I never had the chance to play American McGee’s Alice prior to the release of its sequel, but once I heard about it, I was smitten. A dark spin on something formerly fluffy with a fierce female in charge? Yes, please! Once I heard about Alice: Madness Returns, I was stoked, even though I had no idea what the game was going to be like beyond that it might have puzzles and a bit of gore — a delightfully intriguing combination.
New copies of the Xbox 360 version even come with a code to download the original American McGee’s Alice (an 800 MSP value), which can be played through the Alice: Madness Returns menu after downloading. Great! Once it arrived, I started with American McGee’s Alice, but I was getting so sick that I had to stop after just a few short levels. The game’s controls were awkward and the graphics were jerky with clumsy animations. Obviously this was more a symptom of its release era and its port to a console, but it just wasn’t working for me. I started thinking that maybe Alice: Madness Returns wasn’t going to be the game I’d hoped for. I gave up and jumped ahead to the sequel, since the original wasn’t going to be crucial for the story anyway.
From the moment I started Alice: Madness Returns to the final minutes of the end credits, I was enchanted. It was like they took everything I liked about other games, strung them all together, and made a game just for me. The game consists of platforming puzzles interspersed with battles against progressively more complex enemy groups. Madness Returns feels like a natural sequel to its predecessor with a similar, albeit upgraded and smoother, playstyle.
Honestly, I’ve never been a great platformer — something about my spacial awareness is lacking — but this was really enjoyable for me. The only times I felt tedium creeping in around the edges, I realized my own stamina was worn out, and I needed a break from the game. With fresh eyes, the game continued to be delightful. The combat felt natural and, while challenging at times, controlled comfortably; there was no awkwardness in changing weapons or evading attacks. Overall, buttons were mapped well for combat. Most importantly, I felt the pacing of the game was great. Weapons were introduced at a good rate and difficulty increased nicely throughout the chapters.
The graphics actually looked excellent on our SDTV through composite, with only a few portions of the text being hard to read: the captions were crisp and readable, but the collection statistics were hard to read. That said, when we took the 360 upstairs, I didn’t find the graphics that much better hooked up to the HDTV. I did not notice or experience blurry graphics that I’ve seen other reviewers mention.
I’ve also seen complaints about the length of the game, but I really disagree. Each of the five chapters took me several hours to complete, and I felt like it was definitely worth the $45 we spent on the pre-order from Amazon. I don’t think I would have been satisfied with a game that only lasted 10 hours. I’m always looking to get my value out of a game.
This probably isn’t the game for you if you’re just looking for a dark gorefest. There is a bit of blood and darkness now and then (after all, what would an Alice in Wonderland game be without a bit of beheading?), but it’s just not the gore that some players might be looking for. It plays out like a psychological puzzler and is definitely worth checking out for the environments and Alice’s dresses, if you’re interested in a decent platformer to pass some time with. All in all, a beautiful game and entertaining to boot.