05 June 2012

Game Reviews - Alice Madness Returns



I'm a big fan of the American McGee's Alice so when I got this sequel for my birthday I just had to play it.

So it's once more down the rabbit hole I go

Info

Certificate – 15
Demo available? - No.
Price – about £15 depending on where you look
Version reviewed - Xbox 360
Available on - Xbox 360, PS3 and Steam
Install size on 360 – 4.5 GB
DLC - Yep. More on that later.
Players - 1



The plot

Eleven years ago a horrific fire took Alice’s family from her and left her mind horrifically scarred.

Afterwards she was confined to Rutledge Asylum, where she struggled to confront her demons by slipping further into her fantasy world of Wonderland.

Now, after ten years, she has finally secured her release yet she still bears the heavy psychological burden of that tragic event. With her mind in tatters, she is unable to resolve the fear prompted by her strange memories, dreams, and visions.

Perhaps she’ll do better in Wonderland. She always has.

She travels there, seeking what the “real” world can’t provide: security, knowledge, and the truth about the past. But in her absence, Wonderland too has suffered. Something has gone horribly wrong, and now a great evil is descending upon what once was her beautiful refuge.

Can Alice save Wonderland and herself from the madness that consumes them both?



The Graphics

Those of you looking for the wonderful out of this world magic of Wonderland need look no further....

...but with that comes some extremely disturbing imagery from the mind of American McGee and the twisted individuals of Spicy Horse studios.

Seriously, there is a reason that this game is rated 15. From the updated designs of Wonderlands creatures to the 2d animations between levels depicting Alice's house on fire and her continuing madness this ain't your Disney's Alice thats for sure.

Each level has a distinctive tone to it, from the dark dank streets of London, to the brightness of Wonderlands opening level, to the gothic inspired architecture of the Mad Hatters level and beyond.



Gameplay

First of all there comes the straight forward platforming. Alice can perform mid air twirls and hold out her skirt to make her glide for longer. Mix in some air currents, mushrooms for high jumps, special level orientated switches and invisible platforms for some much needed variation...

Wait a minute....invisible platforms?

Yep that's what I said. Early on in the game Alice consumes the Drink Me potion that lets her shrink at will, enabling her to show up special pink platforms that would have otherwise been invisible for a limited time. This also enables her to show up hidden messages and entrances to find collectibles.

With the collectibles there are hidden memories to find which adds more backstory to the game and potions to collect that unlock extra concept art for you to look at. There are also teeth to collect from enemies and boxes that enable you to upgrade your weapons, making them more powerful and with some give them more range.

The weapons are a vorpal blade that deals very quick strikes to the enemy, the pepper grinder that enables you to shoot over long distances, a white rabbit clockwork bomb that you can set off to explode on a timer, a hobby horse that is slow to strike but deals out heavy damage and a tea-pot cannon that deals out splash damage.



With each enemy comes a different way of defeating them and when you are surrounded by various enemies you have to use all of these weapons to good effect to defeat them all.

If you lose all but one of your roses, which is how this game shows your health, you can switch to hysteria mode which makes the screen all black and white and makes you deal out more damage.

And the enemies vary from weird black sludge dolls head creatures to samurai wasps to black and red zombie cards men. Most of the doll designs will leave you thoroughly creeped out.

There are also various bonus levels dotted here and there from a side scrolling shoot em up, a 2d platformer and a level which will literally make your head roll.

Best Weapon/Dress?

My most favourite weapon has to be the hobby horse.

With the ability to knock back most enemies giving you a much needed rest and most of the harder enemies can only be defeated with this. There's a great light effect following the eyes and on the third strike of the hobby horse combo you get a roaring horses neigh which never gets old.

In the game Alice starts off with her standard blue dress whenever she enters Wonderland, but later on it changes depending on the level. My favourite of these has to be the Gothic Mad Hatter dress.



DLC

Some versions of the game come with an unlockable code for the original Alice game or you can buy it on its own.

With the DLC you get more powerful forms for each weapon that have extra abilities depending on what you choose. For example the hobby horse is now a skeletal form and gives you quarter of a rose back for each hit you connect with an enemy.

You also get extra dresses that give you even more abilities. My favourite one of these is the red and white Knight dress.



Trivia

Unlike most interpretations of Alice, who have blonde hair and blue eyes, the American McGee's Alice has brown hair and green eyes. This might be a reference to the real-life Alice Liddell, who has dark hair and was the inspiration of the original Alice character.

Alice's necklace is the Omega symbol, which is commonly used to represent the end of something. It's possible that it's supposed to represent that Alice is fighting to end her insanity.

In Chapter 4, there is a skeleton set up as a reference to Raz from Psychonauts. Tim Schafer, who was the head producer on Psychonauts, is specifically named in the Special Thanks section of the credits.



Final thoughts?

There are certainly some amazing designs and the story is extremely well told if a little disturbing.

The really disappointing thing about this though is that it just goes on for too long. You end up being very bored of the level you are playing about 3 quarters of the way through and the only thing that left me not putting the controller down was that I wanted to see what happened next story wise and what new dress Alice was going to wear.

This does get extremely formulaic too. Play normal Alice in London, enter Wonderland in blue dress then a third into the level change to that levels specific dress. There are the bonus levels to break things up a bit but they aren't enough.

Also the same old enemies keep coming up again and again. There's only so many times you can defeat a certain enemy without getting bored of it.

My Advice?

So if you're a fan of American McGee or if you fancy a half decent platformer for the 360 this must be played.

Otherwise I would give it a miss.

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