Alice Madness Returns

At its heart, Alice Madness Returns, is an action adventure platformer but it’s truly so much more. There’s a part of me that wonders if the developers of Nier Automata played a lot of this game or maybe even developed for it. It starts out as what is advertised. You’re breaking open different things to reveal your upgrade currency while traveling down beautifully designed corridors to reach an inevitable block in the path where you’ll have to kill everything, find a hidden switch, or solve a puzzle to proceed.

This doesn’t seem all too interesting at first glance but where Alice truly shines is in its ability to perfectly pace every moment to ensure that, just as a mechanic is wearing thin, they break into something completely unexpected. From side scrolling shoot em up areas where you play as a ship shooting sharks and crabs to rolling a baby doll head through a trials HD type experience. They found a perfect way to distract you from the fact that you’re basically doing the same exact thing over and over.

That being said the true champion in all of this is the art direction. Every stage is beautifully crafted and well thought out; From the vibrant Cardbridge to the fleshy darkness of the Dark of Heartness. Every area has a different and very unique outfit for Alice, they all mesh so well with each levels aesthetic that they alone deserve mountains of praise. Each outfit is adorned with perfect details throughout, from the pattern to Alices bow all the way to her shoes. Every single decoration is well thought out and tasteful.

The sound design is equally impressive. The sound effects and music seem to perfectly intertwine and set the mood for every location. They’re neither over powering or too subtle. They kept me intrigued and built up the important moments in a way that kept me interested.

As much as I’ve gushed about this game so far. It’s not without faults. First of all the camera while in free movement is perfect, but in combat it leaves something to be desired. When locking onto an enemy the camera freezes where you’ve locked it disregarding your characters movement. I thought at First this was a design choice but there are a few instances when fighting in floating platforms that the camera worked how you’d hope it would. After ocarina of time you would think everyone would have figured this out and it seems they tried. The camera follows your character while locked on but only in areas where the camera is not obstructed by an environment. In more enclosed areas you’re stuck where you’ve chosen to lock it. Which unfortunately is most of the game. This causes you to loose a tactical view of your enemies and will end with you being attacked from enemies offscreen leaving you no chance at a rebuttal.

The combat is well paced with an attempt to give Alice a varied approach. You have a knife called the Vorpal Blade for light attacks, Hobby Horse for heavy attacks, Pepper Grinder for quick ranged attacks, and a Teapot Cannon for that heavy splash damage. Alice also has an umbrella for blocking, and a remote bomb which was used mostly for puzzle elements. The combo system is rudimentary at best, but still enjoyable. Even given options, I consistently found myself going back to Vorpal Blade well, and rarely used my Hobby Horse aside from when it was necessary to break enemies defenses, or smash certain objects. There’s also a basic upgrade system for each of the four main weapons. The games currency is teeth. Creepy, I know. You get them for pretty much everything you do. They’re in breakable objects, fall from enemies bodies upon defeat, or just strewn about the level.

The platforming portions are anything but perfect. They work well enough and are passable but can also be wildly inconsistent. There are times where buttons presses would go completely unnoticed, or my dash would send me in the opposite direction causing me to fall to my death. The hub world that you traverse for small portions of the game almost feel like an afterthought. It does help somewhat with the story progression, but also doesn’t feel necessary. The town feels mostly vacant and trivial. To be fair I’m not sure if that’s a sign of the time of release. I did find the option to walk around this area in first person to be a fun inclusion, and made wandering the streets a bit more enjoyable, but most of the time I just wanted to find the way out to get back to the fun.

The story is incredible and shines at every moment. Whether it be through character development or story progression. I found myself caring about what was happening and looking forward to the next reveal. I don’t want to give any of the story beats away, but it’s truly a dark version of Alice in Wonderland done correctly. Every step is creepy and intriguing and it all culminates into an epic battle that is truly insane.

Despite its small shortcomings I feel this is a must play for anyone who is even remotely interested in a beautifully well designed and written dark take on the Alice and Wonderland universe. It takes chances in an era where most developers seemed focused on making the next Halo or Gears of War and for that it commands respect. There are times that you’ll be scratching your head figuring out what went wrong, but they don’t outweigh the amount of detail that was placed into every aspect of the design, and story. Alice is a beautifully twisted game that, in my opinion, a needed addition to any collection, or at the very least worth a playthrough.

  • Eye feel: 10
  • Ear feel: 9
  • Hand feel: 8
  • Mind feel: 9
  • Overall feel: 9