Alice: Madness Returns Review by Darth Bieber

Darth BieberDarth Bieber144,784
18 Jun 2011 18 Jun 2011
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When I was growing up Disney was king. There was no Pixar, there was no Teamwork Animation Studio and there certainly was no Cartoon Network. Hell, I didn't have access to the Disney channel until the mid-nineties and by then I was on an airplane on my way to Germany. Growing up I watched Disney movies. Partly because I was a child and partly because my grandfather was a sound engineer who worked on Snow White and other classic Disney movies of that time. I watched Alice in Wonderland and loved it. I even watched it as a teenager in high school and of course discussed the possible drug references and innuendo that are commonly associated with it. Still, it was an innocent Alice story. Which is why Alice: Madness Begins intrigued me so much.

When the first Alice released I didn't own a computer that could support games. In fact I never have. Call it paranoia, but I believe Skynet will happen. I had heard about it and wanted to play it, however as I said before I was lacking the hardware. A dark and twisted adventure set in Wonderland was at the time a leap away from the norm of gaming. This was the time of bad ass, spikey haired, giant sword wielding warriors and stealthy clones named Snake. Could a little girl really be able to compare with that? So, it got lost to time and under a pile of games.

Fast forward a decade and the announcement for the sequel is made. Once again my interest was piqued, but I did have my reservations. The whole girl as a main character thing usually doesn't hold well for me (WET.....ugh) as well as the 11 years in between games that really concerned me. What really set me on the purchase were two things: one being that the original game could be downloaded and played for free with the purchase of the second game and two being LA Noire. I know, I know LA Noire? Well, every game I have eagerly anticipated so far this year has been a bust and the one I thought would be utter garbage had been my favorite so far. I decided let's try going 2 for 2.

And I will say I am pleasantly surprised yet again. Alice: Madness Returns is a dark, intriguing, well put together action/platformer and I don't even like platforming games! The combat is simple yet satisfying and the platforming sections are simple as well. The difficulty for the platforming does ramp up when it is off the main path and you are going for collectibles, but after a few times of trial and error you are awarded with your goal. The controls feel very natural and fluid and the targeting for long range weapons is well done. Rare is the occasion when I can't or don't initially target exactly what I want. There is even a level up system placed on the weapons. You acquire teeth like red orbs to purchase simple upgrades. Teeth can be found out in the open, by defeating enemies and in containers all around Wonderland.

They even work the mythos of Wonderland into the game very well. You can shrink yourself at anytime and go into shrink sense which gies you the ability to see things that are invisible to a large Alice. This also is a way to access secret areas to find hidden collectibles and teeth. The umbrella the walrus had is used as your primary defense to deflect projectiles back at enemies (sorry kiddies no blocking). Even the way Alice dodges and dies is uniquely Wonderland. She breaks down into blue butterflies. The story is about Alice Liddell, a survivor of a horrible house fire that took her family as she watched as a young child. To cope with this trauma, Alice escapes into her own fractured mind which is the setting of Wonderland. In the first game to make herself whole she must defeat the Red Queen (Queen of Hearts), but in the second game she returns to Wonderland when she tries to forget the past and faces a new foe in The Ruin.

The entire game is a mix of the Wonderland you have seen and probably often imagined with a steam punk kind of edge. This is clearly demonstrated in Hatter's Domain. It is definitely one of the most unique environments I have ever played in. It is the mish mash of these two concepts that truly creates a unique atmosphere where ever you set foot in the game. At points I had a very creepy feeling from just my surrounding areas, as if my childhood memories had been a good way.

And now for some of the drawbacks starting with the original Alice. I am sure in 2000 the game was amazing both graphically and design wise. It doesn't however hold up well against time. Alice's movements are very stiff and with no lock on function you have to swing wildly to hit enemies. Aiming is a joke. It is also very dimly lit. Sometimes it was hard to see around the indoor levels. Also, I had a problem with a save file getting corrupted and freezing my xbox every time I tried loading it up. On long range weapons aiming is a chore and until you get the croquet mallet don't bother with the playing cards as your long range weapon. Onto the sequel; I noticed every now and again that there was shoddy collision detection with your body and the environment. As in a small inch rise of rock from the ground would impede your movement. Not a big deal but an annoyance when much of the other parts of the game are so smooth. The graphics are a bit dated as well. I wasn't sure if this was done intentionally or not. At times it seems like it is done intentionally but in one example, Alice's hair, it seems the opposite.

Alice: Madness Returns is another gem of this year. Actually it is more the diamond in the rough. It doesn't have the graphics budget of a Rockstar game and unlike LA Noire, not everyone on the planet and their grandmother are going to play it. The ones who do though are in for a treat. Especially if they want to stroll on the twisted aide of a fond childhood memory.

Edit: I forgot to mention the most important things....achievements! The achievements are pretty standard for a third person action game. Beat chapters, beat game in different diffixulties, find collectibles, beat certain for with certain weapon, beat certain for without taking damage and so forth. They is though a definite degree of ease and difficulty throughout them though. Such as beating the game on Nightmare mode and only using Alice's Hysteria Mode once through an entire playthrough. There are also chapter based achievements and a beating the game achievement for the original Alice which are not independent they actually tie into the 1k of Madness Returns so if you rent it you will have to pay $10 to download it.
LoneDireWolfessDude, have you ever even READ the original Alice stories by Lewis Carroll? Disney absolutely mutilated it and covered it with sugar and gumdrops just like they still do with everything else. Alice's story was never really entirely a happy one to begin with, so in a sense, these games are more like the original, rather than polar opposites. I like Disney movies, but one has to admit that once you get older and find out what most of those stories are really about, they kind of ruin it.
Posted by LoneDireWolfess on 18 Jun 11 at 08:00
Darth BieberVery true. And yes I have as all the Oz stories are completely messed up. I wanted to go with the Disney analogy as it is the best to use as a contrast. You know this ain't your mom's Alice in Wonderland kind of thing? It is the Grimm Brothers not your Hans Christian Anderson type of story with a sprinkle more insanity and an infusion of steam punk for extra taste. And I don't know about ruin it. I think you have to take it as a child it was wonderful to see the Disney version and then when you become older to learn the real version and actually be able to understand it and appreciate it. Either way, not as bad as the remakes they make nowadays...can I get an amen? Haha.
Posted by Darth Bieber on 18 Jun 11 at 08:24
JyejitsuInteresting read :3 Thumbs up mate!
Posted by Jyejitsu on 18 Jun 11 at 10:28
Darth BieberThanks, I do appreciate it.
Posted by Darth Bieber on 18 Jun 11 at 13:57
littlelee79Good review but what are the achievements like?
Posted by littlelee79 on 18 Jun 11 at 17:30
Darth BieberI will make an edit I realized I forgot to add those in.
Posted by Darth Bieber on 18 Jun 11 at 18:05
ONE TRICK P0NYI agree, a Great suprise of a Game! Although, I don't like that you need to play the DLC for the few final achievements. Nice review! Thanks.
Posted by ONE TRICK P0NY on 18 Jun 11 at 20:44
ONE TRICK P0NYI agree, a Great suprise of a Game! Although, I don't like that you need to play the DLC for the few final achievements. Nice review! Thanks.
Posted by ONE TRICK P0NY on 18 Jun 11 at 20:46
Darth BieberThanks trick and yes if you rent it you have to pay to complete the game. I hope this game gets enough attention to warrant a sequel or maybe get to are whatever else American McGee and Spicy Horse have up their sleeves.
Posted by Darth Bieber on 18 Jun 11 at 22:36
DominusTenebraeI am going to take aim with some of your comments about the Original AM:Alice. Having played it on the PC when it originally came out, I have to admit it is PERFECT in representation.

First off: it was not designed to be played with a controller, something you fail to mention, so aiming will be a "joke" since you would have aimed with a mouse. The game was built on the Q3 engine, which was the Unreal 3 engine of it's time. Your other complaints of a lack of a lock-on function, Alice's "stiff" movements, and long-range aiming really bring into light the fact that you never even played AM: Alice.

Second: you stated your save file got corrupted. I played the game from start to finish (with a minor venture in the sequel) and never experienced this corruption.

Third: you state not to worry about the playing cards and focus on using the croquet mallet. Now I have to even question whether you finished the game. And as of this time (9:10 pm 6/18/2010) you haven't. HOW are you reviewing a game that you've not finished and admitted to not playing on the PC? The FREEZE weapon is what you'll use most of the game along with the Jack & Ball, Dead Time Watch, and the Blunderbuss.

Finally: AM: Alice was one of the most overlooked games of the early 2000s. American McGee did a wonderful job in the level design, game play, story and voice acting. It is definitely a classic in my book. I really feel that you should go back and re-review AM: Alice when you finish it & the sequel. Negative vote.
Posted by DominusTenebrae on 19 Jun 11 at 01:20
Darth BieberI will take the negative vote because I appreciate the candor and honesty. I also was planning on going back to the original after I finished the sequel. I played most of the way through on a dummy account to see if I wanted to add it to my card. You can't always troll someone's gamecard and use that against them. But before this gets negative thank you again for the input and while trying the original I will try to see it your way. Thanks again.
Posted by Darth Bieber on 19 Jun 11 at 01:40
DominusTenebraeMultiple facts remain: You reviewed a game before you finished the original or the sequel by your own admission. This has nothing to do with candor or honesty, the fact is at this time you have failed to finish either game. How can you review a game you have not completed? Where is this dummy? I question the dummy on the basis that your original card would be hindered without the fact, (ie you're suck playing the sequel & the original no matter what!!)

As far as the accusation if I'm trolling a gamercard:did you not review a game and it's sequel without completing either?

EDIT: You still have YET to correct the weapon load out on the first game!!!?! Seriously???
Posted by DominusTenebrae on 19 Jun 11 at 05:11
Darth BieberLook Dominus when I have a moment I will cater to your wishes and edit. I promise. I wanted to put an early review up to gain momentum in the game. I think you are taking this a little overboard considering the review is overly positive. And yes you are tolling the gamercard especially since you decided to not only add dates and times. Pardon me if I wanted to put a positive review up for a game that others might miss. Is it perfect? No. And from what it seems you are only riled up by me saying something negative towards the original game. It is my opinion. You loved it good for you but to go into this rather tiring tirade about reviewing before finishing to even post dates and times that I have yet to finish the game......seriously? If that isn't trolling I don't know.
Posted by Darth Bieber on 19 Jun 11 at 05:45
onnovdw@DominusTenebrae: don't be so hard, ofcourse you can review a game without finishing it. Instead of typing these harsh criticism, go review a game yourself...
Posted by onnovdw on 19 Jun 11 at 06:00
Darth BieberThanks for the back up onno
Posted by Darth Bieber on 19 Jun 11 at 06:05
Darth BieberThanks for the back up onno
Posted by Darth Bieber on 19 Jun 11 at 06:48
SuperEboyI think this review would have been better if it focused more on the detail within the game rather than the author's childhood memories and connections to games out of the genre. It personally left a bad taste in my mouth - I like to think that people who play these Alice games are more familiar with it as a work of Lewis Carroll, not the reanimated version of it by Disney. All of these connections to your experiences with a low performing computer, other television networks, and games made by other developers, seemed irrelevant and (while being well-worded) a chore to read. That aside, I felt that a lot was missing when it actually got to the content. Great effort, but as a person who's still excited to play the game (and as a Grim Fairy Tale comic collector and admirer of C.S. Lewis) I feel just as in the dark as before I read this. (P.S. I voted in neither's favor because I felt the effort was there and it's hard to encapsulate anything of Carroll's caliber into a few paragraphs of text.)
Posted by SuperEboy on 19 Jun 11 at 08:10
littlelee79IMO we need early reviews to give a general quality score of a game; too many publishers are getting away with pants games because of the hypy and length of time it takes for the reviews
To surface ( I wish I was warned about duke
Nukum and naughty bear :( ) thumbs up! thanks for the effort!
Posted by littlelee79 on 19 Jun 11 at 12:33
WookieKiller247Good review man, thumbs up.

Is the first game added a preorder exclusive or general content that comes with it? That could make it or break it on me buying it....
Posted by WookieKiller247 on 19 Jun 11 at 13:25
Darth BieberIt is an online pass bonus with purchase of the game new. If you rent Alice: Madness Returns you will have to pay $10 to download. Remember, you will need the disc of Madness Returns to play the original.
Posted by Darth Bieber on 19 Jun 11 at 15:29
Darth BieberIt is an online pass bonus with purchase of the game new. If you rent Alice: Madness Returns you will have to pay $10 to download. Remember, you will need the disc of Madness Returns to play the original.
Posted by Darth Bieber on 19 Jun 11 at 16:14
WookieKiller247Sweet, thanks man.
Posted by WookieKiller247 on 20 Jun 11 at 02:23
Darth BieberNo problem...p.s. love the name wookiekiller yeah buddy.
Posted by Darth Bieber on 20 Jun 11 at 02:56
Chris1984ukFirst off I think you're brave being the first to review a new release. Its a good read, but I value reviews more from people who have finished the story at least.

Second. On the topic of finishing games versus early reviews, I stand on the "At least finish the story" side. Man if people threw up early reviews of Brutal Legend I would have jumped on that game fast. The demo was really fun, but after reading reviews after release I found out about the hidden RTS elements. I dont know how far into the game they are but I reckon an "early review" might not have picked it up.

So in short finish the story before you review!
Posted by Chris1984uk on 21 Jun 11 at 15:01
iksolokosI have to agree on Chris1984uk on this. Anyone who reviews a game should at least finish the story first, just so they have a complete understanding of the entire game. Although it is a good review, well done.
Posted by iksolokos on 23 Jun 11 at 15:08
DominusTenebraeIf I could I would give this a second thumbs down. This review is atrocious and should be removed as the OP has obviously given up. There are far better reviews for this game.
Posted by DominusTenebrae on 02 Jul 11 at 03:13