Former id Software developer American McGee’s take on the Alice in Wonderland books in 2000′s American McGee’s Alice greatly distorted the already very surreal world of Wonderland with a plot where an older catatonic Alice must regain her sanity by fighting the corrupted denizens of the Queen of Hearts to restore Wonderland. 11 years later, McGee’s Shanghai-based studio Spicy Horse released a sequel: Alice: Madness Returns. Following the events of the first game, Alice must now fight the noxious Ruin to save Wonderland and her mind from oblivion.
Madness Returns emphasizes combat and platforming mixed with various mini-games. The vastly improved combat includes a tight lock-on system and a smaller arsenal that allow Alice to seamlessly attack and build up combos. An upgrade system enhances combat with colorful, gorgeous weapon attacks. A stylish new dash mechanic allows Alice to easily dodge enemy attacks. This game has annoyingly long levels with each one taking a full hour to complete without difficulties. Alice can also shrink to find secret areas, further lengthening the game. Fortunately, the dash and float moves make platforming a blast.
The soundtrack fits the gloomy atmosphere of Madness Returns with orchestration that reflects on the Victorian setting. The music becomes very cerebral during the Wonderland stages, plunging the player into Alice’s eroding psyche. Voice actors SusieBrann (Alice), Roger L. Jackson (Cheshire Cat), and Andrew Chaikin (Hatter) reprise their roles from the first game. Brann’s stand-out portrayal of the witty and dignified Alice juxtaposed with her vicious fighting maneuvers builds a very enjoyable female protagonist.
But of all the game’s elements, the art direction takes the cake. Each Wonderland stage maintains its own unique and imaginative aesthetic. Unfortunately, the game barely allows the well-designed Wonderland characters much game time beyond mere cameos. Furthermore, the 360 fails to properly render some in-game textures, so the graphics cannot be as fully enjoyed.
Madness Returns does not appeal to everyone, even for those who beat the first game, the plot makes little sense. This could be an attempt to design a disjointed psychological experience that reflects on Alice’s distorted mental state, but it’s hard to give American McGee that much credit. Either way, Madness Returns, while more style over substance, is still a blast to play!