Alice: Madness Returns review

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Nothing but a pack of cards?

There are many wonderful things about Alice: Madness Returns. Just look at the jailbait urchin heroine herself -with her beautifully rendered hair swishing this way and that, or her ever-changing dress glowing like a deep sea fish when underwater.

Alice Madness Returns: Rampages

Then there's the Wonderland around her: rampaging cathedrals built into the backs of trains, a communist dormouse whose Dobby-like voice trumpets worker death throughout the Hatter's mechanical kingdom, skull-faced playing cards built out of punctured, bloody sackcloth... this is truly a dark, fascinating place. The graphics may be a smidge dated, but the art style and the imagination make up for it in spades. (Or, if you're of that persuasion, hearts.)

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That though, is all there is. Everything you'll enjoy in Alice: Madness Returns is skin-deep. The broken Wonderland overlay starts out fantastic but a few hours in the law of diminishing returns kicks the game into a nosedive, down a rabbit-hole and deep into platform purgatory. Each (hugely lengthy) chapter is bookended by interesting deviations in Victorian London where Alice knocks around with evil solicitors, tricksy psycho-analysts and black-eyed prostitutes, while confrontations with the familiar Wonderland cast are invariably top notch, but everything in-between rapidly becomes a dirge of leaps, jumps and bullshit widget-collection.

Alice Madness Returns: Combat

As a base to build on, the combat in Madness Returns is inarguably entirely solid. Alice's main weapon is the melee Vorpal Blade - yet soon toys like a Pepper-grinder machine-gun, a Hobby Horse hammer and a Teapot cannon get added to the arsenal. You're encouraged to really mix up your moves throughout, gradually learning the attack routines and frailties of a full cast of black slimy 'Ruined' enemies, red-eyed Cyclops teapots and cigar-chomping crabs, while Alice's meaty attacks do occasionally feel something approaching badass.

This sensation, however, rarely lasts for long - endless enemy repetition, poor camera lock-on in busy fighting arenas and hugely punishing checkpoints when you perish will make you want to break things. (Given that you're potentially sitting quite close to a relatively expensive TV and console set-up, this is quite the bad thing.)

Alice Madness Returns: Girl power

In between the girl-powered brawling, though, is three dimensional platforming that belongs to another age. A rubbish age at that, when we all had bad haircuts and a proportion of us were afraid to talk to girls - let alone delicately jump them between invisible platforms. Alice is thrown up on jump-pads, hovered up on gusts of air and finds herself racheting/inhaling various machines to mess with the environment again and again, and again. The puzzles are universally one-note and the platforming unchanging throughout - whatever the current shade of the game's wacky wallpaper.

There's more padding in Madness Returns than a Wonderbra factory and the narrative will leave you short-changed. On paper the themes of Madness Returns (and the way Wonderland reflects events and characters in the real world of Victorian London) are fascinating - yet in practise nowhere near as clever as it should be - and far too fascinated by floating platforms.

Despite promising beginnings Madness Returns sings only one song, with its chorus on repeat, for the entirety of its lengthy play-time. Like Duke Nukem Forever before it, it's a relic of a game: a churn that could only really have passed muster in times gone by. Things start out so well, but from there it's less curiouser and curiouser - and more rubbisher and rubbisher. Sorry Alice.

Link: CVG

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