I remember seeing the PC game for ‘Alice’ when I was younger, and had always been interested in American Magee’s take on the classic story. It was dark, twisted, and violent. Several years later, the sequel ‘Alice: Madness Returns’ arrived, and while it is appropriately dark, twisted, and violent, there is something missing—gameplay that’s not just addictive, but enthralling.
The player takes control of Alice, several years after the first game. She is now an adult, and lives in London. One day, she begins to encounter creatures from wonderland merging into the real world. She sinks into wonderland again (which in Magee’s iteration of the story, is a sort of fantasy world that is part of Alice’s twisted mentality, reflecting reality in horrible ways), and must save its inhabitants from a strange new evil.
The visuals are spectacular, and definitely the game’s selling point. The environments are wonderful to behold: alternately disturbing and enlightening, beautiful and horrific. The inhabitants are just as captivating, with big heads, big hands, bulging eyes; sea life, air fowl, and strange humanoid creatures are met on your journey. You go through ice mazes, grass lands, and a strange Escher sort of floating landscape.
Everything else is a relatively mixed bag. The story is pretty straightforward and linear, but that is to be expected with a platformer. You run, jump, and fight with very little change in dynamics…
And that is where the major problem is. To say the game is repetitive is putting it very, very mildly. By about an hour into the game, you’ve basically figured out the fundamentals of the rest of the game. There are a few minigame-like sequences that break the trend every once in a while, but they are too few and too late.
This over-repetition also makes the game nearly unbearable by the end. The bosses—those which don’t tease you and then die off before you can fight them, resulting in the ultimate anti-climax—all follow the same routine. Running down corridor after corridor becomes grating, and the story is barely enough to keep you going.
Thankfully, the game is not particularly long, which can be a gripe in most other cases but here, is not. For a game that is all show and not much tell, a short runtime is welcome. The ending is also relatively anticlimactic—the final showdown is simple (I beat the final boss in one try, with very little confusion as to what to do; and it took less than 10 minutes).
The visuals and auditory elements are all stronger—stronger than most games released around that time, and since. But this is a very one-sided experience. Once the dark, dreary charm wears off, you’re left with a simple, clichéd, emotionless and repetitive gameplay experience.