I have only recently just played American McGee’s Alice and having just completed the sequel, Alice: Madness Returns, I would have to say that my first impression is that the sequel is the stronger game of the two. I know many might disagree with me, but playing both back-to-back has led me to that belief.
Alice: Madness Returns picks up where American McGee’s Alice left off. Alice has been released from the asylum and is now in a “home for wayward children” under a psychiatrist’s care. But we learn quickly that she still has not fully recovered and that for Alice, madness is just around the corner.
Alice’s form of madness creates Wonderland, where she soon returns and discovers that some malevolent force is now at work there. It is up to Alice not only to save Wonderland, but in doing so, also save herself and recover the memories of the fire that caused her family’s deaths.
First and foremost, I loved this game. It was dark and eerie and malevolent and most of all, fun. Wonderland has been transformed into a world where pig snouts need to be peppered, playing cards create castles, underwater adventures ensue and creepy dolls try to kill you. This Wonderland is so much more than the previous games and is so well-imagined that it’s very easy to get engrossed in the game’s setting.
Gameplay, as in the original, is linear, but there is a lot of extras that are new to the sequel. For example, the previously-mentioned pig snouts. Pig snouts are one of those elements you are told to look out for. Once you find one, you hit it with your pepper grinder. It sneezes and you are rewarded with teeth (to be used in upgrading weapons) and roses (for health). Peppering pig snouts can also lead you to special areas where you can collect memories in order to learn more of Alice’s story.
Weapons are original this time around, too. Not only do you get the vorpal blade from the first game, but also the pepper grinder, a hobby horse and a teapot. They don’t sound like much, but all can do serious damage, depending on the enemy you’re fighting. I actually found myself using the pepper grinder quite a bit in combat.
Other items you’ll be using include the shrink potion. Drinking this potion allows you to see hidden areas and to also shrink in size to access areas regular-sized Alice can’t get into. There is also the umbrella, which comes in handy in throwing bombs back at enemies who lob them at you.
Speaking of which, combat is also fun. There are a host of new villians to fight, including things called ruins which wear doll faces you have to smash in order to kill them. There are also weird fish and baby dolls and flying heads and all sorts of fantastical things that can steal away your roses.
The graphics in this new game are obviously better than the first, but a lot of that is due to technological advances. I especially liked how some cut scenes were done with 2-D paper cut-outs of characters – it lent a lot to the storytelling. There is also opportunity to play in 2-D levels when you have Alice jump into paintings. The game, in and of itself, is gorgeous.
The story is more fulfilling than the original and you finally get an answer as to what happened during the fire that killed Alice’s family. Each chapter in the game gives you more and more information, something the first game seemed to lack.
If you’re going to play this one, though, set aside some time. This one gives you hours and hours and hours of gameplay. I think I finished L.A. Noire faster than this game. But that is, obviously, a good thing.
To sum up, the game developers with Alice: Madness Returns not only picked up where the previous game left off, but they improved upon it. And that is what a sequel should be.