Despite all of the new releases, it’s been a slow gaming month for me. Admittedly that’s because I’ve been counting down the days to Skyrim‘s release (ten days at the time of writing) with bated breath. Actually, Skyrim will be the first in a set of game releases I’ve actually been looking forward to. But in the two weeks before Skyrim sucks up my life, I’ve started playing Alice: The Madness Returns.
I never actually played the original American McGee’s Alice, but thanks to Helloween4545’s Let’s Play of it, I know what happens. If you’re like me & never played the game, let me do a quick recap:
Alice’s mother, father & older sister die in a house fire. Traumatized by the incident, Alice is sent to an insane asylum. In order to escape her prison, she travels to Wonderland, but finds it mirrors her own fractured mind. To save Wonderland, & by extension herself, Alice must defeat the Queen of Hearts. Along the way she faces off against the Jabberwock, who is a physical manifestation of her own guilt, as Alice believes she started the fire that killed her family. At the end of the game, Alice discovers that she herself was the Queen of Hearts. The Queen represented Alice’s own madness. After defeating her, both Alice & Wonderland are restored, & Alice returns to the real world, last seen leaving the asylum.
In The Madness Returns, we see Alice one year after the events of the first game still struggling with the memory of her family’s death. Now living in an orphanage under the care of a psychiatrist, Alice finds hallucinations of Wonderland bleeding over into the real world.
I’ve only played up to reaching the Hatter’s domain, but it’s been a… surreal experience so far. The game actually starts with Alice in London. A very depressing London, with ugly-faced children & gaunt prostitutes. But it isn’t long before she’s attacked by freaky people with locust-like heads before literally falling into Wonderland proper. At first everything starts off lovely, with Alice landing in the picturesque Vale of Tears. But things quickly go to hell when the water turns to blood, black sludge monsters with doll faces attack me, & the countryside literally starts falling apart.
I do have to say, the game has some impressive landscapes, even when it gets twisted. The first scene in the Vale is breathtaking, & when you first spot the Hatter’s domain it’s quite a sight in all its industrial-nightmare glory. And excuse me for the estrogen moment, but I love the detail that’s been put into Alice’s design — her hair in particular. Her hair constantly blows in the wind. It’s hardly a deal-maker, but it’s just one of those small details I can’t help but appreciate.
Gameplay-wise, TMR shares the original’s action-platformer design. Apparently Wonderland is on a fault line, because there rarely seems to be proper solid ground. Fortunately, Alice’s dress seems to allow her supernatural jumping abilities. Not only can she jump, but she can “twirl” in double-jump fashion & even float, making platforming easy to pick up. From the novel, Alice also gains the ability to shrink early on. Not only does this allow her to go inside tiny keyholes, but it allows her to see things she can’t normally, such as hidden platforms or messages scrawled on the walls. It’s also amusing to hear Alice hiccup while small, as if she’s drunk.
The action side of this action-platformer comes in the way of combat. Various enemies have taken upon themselves to try to kill Alice. So far I’ve encountered the black sludge monsters I mentioned earlier (called Insidious Ruin & Slithering Ruin), Boltflies (which are literally bolts with wings) & Madcaps (strange men who attack me with forks & wear china for armor). Thankfully, Alice finds several weapons on her journey. Of course, these aren’t normal weapons. The Vorpal Blade returns in the form of fancy butcher knife, as well as the Pepper Grinder, which is… well, a pepper grinder. But it allows you to shoot enemies from a distance. Oh, & you can shoot pig snouts for secrets.
Did I forget to mention you collect teeth to upgrade weapons? Yeah…
Hopefully I’ll be able to finish TMR before next week, & I’ll be sure to post the review when I do.