Alice is back and beautiful.
Ten years ago, long before dark, emo, or gothic were in high fashion, came along an action/adventure, third person hack and slash, platforming shooter game called American McGee’s Alice (AMA).
Famously using the quake III engine to new heights AMA, boasted dark atmospheric insane level design the likes of which no one had seen before. Also AMA is arguably the influence on all the permeations we see today of the Dark Wonderland in comics and films.
Jump back to the present and we now have : Madness Returns (AMR). Still made by Spicy Horse and American Mcgee, still a mish-mosh of action adventure platformer third person shooter hack and slash. AMR is an unbelievable treat for the eyes and ears, giving us once again (this time with the Unreal Engine) marvels the likes of which we have possibly only dreamt. Unfortunately it isn’t quite as much of a treat for the hands with most of the platforming elements.
AMR, as you have probably guessed, is a hard game to classify into one genre, and as such can be a big of a mixed bag [of nuts].
Starting out you’ll most likely notice two things, ’s hair, and the amazing artistic style of the game.
It’s easy to believe a significant amount of resources went into the madness that is ’s Hair. In some ways it’s almost too good and can be distracting, it flows, it responds very easily to wind or gravity and movement or momentum. It’s not always perfect but when you stop for a second at one of the games impossible vistas over looking an equally impossible cliff back dropped by a triple impossible town or new location and you see ’s hair whipping in the wind across her face… Well needless to say the effect is stunning.
But its not just the hair, the super stylized art is so brilliant that it’s unfair to explain or show in screenshots or game play footage and still do it any justice at all. Keep in mind this is a PC review, bearing that, the game is visually the definition of awesome. It invokes the feeling of awe. Again it isn’t completely without fault and sometimes will fall to the errors of the limits of today’s technology, but it’s so good saying things like that is really grasping at straws.
The sound, writing and voice acting of AMR are quite good with the writing being a little thin as this journey begins (necessarily) to deviate more from the original fiction. The music is mostly ambient instrumental songs, which feels like a good choice as to not distract from the visuals. A larger fault could be that the battle music sounds very similar to battle music from other games (it weirdly reminds me of God of War) and even that brief second of disconnect from the atmosphere of AMR is extremely unfortunate. Once you are actually fighting however music will be the last thing on your mind.
The combat in AMR is surprisingly diverse, interesting, and even fun! has some pretty slick moves, dodging, blocking, shrinking, melee, shooting and so on. Some enemies have weak spots or attack patterns that, on higher difficulties, at least, you will need to learn and exploit. The system all in all does a great job of not becoming mind numbing.
While this game truly is a diamond, it’s not without its flaws.
While you will be spending time solving logic puzzles, fighting, shrinking to reveal secret paths, collecting teeth to upgrade memories, collecting bottles, shooting pig snouts to open new paths or collectables, you will also be spending a lot of time navigating jumping puzzles or platforming.
Easily the weakest part of the game, it isn’t horrible, but it is in such a glaring contrast in quality to the rest of the game that it is detracting from the overall feel of the game.
Like the original AMA, AMR’s movement and camera controls are loose, sometimes not as responsive, and sometimes too responsive. Jumping can at first feel very inaccurate and the triple jump hovering system will take some getting used to. (I’m going to step out of the review for a second and just say that the first time Mario was in full 3D for Mario 64, I felt like I had to learn to jump all over again. AMR reminds me in some ways of that experience, feel free to take that input or leave it)
To sum it all up, Alice: Madness Returns has an incredible art style, fun combat, at least decent to good sound and story and writing. But the platforming and general control looseness do knock the game soundly down from Masterpiece to great. After ten years of waiting it might be hard to accept that AMR isn’t as good as it could be, but its still a fun satisfying adventure that any fan of the original is sure to enjoy thoroughly.