Alice: Madness Returns Review by Sashamorning

23 Jun 2011 20 Jan 2020
91 16 29
Lewis Carroll's Alice in Wonderland is one of those stories that has been interpreted in several different ways over the years. From the Disney cartoon to the classic Jefferson Airplane song to the Johnny Depp Disney "sequel" (and with several made-for-TV movies in the middle), we've been fascinated by the tale of the young girl who follows the white rabbit down his hole into Wonderland.

And, much like Keanu Reeves follows the White Rabbit in The Matrix, this journey down the rabbit hole isn't anything that we might expect.

In 2000, American McGee's Alice took us into the mind of our heroine, shattered after a fire destroyed her house and her family and left her institutionalized for ten years in an asylum, with only her stuffed rabbit for company. It was from this state that she wandered back into Wonderland in order to rebuild the shattered fragments of her sanity. A critical success both for its plot and graphics (for its time), that game spawned a cult following, and many of us waited for years for a sequel.

It's finally arrived.

Alice: Madness Returns takes place shortly after its predecessor, with Alice still trying to regain her sanity while slipping back into Wonderland. This time she's also trying to put the pieces of her life together, in order to determine what exactly happened to her family.

The game takes us on an adventure through many of the familiar parts of the story: squaring off with the March Hare and the Dormouse ("Feed your head," as Grace Slick once crooned), the all-too-calm underwater depths of the Walrus and the Carpenter, the Eastern backdrop of the Caterpillar's mountain and, of course, the realm of the Queen of Hearts.

The gameplay itself is solid, if a tad frustrating at times. The game itself plays as a cross between a hack 'n slash and a platformer. Alice has several weapons at her disposal: her Vorpal Blade, her Pepper Grinder (the Victorian equivalent of a Tommy Gun), her Teapot Cannon, and her Hobby Horse for close melee attacks. Between combats, Alice must traverse large spans of the pieces of Wonderland by jumping and twirling her way in and out of danger.

The production design is gorgeous to look at. The worlds are each unique and have their own peculiar flavor. Parts of the world are rich and vibrant, while others are dull and drab, each reflecting the particular mood of the realm. Alice herself is a sight. Her dress flutters and her hair flies around as she floats from platform to platform to thin air. When she dies, she disintegrates into butterflies in an effect that would seem magical if we didn't have to rewind and replay that segment.

On the other hand, the levels themselves can be a bit repetitive... the same level design with new skins. What keeps the game fresh is the plot. As you travel through the game, you'll find memories that Alice has had tucked away within the recesses of her psyche, and these memories help shine a light and give her clarity. Each time she survives a level, she regains a bit more sanity, and therefore has more health with which to fight her foes.

EA has released the original game as a downloadable extra, but as a trick to we achievement hunters, the earlier game is worth 100 of the total 1000 gamerscore. Download codes (Online Passes) come with each new copy of Alice: Madness Returns. If you buy it used, you'll have to fork over an additional 800 MSP. While the game itself is worth playing, it is disappointing that EA has released essentially a straight port from the original PC version. No polish has been applied, and what looked fresh and vibrant 11 years ago now appears rather aged. Furthermore, the game is not playable on its own; you cannot download it and play it without having the sequel.

Personally, I think this is a 5-star game, but I'm biased. The low replayability hurts it a bit, as does EA's decision to include the original game in the full 1000 gamerscore, while requiring a download code to obtain the game. Therefore, I'll knock it down a half-star, even though I would still highly recommend taking this trip back into madness.

Back down the rabbit hole we go...
DaShAgThey should've made the original Alice an XBLA game, hell they would even make more money that way too. Anyways, love the review and I still want this game ! +1
Posted by DaShAg on 23 Jun 11 at 12:11
SashamorningYeah... sincerely disappointed with the port. Maybe at some point they'll code it so that everyone can download it, but not today. When the sales for MR die down, they'll probably see value in doing that.
Posted by Sashamorning on 23 Jun 11 at 12:14
vSullyGreat review.
Posted by vSully on 23 Jun 11 at 12:14
The Onyx KidDownvoters, I would LOVE to hear your rationale for why you downvoted. What, was this game not Call-of-Duty-y and Killstreak-y enough for you?
Posted by The Onyx Kid on 23 Jun 11 at 16:23
SanadaI too would love to see why people down vote such a good review. They don't want to include a reason, because they really don't have one!
Posted by Sanada on 23 Jun 11 at 17:35
SashamorningLooking back, I see a few grammatical errors that I'll fix when I get home. That must be it. My bad.
Posted by Sashamorning on 23 Jun 11 at 18:01
True XenoBladeI thinks a fantastic review. Gives someone like me who has no idea what the game is about or how its played a in depth and detailed idea from story to game play. Good job man keep it up!

Those down-voters are just jealous of your high gamerscore wink
Posted by True XenoBlade on 23 Jun 11 at 20:53
ShinUkyoExcellent review! I agree with everything you said, aside from the age showing so clearly on the original Alice game. I made sure to play it before starting Madness Returns, as not to be spoiled by the advances made in the sequel, and I think it's just as magnificent as when it released. As for the down-votes, well, there are serial down-voters on this site. Dave knows this all too well, as they troll the hell out of him (and everyone else, for that matter.) I've only written two solutions in total, myself, and each of them received a couple down-votes the instant it was posted. -_-;;
Posted by ShinUkyo on 23 Jun 11 at 21:21
vSullyDown votes should require commenting.
Posted by vSully on 23 Jun 11 at 23:30
BrumtownManglerI too took the time to play the original first before the new game and it did indeed add to my enjoyment and understanding of it as a sequel. Very good of the developers to give the original away with the new game too, otherwise i could of easily overlooked or missed it.

a great review by a gamer who has played both the games through to completion. I personally suspect that your down voters are the same people who put early reviews out without bothering to play the game.
'Sour Grapes' as it were :) +1 from me
Posted by BrumtownMangler on 24 Jun 11 at 16:11
Chakaal StarrSoif you need a dlc to to get the 1000, have the achievements been separated like with what they are discussing in game room
Posted by Chakaal Starr on 24 Jun 11 at 21:58
SashamorningNo, they haven't been separated. Technically it's part of the main game, like the online achievements in NHL 11 are. They require the Online Pass that is free in new copies; else you have to pay extra for the ability to get the extra 100.
Posted by Sashamorning on 24 Jun 11 at 22:00
Chakaal StarrAhh, I was originally thinking of it like Dragon Age DLC like Shale
Posted by Chakaal Starr on 24 Jun 11 at 22:05
HobbesOnFireThese people vote negative, but not brave enough to take centre stage.........must have missed the invite to the tea party.............LOSERS!
On a more constructive note very good review....might have to check this out.
Posted by HobbesOnFire on 25 Jun 11 at 04:46
Grimslinger19Not sure why it's downvoted and I don't care. I like how the weapons Alice utilizes are explained as well as how the gameplay fits in; I like that the story isn't spoiled so that for both games it would still be a new experience to everyone. About the only complaint that I'd have is hysteria isn't explained but that is something gamers should explore on their own I imagine while playing the game.
Posted by Grimslinger19 on 28 Jun 11 at 16:22
DominusTenebraeProbably the best review for the game so far. Much, much better than the a-whole who "wanted to be first" but is in last currently in votes.

For those who have never played the original on PC (and I'm showing my age here), please do that first. Sure the whole $10 thing sucks if you buy it used, but it will make the sequel so much better. I giggled quite a few times as I replayed levels in the first that I had long forgot. The graphics "suck" but it was in 1990-ish Q3 graphics. Pay attention to the story, the voice acting, game play etc. You know, the stuff that is overlooked in today's games. I'm certain you'll enjoy it.

Positive vote.
Posted by DominusTenebrae on 02 Jul 11 at 03:20
Sasha, I doth my cap to you. Every review I read of yours is so full of rich detail and clarity, I must say I envy that. You get (yet another) positive vote from me :)
Posted on 03 Jul 11 at 09:45
x InSoMniA oSpot on review dude, got this game yesterday after reading this review haha +1
Posted by x InSoMniA o on 20 Jul 11 at 07:45
CerocGood review that made the game justice. Correct about the original game (the DLC) being aged and in my opinion, horrible. Luckily the new Alice makes up for her past :)
Posted by Ceroc on 07 Aug 11 at 07:08
Phoenix C64i am not gonna vote down or up, but i can see why ppl. voted negatively. this review didn't use any sort of break down on how much the writer values gameplay/music/graphic/story/achievements which is what i usually expect from a review on this site. also the writer mentions that the gameplay can sometimes be frustrating, but doesn't explain why. for me, this is not reason enough to downvote, but maybe for others it is.
Posted by Phoenix C64 on 10 Oct 11 at 18:42
SpartanWolf 187nice review!
Posted by SpartanWolf 187 on 19 Feb 12 at 10:36
DIMEBOYNo neg vote from me, but the DLC is terrible! No enjoyment to be had there.
Posted by DIMEBOY on 01 Mar 12 at 07:54
SashamorningI would start with the DLC. You'll get the back story, and you'll see a marked improvement in he graphics. Word of warning, though, the difficulty settings are old school. Medium is the new hard.
Posted by Sashamorning on 09 Jun 12 at 20:23
DillionDayGreat review but I feel the graphics are surprisingly bad. Don't get me wrong, I love the steam-punk look but the graphics seem rushed. The cuts scenes are choppy and cheap.
Posted by DillionDay on 30 Aug 12 at 04:23
j wiziteThe DLC is the worst content I’ve ever played!
Posted by j wizite on 20 Sep 20 at 21:31
FreezingCookiesI really enjoyed this DLC. The best art style ive ever seen in a Platformer game. The Clocktown level was my favourite.
Posted by FreezingCookies on 03 Feb at 17:04