Alice: Madness Returns Xbox 360 Review


Over ten years after we visited a twisted imagining of Wonderland in American McGee’s Alice, Alice: Madness Returns takes us back down the rabbit hole for another dark incarnation of Lewis Carrols’ children tale. With its signature dark tone, a great story, and smooth gameplay Madness Returns undoubtedly has potential for greatness. Sadly, that greatness is hampered by game design that is both repetitive and brimming with mindless filler.

Alice: Madness Returns ScreenshotPick up where the first game left off; Madness Returns follows Alice’s journey to discover the truth of what happened the night her family was killed in a fire. Her journey takes her through the real world in a bleak and colorless London of the late 1800’s, as well as Wonderland (where the game spends most of its time) where a mysterious train is destroying everything in its path. The story here is legitimately interesting with a few clever twists and a satisfying and unpredictable ending. Sadly though, it’s easy to forget what’s going on as the overarching narrative is never integrated into the gameplay well. And, with chapters that can last upwards of 90 minutes each, one cutscene before and after a chapter isn’t nearly enough to keep the story engaging. If you really want the full lowdown on Alice’s adventure, each copy of Madness comes with an online pass that allows for a one-time download of the original game. Just know that you will need the Madness Returns disc to play the original. Still, the story is one of the strongest parts of the game; the gameplay is where Madness suffers the most.

Being an action/adventure game, Madness’ gameplay stands on the three pillars of the genre: combat, platforming, and puzzles. Sporting hack-and-slash combat with multiple upgradable weapons, switching between weapons is fast and smooth, but the combat system isn’t particularly deep. There are a few moves you can string together with your Hobby Horse and Vorpal Blade, but not much else. That’s not to say the combat is a cakewalk. Since heath is finite and easily lost you will need to get very good at dodging or enjoy restarting at your last checkpoint. And when you face multiple enemy types at once in the later parts of the game, the challenge can be a lot of fun. The issue, then, is the incredibly repetitive nature of combat. From the early chapter grunts to the menacing later enemies, the way you defeat them is almost always the same. Just find that one move that leaves them stunned, then wail on them with your weapon. Wait for the chance to stun them again, rinse and repeat. Even when I found myself enjoying combat the only thrill and challenge came from the fact that you often loose ungodly amounts of health from a single blow.

The second staple of platforming is smooth enough to do with double jumps, triple jumps, and the ability to glide for short distances. You can gain more airtime through jump pads and air vents that keep you afloat. The final platforming abilityAlice’s shrink mode can also allow you to see invisible platforms as well as hidden keyholes that lead to hidden items and rooms. With a liberal use of invisible walls exploration isn’t exactly encouraged though as the game can often seem hell-bent on keeping on the often straight and narrow path. Like combat though, the biggest fault (and arguably only when you consider how smooth it all works) with the platforming is the grating amounts of repetition. The same mechanics of jump pads, air vents, and invisible platforms that you use in the beginning of the game are the same towards the end. The same can be said about the light puzzle elements, which usually involve timed pressure plates and pulling levers, but there is a variation on the pressure plates introduced late in the game.

The final elements to Madness’ gameplay are the mini-games; including sidescroll platforming, sidescroll shooting, chess, and block puzzles. These may be attempts to introduce variety to the Alice: Madness Returns Screenshotgameplay, but since they do not add anything to the core of the game or its mechanics they end up feeling like mindless filler. Ranging from mediocre to painfully boring; it’s a damn good thing these are all skipable, making them forgivable.

If there is one place Madness Returns is not lacking in, it’s the visual package. The art hits a perfect balance between imaginative and twisted without ever falling into needlessly grotesque. Each level has its own distinct art style ranging from dreary industrial areas to Japanese-inspired snow gardens. Honestly, it’s the art that kept me engaged and compelled to keep with the game. There were plenty of times during my playthrough were the repetition would grate in my nerves, only to be quickly mellowed out by a stunning new backdrop. Running on the Unreal Engine 3, there are the typical bouts of texture pop-in. But when you’re soaring down a pack of playing cards in the sky and triple jumping onto a 52 deck for boost, it truly feels like needless nitpicking to complain that much about the few hiccups.

There comes a game in every reviewer’s time that’s internally divisive when it comes time for the final verdict. For me, Alice: Madness Returns is that game. So, if you take anything away from all these written words, know this: over long playthroughs, Alice can often feel like a repetitious grind. When played in shorter sessions, not so much. The combat, puzzle, and platforming may not be deep, but they all function smoothly and can truly shine at times. The art and story of Alice are the high points, and good enough to keep you engaged until the end.  If you love story in videogames (as I do), if you can appreciate art (as I can), and If you can forgive repetitive game design (as I can’t) then jump into Madness Returns worry-free. Everyone else, look before you leap down this rabbit hole.

GGC Score: 7 out of 10
Click Here to Buy Alice: Madness Returns for Xbox 360 From Amazon.com


Music Credits: Alice: Madness Returns Soundtrack – Track 1 “Main Theme”

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About Abel Girmay

Just living, loving, and learning. What else is there to do?

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