Alice: Madness Returns Review

Alice: Madness Returns Art by

Alice: Madness Returns is positively impossible to fit into the general industrial context. It seems like the game was released in the general wave of triumphant and not very successful returns of cult projects, it seems like the genre of the new Alice is completely understandable, and it can be compared to similar competing games, but all this will only show that A:MR lives by its own laws, squints from its own special sun, and hides from its own personal bloody moons.

If you look at the world of Alice through familiar lenses, the only bright element against the general gray background of not very relevant graphics and gameplay is Alice herself. The gothic lady with big eyes and an original perception of Lewis Carroll’s genius creation captivates the gaze and intrigues the mind. She worked on her makeup, updated her wardrobe (you will love all her outfits at first sight), and her arsenal of weapons, and overall she looks simply stunning.

Unfortunately, Alice never fully recovered. The heroine’s mind continues to burn in the fire of strange visions that turn into nightmares. Why did Alice’s inner world wage a destructive war against itself? She still doesn’t know, and the key elements of this puzzle doctors try to erase from the patient’s memory.

In reality, Alice is only waiting for gray weekdays and gloomy people – in Wonderland, everyone needs her, from the Cheshire Cat, who hasn’t changed his style, to the slightly dull but still battle-ready kitchen knife – Wonderland is definitely more cheerful than reality. Together with Alice, who is transforming while falling into the abyss of her own sick mind, the game also transforms. The prologue, rather than the actual chapters that A:MR is divided into, begins to seem like an unkind mirage. The game, however, never ceases to be “author’s” – no technological extravagance, only elegant decorations and nothing more. There is (a crooked, very crooked and convoluted) main storyline, there are secrets, and nothing more.

Despite its unusualness, the visual design of A:MR is actually quite concise, just like the gameplay. All the key tools that Alice will use to solve puzzles, delve into the secret corners of her memory, and fight the plague that has struck her poor head, are quickly unlocked and just as quickly mastered. Our heroine continues to drink strange mixtures and listen to characters who try – and often succeed – to speak in Carrollian language. If you have read the cult fairy tale, you will instantly remember their names and decipher their appearance, and if you have also played American McGee’s Alice, you will also remember that they are just as troubled in their minds and behavior as their hostess.

Mysterious In-Game Scene

The Cheshire Cat and his comrades quickly remind Alice how to squeeze into keyholes and who to shoot from an automatic pepper grinder in order to find hidden passages and gifts for the tooth fairy weapon merchant. All these skills are incredibly useful as something is hidden in every “room and a half”. The abundance of secrets scattered throughout the levels turns their search into an obsessive idea. It’s scary to think how many sips of the shrinking potion Alice, guided by my hands, took every ten steps.

Naturally, Alice will have to fight as well. The enemies are only trained in one or two ways to squeeze the life out of Alice and don’t think about anything other than attacking. Experienced gamers must already know the fading approach that first requires finding tactics against each type of enemy and then honing it to perfection. Well, or go all out and use Alice’s ability to lose her head and turn into an invincible maniac as soon as her life level reaches a critical point. In such circumstances, it’s strange that there is only one “big” serious boss in A:MR. Of course, he is waiting for us at the very end of Alice’s path, which still needs to be reached, flown, and jumped, solving big and small puzzles.

Eerie Gameplay Snapshot

In addition to the main gameplay dishes, A:MR sometimes offers the gamer special entertainment. At some point, the game temporarily turns into a 2D platformer; in some hidden rooms, Alice is awaited by the Cheshire Cat with a multitude of puzzles ready, somewhere the heroine needs to hit the beat of the playing melody… Of course, this is far from a complete list of pleasantly diversifying the game with unusual tasks that Alice encounters along the way.

Music as such only plays in the main menu of the game and during battles. The rest of the time, Alice spends in Wonderland under repetitive monotonous sounds. They successfully maintain the overall atmosphere and more is not really required from them in the game. One could ask for more melodies in the style of the one playing at the game’s intro, but where to put them, where to attach them, when all the intended sound accents are already in place?

If A:MR takes the player back about a hundred years in terms of the plot, then the game “Alice” is a time machine set to the beginning of the 2000s. Jumping on platforms, the “do A, get B” system, battles with a clearly defined sequence of actions, the emphasis on secret locations, and mini-games that spice up the main gameplay – without additives, such a game formula is almost impossible to find, certainly not in mainstream projects, as it once was.

Dark and Surreal Imagery

Having followed the heroine into Wonderland, I became completely convinced that the plot, visual style, and gameplay of A:MR are much more closely intertwined than in the vast majority of games. These elements live with each other and outside of their trinity, they turn into useless toys from a kindergarten. The wonderful Wonderland and its inhabitants would be uninteresting colored cardboard without the paced tour of Alice provided by the game and the tonality of the narrative set by the plot. The horrifying drama of our heroine would look like a cheap farce without these wild decorations, and the journey itself, if it were not framed in an inside-out fairy tale, would be completely unbearable.

This is the strength of A:MR and also its weakness. To perceive the game in its best form, one must strain all three of their eyes, sometimes still straining them. As already mentioned, Alice is old-fashioned and stubborn, the time that has passed since the release of the first part of the dark grotesque story did not exist for her. The game not only remembers how it all was at the beginning of the 2000s, it still lives there. All that Alice, who has awakened from her sleep, managed to draw from modern projects is the controls and a couple of gameplay mechanics, in other words, the things she was worst at before have been fixed and nothing more.

Enchanting In-Game Art

In some aspects of our life, technical and ideological progress is absolutely necessary, but in this world there are also quiet backwaters where it is better to leave everything as it is. The series of games about Alice is just one of those enchanting anomalies that do not need innovations. What do we need “revolutionary gameplay elements” and graphic innovation for, when long ago selected elements, merged together, demonstrate to us the wonders of game alchemy.

Of course, you still need to develop a taste for this potion, but happy will be those who taste this drink.

Alice: Madness Returns
PC, PS3, Xbox 360
Action, Adventure
Electronic Arts
Spicy Horse
Release Date:
Editor's rating:
Is it worth playing? (If the score is more than 70%)



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