Sunday, September 4, 2011

Alice: Madness Returns Review

Platform(s): Playstation 3, X-Box 360, PC, Apple
Developer(s): Spicy Horse
Publisher(s): Electronic Arts
Genre: Action/Adventure, Platform
Rating: M for Mature

Ten years ago I learned about a game that fueled my love of twisted fairy tales as well as action platform games. American Mcgee released Alice in 2001 but it was only for the PC much to my dismay. Then just recently, EA games released the sequel Alice: Madness Returns. The story picks up after the end of the first game with Alice now living in an orphanage in Victorian London after being released from Rutledge Asylum. At the orphanage, she is under the care of a psychiatrist named Doctor Angus Bumby, who uses hypnotism to help his child patients to forget their harsh memories. Still haunted by her family's death in the house fire ten years ago, Alice continues to have hallucinations. Sent to the local chemist to get medicine, Alice wanders after a white cat and has more hallucinations, witnessing asylum Nurse Witless transform into the Jabberwock. And this is where the games madness begins.

The Story
Alice: Madness Returns version of Wonderland is a twisted malevolent landscape of its former self. Upon arriving, Alice encounters the Cheshire Cat who informs her of a new law ruling Wonderland, this time it’s from the outside world. Alice must stop it and restore Wonderland to normal. After learning of Wonderland’s plight, I guided Alice through the beautiful yet strange landscape. I found it pretty easily to navigate. Once I picked up my first weapon, the Vorpal Blade, found in the remains of the Jabberwock, my first enemies appeared. The game’s combat system is fairly simple. Alice targets the closest enemy when attacking; however, I am able to manually target my foes as well. The manual targeting set-up is similar to Darksiders placing a black border around the screen keeping it fixed while I moved Alice around. I can cycle through enemies with ease, keeping the action moving. Madness Returns’ offers lots of platforming which becomes a larger part of the game as you traverse through Wonderland’s areas. I found this to play out more in later stages and since there no ledge grabbing like in most current titles, I had to make my jumps count. However, this is compensated by Alice ability to triple jump and float. The game also has lots of secrets and hidden areas which can be accessed using Alice’s ability to shrink. Alice’s other ability is her Hysteria mode that she enters when her health is low. In this mode, she is invincible and her attack strength is doubled.

The Pros
The combat mechanics are simplistic enough for anyone new to the game or to the type of game play. Alice’s primary weapon, the Vorpal Blade, attacks with lightning speed which quickly finishes off weaker enemies. There are also long range weapons in the form of a gattling-gun firing Pepper Grinder and Teapot Launcher which fire boiling tea at your enemies. I like the fact that I can switch between close and long range on the fly. The platforming element is very basic, a kind of throwback to its early days where timing is everything. I was pleased with the level designs and the disturbing atmosphere of each world which truly represented the madness of Wonderland. Also, you get to access to the first game either with a redeemable code or purchasing it for $9.99.

The Cons
Before I mentioned the simplicity of the game’s combat mechanic, but it couldn’t hurt to have a little variety in Alice attacks. I found myself button mashing the whole way. True, there are moments where I had to strategize to defeat certain enemies but I would’ve liked to be able to vary my attacks rather just simply swing the weapon wildly. The game does glitch a few times. Sometimes my long range weapon remained deployed even though I had switched the Vorpal Blade. My mayor problem was the camera especially when using the long range weapons. The camera is not always fixed behind Alice and in some instances this infraction ruined my jumps during a platforming section. I found myself having to adjust the camera before and sometimes during a jump or when using my long range weapons. The umbrella Alice uses for defense is only deployable when in targeting mode. I would’ve liked more freedom with this.

Despite its faults, Alice: Madness Returns is a good action platform game in the tradition of Darksiders and the God of War series. Its disturbing cut scenes keep the story moving which may be confusing unless you’re familiar with the Lewis Carroll story. I like how the game’s storyline switches between Wonderland and the real world, which has an atmosphere relevant to Silent Hill. Exploration of both worlds will keep you interested as well as the secrets found using Alice’s shrink ability. Fans of the first game will have fun with the sequel. If you haven’t played the first game but are looking for an action platform to kill some time then pick up this game. Though I have not played the first game, I like Madness Returns. It is a bizarre twist on a classic tale told like never before.

Final Score
Alice: Madness Returns gets a 3 out of 5.

-Brian M.

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