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11/26/2012

REVIEW: Alice: Madness Returns (Xbox 360)



Alice: Madness Returns is the second game in the series made by American McGee, who takes us to see, explore and enjoy a very different take on the Alice in Wonderland tale, a darker and much mature version of it. The first game was originally available only in PC but the second comes with a code to enjoy it in consoles for free. Madness Returns is developed by Spicy Horse and uses Unreal Technology. It is available for Xbox 360, PS3 and PC.

The game lets players take control of Alice, an orphan girl in 1875 London who lost her entire family to a deathly fire that struck the mansion where she lived happily, visiting Wonderland in her mind. Now 19, Alice lives in an orphanage under the care of a psychiatrist who plans to make her forget her bad memories and Wonderland hallucinations. Yet, they keep appearing and Alice has to explore the world of a twisted Wonderland once again to help its residents, learn more about the tragedy that killed her family and stop an infernal train from destroying and corrupting Wonderland.

In paper, the game is quite good and very interesting. Alice in Wonderland has always been an excellent tale and perfectly suited for changes and video game worlds. Madness Returns has excellent art and environments but sadly, the game falls short in many aspects that ultimately don’t allow it to stand up against other games of the genre.

Graphically, Madness Returns is quite good. It uses Unreal Technology which allows it to have excellent textures, lightning effects and anti-aliasing in its Xbox 360 version. The game has many areas to explore inside Wonderland like a very bizarre forest, a steampunk factory, an eastern mountain or a sky filled with cards Alice has to use to move around. The game runs at a steady 60 frames-per-second at all times. There are no slowdowns to be noticed and loading times are usually short, which is good. In visuals, Madness Returns is very good.

In the sound department, the game has a non-existent soundtrack. All the worlds just have this usual “creepy” sound loop playing over and over. There’s no actual music. One can understand that the game’s environment needed to transmit that scary, dark feeling at all times but the lack of a soundtrack hurts the game. Some of the battles have a song just like story sections but in the rest of the game, there’s nothing but a loop of creepy bass sounds and the like.

The voice acting is quite good actually, Alice speaks in a very beautiful British accent and most of the other characters have great dialogs and voices to go with them. This is very important to the game because the story is a little bit confusing and the player needs to pay attention to the story sections to understand what is happening via the dialogs of the Wonderland and London characters with Alice.

Gameplay-wise, it feels like Madness Returns really did try to be a great game, but ended up falling short in many aspects. This is an action-adventure/platforming game so players can expect Alice to jump around, run to get from one place to the next and fight bizarre enemies in Wonderland. All that happens in it but the gameplay doesn’t really evolve at any moment. From the very moment Alice goes back to Wonderland, players will do the same things over and over until the game ends.

Wonderland levels seem to follow a never-ending formula of platforming-killing a few enemies-repeat. The real problem is that all the platforming sections are almost the same, unlike in different games that use platforming like Uncharted or Super Mario Galaxy where each section is unique and require the characters to do different things. Alice usually just jumps from one platform to the next, destroys some obstacles to obtain a “secret” item or floats around using some steam vents.

Combat in Madness Returns suffers from the same problem as the platforming. All the enemies in the game are defeated in the same way. Just hit them until they die. The game actually tries to throw some “different” enemies in each world but in reality, they just feel like different skins to entities that can actually inflict damage to Alice. Besides, during the game, the British crazy girl can collect “teeth” everywhere to upgrade the four weapons available and at one point about halfway through; she’ll feel somewhat overpowered, being able to dispose most enemies with two or three hits of her Vorpal Blade or Teapot Cannon.

Another very negative thing in the game is the lack of actual boss battles. Madness Returns could have benefitted a lot from cool and scary bosses, but for some reason, the developers decided not to use any except for a “final boss” at the end of the game that is not very good. Instead of using a boss to end levels, they simply end with an abrupt story cinematic. It’s very weird.

Fortunately, the controls are responsive, smooth and easy to understand to everyone. Each weapon uses an exclusive button so there no need to equip them via a menu or anything like that. Jumping and floating feels nice and the combat, while repetitive, is fun. In some parts of the Wonderland levels, the game will try to change the pace with different sections that go outside platforming and fighting. For example, the eastern level has Alice go to a 2D platforming world with an art style that kind of reminds players of Rayman Origins. Some jigsaw puzzles are there as well. The thing is that the first time, they feel nice and are welcome but later, the game decides to use the same kind of sections and jigsaw puzzles over and over and it leads to boredom and repetition.

There are some extra optional items scattered all over Wonderland. Some memories that will make Alice remember a conversation that will eventually lead her to solve the mystery of the fire that killed her family, bottles and teeth to upgrade her four weapons. These are optional but cool to search for. The game is not very long so it can actually be enjoyed a couple of times if someone likes it enough. Besides that, there are some DLC dresses for Alice to wear in Wonderland.

Alice: Madness Returns ends up being a decent game. It’s not bad by any means but it doesn’t exploit the full potential it had and the fantastic world it takes place in. The game has excellent graphics and controls but the gameplay and lack of a real soundtrack hurts it a lot. It’s easy to recommend because it’s really not bad but it doesn’t evolve enough and it’s not better than many other games of the same genres out there. The good part is that these days, the game can be found at a great price of around 20 dollars and it comes with a code to download the first game for free.


Pros:

-          Fantastic dark and scary take on Wonderland.
-          Smooth and easy controls.
-          Good voice acting.
-          Great graphics.


Cons:

-          Gameplay doesn’t evolve.
-          Attempts to change the pace aren’t good.
-          Combat is too simple.
-          No boss battles.
-          The game itself is quite repetitive.


-          Graphics and Visuals………...9
-          Music and Sound Effects….....6
-          Gameplay……………………7
-          Replay Value………………...7

-          Overall Score……………….. 7.3 / 10

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