Alice: Madness Returns Review

Alice: Madness Returns Review

Initial NA Release Date: June 14, 2011
Review Date: October 6, 2015
Reviewed on: Xbox 360
Platforms: Xbox 360, PS3, PC

Same old Wonderland? No, not in the slightest. A story about a girl going through insanity, searching for peace in a battle with her own mind.

Alice Liddell, now a young woman who lives her life in old Victorian London after her stay inside of a mental asylum. She tries to cope with her memories of the traumatic fire that burnt her childhood home, taking the lives of her entire family, leaving her the only survivor.

With her mind in pieces, Alice goes back and forth reality and Wonderland as she attempts to unravel the truth of what really happened in the fire, as well as the corruption that spread its way to both the real world and Wonderland.

Alice in the asylum confined by a straitjacket.
Alice in the asylum confined by a straitjacket.

Presentation – Wonderland shows its dark side. What we are used to seeing from Wonderland are vivid colors, sunshine and rainbows right? Well Alice’s Wonderland is just that, for a few short moments that is. The drastic shift in tone and colors is what gives the clear impression that Alice’s mind is not right, as the effect on Wonderland shows.  The peaceful nature of the terrain turns into ruins, what was once all covered in blue and green turns into dark brown and red. Wonderland is in Hell.

As Alice pieces more memories together, so do the regions in Wonderland change. No sections feel the same, as you go exploring underwater, onto a floating card castle in the sky and even to the far east land which is covered in mist and waterfalls.

When it comes to the characters in both London and Wonderland, it happens to be as if Alice is the only normal one of the bunch as most of the supporting cast around her is simply grotesque or hideous looking.  The ugliness of everything that surrounds Alice could also possibly be a play on the internal ugliness the consumes the world around her.

Although it seems there are certain battle tracks on constant loop, the overall soundtrack in the game is not all that bad.  Alice’s Vorpal Blade is as sharp as it sounds and I wouldn’t want to be around Alice during Hysteria mode as you can listen to her beating heart going berserk.

The different worlds in Wonderland also have fitting tracks to them that either emphasize a state of peaceful tranquility or chaotic destruction depending on how Alice’s mind is holding up.

Alice during Hysteria mode. A state that gives her invulnerability for short period of time.
Alice during Hysteria mode. A state that gives her invulnerability for a short period of time.

Gameplay – Floating on rising steam, making your way through 2D puzzles and of course, beating up on things while telling a story in the background, Alice: Madness Returns strikes a decent balance among all of those things.

Platforming in the game is fairly solid, but once you get to the later levels in the game it begins to feel like you’ve already done all of the same sequences in the level prior. Jumping off vents and getting on top of shrink platforms spices some things up, however in the end, platforming suffers from repetitiveness but mechanically speaking it feels okay.

Contrary to the platforming in the game, the combat is anything but solid.  The weapons of choice are pretty cool when you have them decently upgraded using all of the teeth you’ve collected—yes teeth.

The dodge mechanic is helpful except the direction in which you dodge is inconsistent at times, rendering Alice to just flutter in place.

However, the game is really lacking when it comes down to plain third-person action.  Everything from bad hit detection to odd forced-in camera angles to the lock on system that is as inconsistent as it gets.

Alice: Madness Returns does not play well; it gets better as you get used to how the game wants you to play but that still doesn’t make it mechanically sound. Enemy variety is relatively diverse except for the ruin monsters that seem to have infested every part of Wonderland, but I had no problem with them being there as they served more of a psychological narrative part in the grand scheme of things.

My biggest gripe with the game however are the insurmountable invisible walls you encounter, in so many instances, whether platforming or mid combat I would find myself stuck walking in the same spot, having to dodge to get out. Had the encounters been few and far between, it would have made it easier to shrug off, but with the frequent times it happens throughout, it becomes frustrating and simply game breaking.

Lastly and on the brighter side, Alice: Madness Returns packs in an impressive psychological story if you’re willing to follow it. The way the game portrays Alice going through basically what is an emotional breakdown onto insanity is fascinating to witness. The plot is a bit hard to follow at first as there is a lot of catching up to do with the door memories that fill in the gap between the original game; American McGee’s Alice to Alice: Madness Returns, however sticking with it to the game’s end and its powerful last scene felt satisfying enough to almost make you forget about the game’s combat and platforming woes.

Alice as a giant marching on to confront the Queen of Hearts.
Alice as a giant marching on to confront the Queen of Hearts.

Final Impression – Potential.  Alice: Madness Returns seemed to have been a game with a lot of potential and ambition but needed more polishing. Mechanically the game feels rushed and unfinished.

As far as visuals—although not groundbreaking, the game does a decent job of showcasing both Wonderland and old Victorian London in a fitting light.  The game’s sound is also fitting and adapts to the overall tone of the game well.

The unfortunate tale of the game is that its strong plot and interesting narrative is not enough to overlook the game-breaking bugs along with its inconsistent gameplay tendencies.

In closing, after finishing Alice: Madness Returns I was thinking to myself of what could’ve been, rather than what was. Alice: Madness Returns had potential to be a great overall third-person action adventure experience, but what we got is just a mediocre platforming slasher that mechanically doesn’t hold up.  In the end, the true motive for sticking with the game to its finale is the adult psychological—horror narrative that leaves you guessing at the end.


+ Psychological story

+ Enemy variety

+ Wonderland’s unique worlds


– Invisible walls

– Unresponsive camera

– Repetitive platforming sections

Final Score – 7.2/10 Good


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