Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Alice: Madness Returns - Still Needs Treatment


In the year 2000, Electronic Arts released American McGee's Alice, an unofficial sequel to Lewis Carrol's "Alice" books created by American McGee. It's themes were based on that of a demented Wonderland and provided players with an unforgettable experience. 11 years later a sequel, Alice: Madness Returns, was released along with a port of the original for those who are uninitiated. The sequel continues the story of the original rather well and proves to be entertaining, but sadly falls a little short of what could've been another amazing experience.

A year after being released from Rutledge Asylum, Alice is taken in by a psychiatrist named Dr. Angus Bumby, who runs the Houndsditch Home for Wayward Youth, a shelter in Victorian London. Bumby's job is to help children overcome traumatic events in their lives by making them forget so they can live happily. During a point where Alice is outside the Home, she is transported back into Wonderland. All seems peaceful until she learns that her safe haven is once again in peril and faces certain destruction by the Infernal Train, a manifestation of her madness. As she journeys through this new Wonderland, she remembers events in her past while learning more about her mental state and the fire that killed her family.

There are 6 Chapters in the game, each based on a different section of Wonderland. However, there isn't very much inspiration from Lewis Carroll's books as there was in the first game. While the levels are based on Wonderland, they're actually moreso based on Alice's psyche and reflect her current condition. While it was nice to try and figure everything out, there isn't really much of any of the Wonderland residents that Alice has met before, though this could be explained with the help Dr. Bumby is providing to Alice changing her fantasy world. However I still found the game to be somehow uninspired compared to the original American McGee's Alice, which seemed to feel more like you're actually travelling through Wonderland. Breaks between Chapters take place in London, continuing Alice's story in the real world as she gathers more information about her past and what's really going on.

During the course of the game you obtain a fair amount of weapons, including the Vorpal Blade, your standard weapon; the Pepper Grinder, a long-range weapon that fires pepper; the Hobby Horse, a powerful close-range weapon; the Teapot Cannon, another ranged weapon that fires scalding tea for massive damage; an Umbrella, used for blocking projectiles; and the Clockwork Bomb, a powerful bomb that can either cause destruction or be used as a weight. At times, you will need the Hobby Horse or Clockwork Bomb to destroy barriers that block your path or to damage certain enemies. The Umbrella can only be used when you focus on enemies (with a shoulder button on consoles), and what happens depends on what's being fired at you. The Pepper Grinder and the Teapot Cannon are often used for their own purposes: the Pepper Grinder is used for peppering Snouts and hitting targets to unlock items and pathways, in addition to taking care of enemies from a distance, and the Teapot Cannon is usually for taking care of large groups and destroying barriers that can't normally be hit with the Hobby Horse.

Weapons are upgraded by using Teeth, which you can collect by destroying breakable items and killing your foes. You can also Shrink at any time you wish, giving you a Shrink Sense that allows you to see invisible pathways and drawings (and sometimes Snouts). This is required to go through often-hidden Keyholes as well as use the power of Shrinking Violets. While encased in this flower, your Health, determined by Roses, becomes restored and growing back gives you more Teeth and destroys the flower. When you are low on Health during a battle, you can tap into Hysteria, which doubles your damage output and makes you invincible for a brief period. You can gain more Roses for Health by painting the Rose red, whcih requires going through 4 Radula Rooms for red paint. Radula Rooms are hidden shells that give you paint for completing a minigame, ranging from answering questions to playing a special level and surviving swarms of enemies.

On the subject of mingames, there are plenty of these scattered about that break up the action, including chess and sliding block puzzles, pressing buttons in rhythm, and rolling a doll head. While this does provide a breather every now and then, they can get annoying at times, particularly the doll head segments. Fortunately if you get too frustrated, unless it's for red paint, you have the ability to skip these segments.

Alice has the ability to triple jump, something not seen very often in games, as well as the ability to glide with her dress to gain more distance. This is what you'll be doing for most of the game as you jump from platform to platform to advance further through Wonderland. There is, however, a big catch: Alice cannot grab onto ledges, which can lead to many an untimely death, nor can she attack while in the air. These abilities would've been nice to have, though I don't know whether to blame the manual taking space on the disk as opposed to it being physical.

The graphics of the game are wonderful to look at, though there is some texture loading after some items and characters appear, such as the Cheshire Cat. Within all of this, the best graphics belong to Alice herself. Her hair and dress flow beautifully and realistically even with the slightest of movements, which really shows off the game engine's capabilities. The backgrounds compliment the setting really well, in fact getting creepier, if feeling a little generic, as the game went on. The voice acting is solid and the dialogue between characters flows well, sometimes upping the suspense of the events taking place. On the musical side of things, Chris Vrenna once again delivers an amazing soundtrack that sets the tone of the game perfectly at each locale.

There is one other complaint I have, and it has to do with the final boss. Compared to the boss fight at the end of the original, it isn't exactly that difficult to beat and I didn't feel the same excitment that I felt while beating the first game. Despite that, it can still get a little chaotic as it gets you constantly moving and dodging the onslaught of attacks.

Alice: Madness Returns isn't a perfect game, but it does provide a good, suspensful story that will keep you going. Fans of the original Alice will get a nice experience from this sequel once they overcome its shortcomings, and those familiar with Lewis Carroll's original books will have a good time spotting the various references spread throughout. If you have an interest in playing this game, I would suggest picking it up and playing the original first in order to aid the story.

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