She’s Been Back; EA Games/Spicy Horse Alice: Madness Returns

The best place to get lost is in your own mind. American McGee returns alongside his new game design company Spicy Horse to finish the story that started over a decade ago. Released last July 2011, Alice: Madness Returns is the sequel that aims to reveal the true pieces of Alice’s past.

Yes, the story is a sequel that aims to be a prequel to the original game.

Now if you’ve read reviews on Alice: Madness Returns, or even on American McGee’s Alice, you’ll hear the same thing from everyone—“it’s too linear and repetitive.”

What people don’t seem to see in American McGee’s Alice & Alice Madness Returns is that it isn’t an RPG, or purely a combat game, or a platformer. It’s a story book. Like most, if not all, of Spicy Horse’s games. (Akkainero, The Crooked House and even American McGee’s Grimm.)

It would fail as an RPG because nothing new will happen, and talking to the characters isn’t going to do anything. You can’t and will not affect the world around you. But it’s linear for a reason. You’re not playing AS Alice. Alice is letting you go with her and wear her shoes and see and feel how it is to be the savior, yet again, of Wonderland. You get to be Alice, and live her life through her eyes. And you get to unfold the entire rape victim story of the — whoops plot spoiler.

Its major flaw would come down to the changing of the save dynamics. Before, you could save as many times as you’d like. Now, the save only comes by checkpoints. One hellafuh time when it comes to the platforms. You’ll give up before you get to that “next page of the story”. It tends to get frustrating.

The platforms are frustrating. Not really repetitive, imho. In chapter 1, you go through the platforms by the reappearing tiles. In chapter 3 or so, your time is limited because the seahorse that holds the light source is running away from you. At some point, you get to a side-view asian arcade jump style sort of platform. And at some point, you’re running around gears and timing bombs. And then at another, the famous shrinking platforms. And you get a slide (which I detest) every now and then. And everything changes depending on the ‘world’ or chapter or part of wonderland you’ve entered. And I think fitting the platformer with the setting is totally befitting and refreshing each time. But still frustrating to finish.

The Radula rooms are different each time, too, giving you a brand new puzzle or an unexpected survival battle sequence. The DLC is all good too. They have beautiful designs, but they’re a great help too.

It’s great that they removed the boss fights per chapter and instead created a more diverse range of enemies, all of which are connected to the story somehow. You’d know who actually created your enemies or where they came from (they all have their own backstory!) and their weaknesses are all different. And finding out everyone’ s backstory, understanding which wonderland character is fitted to Alice’s acquaintances in real life, and guessing what part they played before all this –that is the story, and that’s what keeps Alice 2 interesting.

Alice 2 is a compelling experience on its own. And the point is to get through all obstacles to flip to the next page of the story, and find all the missing pages (memories, bottles, cinematics).

 Ken Wong did an amazing job with the art. And the elements and themes are obviously highly influenced by Asian pop media culture. Gothic Lolita dolls ala Rozen Maiden, among so many others. Even the cinematics are so heavily inspired by anime. Alice almost looks like a 3D anime herself. And the cardboard cut-out videos, and the new look of the Red Queen… I think the caterpillar level with the Oriental style everything was a shout out to the new Asian headquarters for McGee.

There’s nothing much to say than Alice is a beautifully crafted masterpiece, an entirely new world that is undoubtedly enjoyable to explore.


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