For those expecting the cuteness of Disney’s Alice in Wonderland best look away now as this well trodden tale takes a turn for the darker side in Alice: Madness Returns. Right from the off we experience decapitated talking rabbits and flayed skin and the game rarely let’s up from there in this utter mind fuck; in this game Alice doesn’t just go through the looking glass, she breaks off a shard and stabs you with it.
The Alice that most of us grew up with no longer exists, what we have now is a delicate but extremely troubled young girl stuck in a dingy Victorian asylum for tearaway children. Having burnt down her home and killed her family Alice is going through psycho-therapy, being told that Wonderland is just a figment of her warped mind; but when a strange white cat appears before her, Alice’s curious nature gets the better of her and she ends up right back in Wonderland, but all has changed since her last visit.
Any good story needs an opener to get things going and the intro really sets the scene with the grey, dull monotonous surroundings of her Victorian world, littered with orphans and dreary looking street sellers suffocating Alice, the only glimpse of colour is the bright white cat leading her away. Once in Wonderland it is apparent all is not well, previously known for it’s fantastical vistas, the Mad Hatters realm has been torn apart by a new and terrifying force. There is still plenty of colour and wonder to gawp at, but are all warped beyond recognition, paths are torn apart and float in thin air, statues cry black goo and monstrous chimera roam the land, created from the mind of a madman.
Alice: Madness Returns plays as an action platform game and the world Lewis Carroll created is perfectly suited for this style of game. With characters like the Cheshire Cat offering clues where to go, the insane Mad Hatters literally fallen apart and needs repairing and even the Queen of Hearts has stopped trying to kill Alice and is now trying to help in her own twisted way. References to the books also stretch to Alice’s special powers like the Drink Me shrinking potion. Unlocked early in the game this allows Alice to shrink whenever you like, allowing you to get into the smallest of places that will help solve a puzzle or find secrets. The shrinking power will also bring up hidden messages scrawled on the walls by the Mad Hatter, pointing the general direction and also highlighting previously hidden platforms.
The action is mainly based on melée attacks using Alice’s huge kitchen knife, which she wields with insane ferocity, slashing and tearing foes into pieces and also her dash/dodge move which makes Alice disappear in a flurry of blue butterflies, avoiding all damage. For ranged attacks Alice is given a pepper grinder that acts like a hand operated machine gun, allowing her to lock onto weak spots and dispose of the more awkward enemies. As Alice progresses through Wonderland even more weapons are unlocked including an umbrella that acts as a shield and can repel certain attacks, a brutal heavy hitting hobbyhorse and explosive Teddy Bears.
The character creation is simply grotesque, looking more like a Jim Henson movie than a platform game (think labyrinth), enemies are created from discarded items, goblins arm themselves with teapot lids for shields and forks as weapons, animated teapots spew boiling hot liquid at you once boiled and try to spear you with their arachnid like legs, and the black goo that resides all through the world will attack and create nightmarish monsters with broken dolls faces that unleash balls of flame.
The main issue with Alice is the lack of being able to wander around this amazing land, with quite a linear approach to the platforms and puzzles it very rarely offers the chance to take in the sights but it does have a good amount of hidden items over the 6 huge chapters that will require a second playthrough, like flying pig snouts and parts of Alice’smemory.
The first game came out a while ago so those great chaps and chappettes at EA have also included a copy of the original as free DLC, redeemable via a code on the instructions (another attempt by EA to lessen the value of the pre-owned market). Though looking a little dated and at times awkward to control it introduces a lot of the characters that appear in the sequel, which at times assumes you have already played the first; plus it has a stronger story, playing more on the original source material.
Certainly not one for the kiddies, Alice: Madness Returns offers great platform and action with some great visuals which will follow you to your dreams.
Rating: Excellent Review policy
Alice: Madness Returns is out now for PC, PS3 and Xbox 360. You can order a copy by following the links.