden messages or paths that only her diminutive persona can go after.
Unfortunately, none of these abilities carry over into London where Alice will end up at the beginning and end of each chapter. A stark contrast between Wonderland, London is full of sour men and women, grey Tim Burton-esque buildings, and hints that lead Alice into Wonderland, shaping parts of the world as you go. Jumping between worlds is striking and just as powerful for the player as it is for Alice. Wonderland is huge and full of fanciful things that beg to be explained, but never really are. It’s all of Lewis Carroll’s ideas come to life with a hint of LSD.
Speaking to LSD, that’s where things tend to unravel for the game in terms of visual delights. There are moments where the game just pauses while it loads textures or the next area without notice, or pixels will just disappear… forever. It’s not something that really takes away from the story, but it can be dangerous when jumping platforms and there’s a pause for loading textures.
And while the story is rather interesting and the game is fairly extensive, gameplay in Alice: Madness Returns gets ho-hum around the middle of the road. Alice’s voice actor can’t bring any life to the character, causing most of the high-impact moments to fall by the wayside. And while most of the well-known characters from the series make a return (Mad Hatter, Caterpillar, The White Rabbit, etc.), they only help prolong the inevitable boredom that’s coming around the corner. It doesn’t get any better as the soundtrack for the game (especially the combat music) is as repetitive as Polly wanting a cracker.
There’s also something to be said about Wonderland’s size: in that there’s a lot to look at, but not all of it is as traversable as it should be. Spicy Horse brings back the forgone device “The invisible wall,” blocking Alice from jumping over obviously jumpable walls, shrinking down to fit through cracks. They keep it overly linear even though their world (and map) is so grand that players can’t help but look to the other side of that wall and go “what’s over there?”
Alice: Madness Returns is geared for players that loved the original, all the while supplementing twisted Lewis Carroll fans at heart. There are some beautiful moments, flawless transitions, and a lingering sense of finality, but it unfortunately falls short of being as powerful a game as its predecessor. Between its awkward graphical ‘insanities,’ its unfortunate ability to kick players out of the experience, and doldrums heading towards the end, maybe Alice can accept it but it might be hard for players to.
Alice: Madness Returns is out now for the Xbox 360, PS3 and PC.