The lights are on
What new ideas the game brings to the table and how well old ideas are presented.
How good a game looks, taking into account any flaws such as bad collision or pop-up.
Does the game’s music and sound effects get you involved or do they make you resolve to always play with the volume down?
Basically, the controller to human interface. The less you think about the hunk of plastic in your hands, the better the playability.
Flat out, just how fun the game is to play. The most important factor in rating a game.
American McGee’s Alice wowed gamers a decade ago with its bizarre
visual spin on Lewis Carroll’s Wonderland. The title predated Tim
Burton’s gaudy reimagining of the classic property, so the concept of a
classic tale turned macabre was fresh and exciting. The sequel, Alice:
Madness Returns, arrives with the signature dark flair of the original,
but stripping off the stylish straightjacket reveals unstable gameplay
that will disappoint all but the staunchest fans of the original.
story picks up 10 years after the events of the first game, with an
asylum-committed Alice attempting to piece together her family’s death
in her tainted mind. The majority of the story takes place in Alice’s
imaginary Wonderland, with bits of the narrative strung together with
reality checks in England. Guiding Alice through the gray, impoverished
city streets is a nice contrast to her over-stimulating make-believe
land, but these real life sections are used so sparingly and briefly
that they are easily forgotten.
Gamers half familiar with Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland
will appreciate early references to the absurd tale, such as
interactions with the white rabbit, dormouse, and infamous Mad Hatter. I
enjoyed leaping on mushrooms in classic Wonderland and surviving the
deadly machinery of Hatter Industries. These entertaining stages
unfortunately give way to generic locales like a pirate-filled
underwater world and a slice of ancient Japan smattered with samurai
wasps. These later areas all but ditch the series’ trademark grim art
style, with the exception of one section which relies on creepy clichés
like eyeless doll heads and 666s to set the mood. Aside from some
chilling moments early on, the attempts to make players uncomfortable
are largely predictable and bland.
Art style aside, Alice: Madness
Returns is an exercise in graphical mediocrity with the exception of
Alice herself. The heroine’s character model is wonderfully rendered.
Her raven hair realistically flutters around her porcelain face, and her
collection of stylish dresses flap as she glides through the air. The
world she inhabits isn’t nearly as pretty. Enemies appear to be missing a
few animations, resulting in unintentionally stilted movements. The
game encourages exploration, which means you’ll be examining the
environment closely. It’s too bad that all that searching pays off with
bland textures and seams in the game’s construction.
put together, the denizens of Wonderland pose a threat to Alice. She
defends herself with a butcher’s blade and other creative weaponry like a
weaponized pepper grinder, tea kettle, and hobby horse. I loved
chopping apart gremlins and other close range fiends with the knife,
then switching to the Gatling gun-like pepper grinder to drop flying
foes. Projectile weapons are on a cooldown timer, which forces players
to constantly swap between attack styles. I adored the variety the
unique arsenal fostered, and unlike other action titles, I actually
enjoyed using and upgrading every weapon. On the other hand, God of War
or Devil May Cry fans looking for a deep combat system should look
elsewhere. Let me put the simplicity of Alice’s moveset this way: she
can’t attack while jumping.
Speaking of jumping, you’ll spend much
of your time leaping and floating across Wonderland. Alice packs a
generous triple jump and glide ability, resulting in platforming similar
to Spyro. Navigating moving platforms and lava pits is simple early on,
but later stages require you to steer the camera while milking every
centimeter from Alice’s glides. Combine this with frequent snags on the
scenery and the fact that Alice can’t grab ledges, and you’ve got a
recipe for some infuriating deaths.
In an effort to cleanse
gamers’ palates of the repetitive fighting and exploration, several
minigames sprout up. A handful of spots in the game require you to hunt
down pieces of a puzzle or press buttons in rhythm with a selection of
music. These puzzles are laughably formulaic, but fortunately players
can skip the nursery school exercises altogether. They seem ingenious,
however, compared to diversions such as a side-scrolling shooter segment
and odd doll head-rolling game. These half-baked gameplay mix-ups are
absolute nightmares, and you’ll groan every time you encounter one.
starts out as a promising romp through a demented Wonderland devolves
into a few good ideas stretched across redundant gameplay. Like any game
based on a popular property, there will be those who can overlook
Madness Return’s shortcomings and scrape together a good time. To anyone
considering picking up Spicy Horse’s latest in hopes of a rewarding
adventure coated in psychedelic scenery, Alice’s encore is a
Email the author Tim Turi, or follow on Twitter, and Game Informer.