Alice: Madness Returns - There's a Hole in My Soul!

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Alice: Madness Returns is a highly twisted take on Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland. It is a game not meant for children, unless of course you want to give those kids nightmares. It’s a solid action adventure bolstered by a phenomenal art style that unfortunately misses the must-buy mark due to repetition and frequent bouts of frustration.

Madness Returns takes place immediately after the events of the first game, American McGee’s Alice. Even though she’s discharged from the asylum, Alice is still haunted by the visions of her family that mysteriously burnt to their death. This obviously has manifested itself in rather unpleasant ways and so Alice must reach deep down in her troubled mind to unfudge the situation.

You won't like her when she's angry

You won't like her when she's angry

 

Gameplay in Madness Returns largely consists of platforming, combat and minor puzzle solving. Now platforming basically involves jumping from one place to another occasionally aided by certain air vents that propel her higher. You’ll have to pull levers, stand on pressure pads and indulge in a ton of time based jumps, some of which may raise your blood pressure significantly. Unlike her peers (you know Lara Croft, Prince of Persia etc) Alice cannot grab onto ledges so if players misjudge a jump, you’ll have only a few seconds to reach safety using her double or triple jump ability. For ledges that are too far away to scale with even double jumps, Alice can glide all the way there simply by holding down the jump key. Platforming when used sparingly in games is somewhat of a respite from the action but in Madness Returns it does feel a tad overused.

The other facet of gameplay in Alice: Madness Returns is combat that’s as fast as it is brutal. You’ll start the game off with the Vorpal Blade, a sharp knife capable of cutting enemies down swiftly and effectively. As you collect teeth (yes teeth) throughout the game, you’ll be able to upgrade the blade’s power and speed making it a real boon in combat, especially when it comes to fast moving enemies. Besides the blade, you have two ranged weapons, one that fires pepper and the other that unleashes globules of boiling hot tea. Umm yeah.

Free falling

Free falling

 

And finally you have a wooden horse, the game’s equivalent of a giant hammer that’s capable of shaking up even the toughest enemies. While combat is satisfying in itself it isn’t as fluid as say the one found in the Devil May Cry  series where players can seamlessly switch between ranged and melee weapons pulling off some insane combos in the process. If anything, the ranged weapons become somewhat of a pain to use simply because the game’s lock on system is a bit broken. It’ll snap to targets you don’t want it to and it won’t automatically target the highest priority making fights that include both ranged and close enemies an utter pain. Unlike most games where you stay locked on to a target for as long as you hold the Focus button, this one makes you press it once to lock on after which you have to press it again to sort of un-lock.

Enemies in Alice come in different shapes and sizes. You have the ranged enemies that’ll attack from a distance, weak grunts who’ll come at you in droves, bosses who will only get damaged once you penetrate their defenses with a powerful weapon and so on.  Every enemy is some sort of twisted take on the realm you’re in so during the underwater levels you’ll encounter hostile crabs, sharks and other sea creatures while in the Oriental themed one, you’ll encounter wasp Samurais and other such oddities. While 90% of the game is broken up into combat and platforming, a small segment is dedicated to exploration and gorgeously designed 2D environments where the game plays out like a side-scroller. I wish more of these segments were injected into the game.

Being tiny has its advantages

Being tiny has its advantages

 

Carrying all the game’s faults through thick and thin is the game’s wicked style that I personally feel is just plain awesome. You can make out the developers at Spicy Horse have worked their asses off in creating one of the most unique gaming worlds ever. Every dimension, every level has been developed with painstaking detail transforming even the most innocent of objects like teapots into monstrous tools of death and destruction. As and when I got really bored of all the combat and jumping around, the only thing that pushed me forward was the urge to see how the next level would top the one I was currently in. And in that aspect, the game did not disappoint.

The PS3 version of this game looks particularly terrible with low resolution textures, lack of any sort of Anti-Aliasing and generally washed out visuals. Even if you have a mid-range PC, I strongly recommend going in for the PC version as it looks a hundred times better, is more vibrant and offers PhysX support which basically adds a bit of flair to combat. Unfortunately the default mouse and keyboard control scheme is horrible so you’ll have to plug in a gamepad or an Xbox360 controller. 

Epic level design

Epic level design

 

Alice: Madness Returns is a game with a ton of potential that sadly never really peaks. A large part of this lies with the game’s repetitive mission structure that forces players to embark on stupid fetch quests in nearly every level. In a bid to make the game more challenging, developer Spicy Horse piles on a bazillion enemies at a time and since the combat isn’t all that fluid, it becomes more of a chore than a challenge. Still if you can look past these shortcomings, there’s plenty of entertainment to be found in this rather demented but gorgeous action game.


Published Date: Jun 25, 2011 12:13 pm | Updated Date: Jun 25, 2011 12:13 pm