I have a small list of games that I feel I should have really played through this past generation, simply due to my own curiosity surrounding them, and if those games happen to be $5, then I haven’t any reason to pass them up, especially when they are technically two games. Unfortunately, American Mcgee’s Alice was very much a PC game, so controlling it with a controller felt odd, and the gameplay was more daunting than it had any right to be. So how is its more modern sequel? Pretty bad.
Alice Madness Returns Review
Platforms: PC(Reviewed), Xbox 360, PS3
Developer: Spicy Horse
The storyline towards Alice Madness Returns is one that I wish to give the benefit of the doubt. Which is a very kind way of claiming that while I do believe there potentially is something very compelling to be found if you are well versed in the subject matter the game is based on and the prior title released a decade ago, I was less than impressed. From what I can gather Alice went insane after her house burned down about nine years ago and has revisited her own personal wonderland only to see a big train causing chaos and mutating this one happy place… Except for how it seemed to be screwed up in what little I played of the prior title, but whatever.
In fact, if I were to be asked at nearly any point in the game where I was or what I was doing in this openly dark reinterpretation of a world I am unfamiliar with, I would respond with a shrug at best. It is merely one large level laid out with what I don’t view as much care, and merely a string of different platforming set pieces with some hack and slash battles littered about. Though before getting to either of those, there is the pressing matter of 252 collectibles that are oddly scattered throughout this linear adventure. A move that is questionable when you realize that collectibles only really work in a game with more open areas, and preferably small ones at that, as the game’s environments are not only plentiful in quantity but they are less than hesitant to seal themselves off. Almost rapidly so as a matter of fact, as if the level designer of 2008’s Alone In The Dark didn’t quite understand what made for enjoyable object hunting. That, and he apparently he forgot to give the items much a purpose aside from being audio logs or 16 pieces of hearts hidden behind challenge rooms.
Oh, but the collection impulse is merely a hindrance held by a few, and is ultimately kept optional. Though needing to scan for the sound of a pig and find a floating nose that must be shot is borderline nonsense… actually, no, it is just plain old nonsense. In fact, that very concept seems to liter this game all around, perhaps intentionally, but that does not prevent the game from throwing singing fish made out of a bottle in the loop with the only justification being how it may or may not have been faithful to a book from the 1800s. Heck, one may even be in support of the game being a bizarre nonsensical romp, if not for how deadpan serious the game is taking itself, with hardly a joke or smile to be found in what amounts to a very stylized script that comes across as being complex and gritty for the sake of those two very things. Hell, the psychological elements alone feel like they were done by somebody who had a slim idea of how one’s mind works, thought that could be partially blamed by being associated to the rest of the game.
For the most part, Alice Madness Returns is a 3D platformer. You have a quadruple float jump and a series of magical wind exhalers, floating platforms, and a load of invisible ones, which naturally also do like to move. However, aside from occasional puzzles where you need to place a bomb on a switch and do some platforming in order to reach the next local, the jumping from thing to thing feels more than a little underwhelming, as you are just going along an elongated linear path. Most games that bear the term platformer often have more tricky jumping challenges or enemies to deal with on your way, but neither of those are much of a concern as Alice elegantly floats along in the wind, bringing with a bunch of leaves and sparkles because wonderment.
Meanwhile, combat is set in what may as well be a different world as your jump command has been replaced with a shield button in what amounts to a 3D Zelda style hack and slash, and one that doesn’t seem to have realized how few enemies you had to manage in those games. With up to six or seven enemies at any given time, the lock on camera hardly seems all that effective, if not for how it very much feels required by the game. I would even offer it the benefit of the doubt if it were easy to switch between targets, but that is sadly not the case , as you can’t switch to enemies outside of your field of restricted vision. Meaning you’ll get hit as you’re going through combat that I believe was suppose to have some degree of challenge, but then I realized I had bonus items that doubled my damage and halved the damage I took.
Toss in the fact that you are given a pepper based gatling gun, or a squid in the case of the one that had twice the amount of heat based ammo, and a teapot that launches water bombs, and the combat is over lickidy split. To the point where I bared even used the horse head on a stick that acts as Alice’s hammer for some reason. Hell, the knife was more often used to break pots and get teeth than actually harm globs of goo that made up the most common enemy. Speaking of which, teeth perplexingly act as this game’s version of experience or money for an weapon upgrading system that likely did not expect for the player to explore often, as I had them all upgraded before the fifth chapter.
With the fifth and more or less final chapter being the one where I feel the game lost nearly any good graces I could grant it, by becoming one of the least enjoyable slogs I can recall. With The puzzles clearly growing in their repetition of placing an explosive bunny bomb on a switch. The very uninspired scenery that can best be described as a creepy doll house mixed with that very uninteresting semi-industrial hue of brown and grey scenery design. Along with one of the most perplexingly unwanted minigames in the game’s collection of unwanted and unrefined divergents. Slider puzzles, a 3D physics platformers involving a disembodied head, a regular platformers, a directional based rhythm game that runs woefully, and the most boring giant section I have ever seen.
I suppose these do add to the variety of the game, as the most spiffy it gets otherwise involves having Alice shrink with the press of LB and go through a hole to get a macguffin. There are not even boss battles throughout the game to break up the monotony either, even though the manner in which events transpire makes me believe that at one point in development they very much were going to be some sort of chapter based occurrence. However, development issues and this game likely went hand in hand from what I played, as if the obscene amount of invisible walls are not clue enough. Seriously, I’m not even sure if one could keep track of how many times the game prohibits Alice to go through somewhere she should have no problem fitting into or jumping on top of.
Unfortunately layout of the scenery itself seems to have far greater delusions of the game having a far larger budget than what it ended up with. Textures range from decent to poor, transitioning from one area to another becomes almost comically implausible near the end, and the game has water effects that do nothing when Alice goes underneath a waterfall. It is almost amazing that the actual animations of the characters, and even some of their designs, are quite good with their cohesive attack patterns, textures that are often among the best in the entire game. Sadly, I cannot say the same about other character models, as the humans in the game look ugly as sin, possibly intentionally, though their muddy textures hardly support that claim. In fact, while I actually do like the designs of most of the creatures in wonderland, they look less than stellar when viewed from up close.
Yet, the game more or less slapped me in the face when it comes to the main character’s model, which would be worth noting if only for how it has some of the best hair physics I’ve seen. Granted, the effect on my end was a tad bit neutered by how AMD does not play with Physx very well, but even on the lowest settings, the game featured a leg based animation for when one of Alice’s legs is on a higher piece of ground than the other. Even the variety of dresses, some of which do cause minor clipping issues, are more or less treated with just as much care and consideration as the hair that elegantly flows in the wind, which the game does a little more than frequently.
Taking all of that in, and adding a score that I eventually felt the need to drown out as it droned on as the game withered away to a lackluster conclusion, there is little good I can say about Alice Madness Returns. The main character model is far better than it has any right to be, and I do like the way quadruple float jumping feels, but that is about it. It’s grim aesthetic and story have a novelty that evaporates before the game concludes, certain parts of the game feel extremely forced or are just difficult to pinpoint in terms of getting from point A to B, and has barely enough ideas to go on for about ten hours, when it goes on for fourteen. I’m glad to have played it if only so that I could confirm that giving it a seven was more than a hair on the generous side, as the game is at the point where I would have no remorse telling the creative staff that the made a multimillion dollar oopsie-daisy.
The title is on the pitiable side of things, as it is where the starting intentions, whatever they may have been, have apparently gone very wrong over the course of development. Resulting in a game that, if it could emote, would be sad.