Review: Alice – Madness Returns
Its time for another trip into Lewis Carroll’s Wonderland, only this time things have a seemingly darker edge. Lets jump down the rabbit hole again and see what weird and wonderful things await!!
The first thing that struck me when starting out in Alice: Madness Returns was just how refreshing it was for the main protagonist to be female. A quick glance at my gaming shelf and a pattern arises fairly quickly; Halo, Call of Duty, Battlefield, Mass Effect…..in all of these games I’m a gun wielding, male superhero tasked with saving this world (or others) from certain destruction. So, as I set out on my quest towards Wonderland from the dark and dingy Victorian London where the game starts out, I did so with a feminine bounce in my step.
As I touch upon there, the game starts out with Alice in London, and acts as a very brief introduction to the controls. This section of the game is used very much as an initial introduction to Alice, and involves some very basic ‘follow X to point Y’ tasks for the game to progress, and even at this early stage the graphical style that is adopted in the game stands out. Sure, previous graphical powerhouses like Gears of War and Crysis 2 are not going to be quaking in their boots here, but Alice has a certain charm and appeal thanks to its visuals that certainly contribute to the overall success of the game. Though its not until Alice gets to Wonderland (shortly into the game) that things really start to gather pace….
As Alice attempts to get her life back on track, after her spell in an asylum following the death of her family in a house fire, it isn’t long before she is greeted by a rather malnourished looking Cheshire Cat, and your quest into Wonderland begins in earnest.
In the early stages, it plays out like quite a cutesy, colourful platformer, with brightly coloured mushrooms to propel you to the higher platforms above. The grass is a vivid green, the flowers are both colourful and plentiful. I had to do a quick check on the box to make sure I DID see that ’18′ rating certificate….
…..and sure enough, it wasn’t long until Alice is granted access to her first weapon, the wonderfully named Vorpal Blade, which I think would be better described as an ‘already blood stained Butcher’s Knife’….
It isn’t long until the first batch of foes comes to do away with Alice, and keeping up with the visual style in the game, these enemies are varied in style, if not in the way that they attack Alice. From screws with wings (fly like) to masses of black goo with freaky masks on, its down to you to decide how best to despatch of the enemies. As the game progresses you are given access to more weapons, all charmingly rendered including a pepper grinder (machine gun), a toy horse/unicorn (think Gravity Hammer from Halo) through to the grenade launcher.
The combat mechanics work quite well actually, and you are able to lock on to specific targets and either despatch them up close using the Vorpal Blade, or take them down from distance using the Pepper Grinder. Despatched enemies leave behind teeth that Alice can collect and use to upgrade her weapons even further.
Whilst the combat does play a part, at its heart Alice Madness Returns is a platformer, and you’ll spend many an occasion just missing out on the next floating rock / floating playing card / floating domino piece (you get the idea), despite being armed with Alice’s ability to jump, double jump and glide. Its all controlled nice and smoothly, however a small gripe is that sometimes the way ahead isn’t overly obvious.
There are also plenty of hidden areas / sections / collectibles that will play a huge part in adding longevity to the game, especially when you consider that there are four difficulty levels ranging from Easy to Nightmare. I played the game on Normal for my first playthrough, and still found some combat and jumping sections quite tricky at times…
Throughout the game you will also encounter various ‘mini games’ that are great for a brief distraction from the main story. These mini games range from obstacle courses and chess puzzles, and again fit perfectly into the style of the game really nicely.
To round things up, I’ll be honest and say that Alice Madness Returns was not particularly on my gaming radar, nor was I expecting too many great things from it. However, whilst it is far from perfect, I have to admit that I actually really enjoyed it.
Sure, some sections can feel a little repetitive (jump around, shoot Bolterflies, pepper the odd Snout etc), and graphically its far from perfect at times, but there’s enough charm, variation and style here to make it a nice change from the aforementioned ‘man saves universe with guns’ theme that tends to be the ‘go to’ option for gaming developers these days.
It has a great artistic style, good replayability due to the difficulty levels and secret areas/collectibles, good combat mechanics, and given that the original Alice is bundled in with all new copies of the game (or available as DLC) is a title that offers good value, and well worth a look if you’re looking for a fun, pick up and play title.