the artistry and psychology of gaming


Alice: Madness Returns

Alice: Madness Returns

If I want to describe this game in one word, that word would be “playable”. Alice: Madness Returns is indeed fun, from the beginning to the end. One may note that it doesn’t fulfill its artistic potential, but as a pure game meant only for fun, it definitely delivers. Not that fun part is the only merit of the game and the game has absolutely no artistic inspiration, but it still leaves a lot to be desired. In short, it’s really hard to be completely fair to this game. On one hand you enjoy the game a lot, on the other it comes out as flawed.

This game based on Lewis Carroll’s two undying masterpieces, Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass, and it’s a sequel to American McGee’s Alice, a video game which retold and re-imagined the story of Alice in more sinister terms, introducing madness and depravity to the world of Alice, sending her to a much darker Wonderland. The original game was a masterpiece, although it had its shortcomings as well. The question is, can the sequel live up to the standards set by the original?


The gameplay of this game is very versatile; it consists of different modes, and many minigames are scattered throughout the game. Because of this the game is never repetitive or boring, and it’s constant fun, although sometimes the minigames can be obtrusive, and some of them are better than the others. This makes for an unbalanced but ultimately fun and enjoyable experience.

Firstly, there are many platformer levels in the game, where you should explore the environment using your abilities. The main bulk of platformer mode requires you to jump through broken paths and cross them safely. Alice can jump, then double jump and float in midair. Jumping is what you will be doing most of the time. She can also shrink to reach places she’s too big to fit. However, this is no easy task, and these parts are very challenging, difficult, and entertaining. Like all good platformers they require agility and good timing, and in addition to that, you need to use your brain a lot. You have to plan your moves ahead, or you will fall to your death. There are also some levels where you must avoid being killed by traps, and therefore, although most categorize the game as action-adventure, the game is a complete platformer as well. And a very good one at that. The game can be frustrating at times, but these moments are only passing.

After platformer we have the combat mode. Combat mode is very good as well. There are four weapon’s at Alice’s disposal, a Vorpal Blade, a fast melee knife, a hobbyhorse, a strong melee weapon, a pepper grinder, equivalent to a an automatic weapon, and a Teapot, equivalent to an RPG launcher. These weapons can be upgraded, although that aspect of the game is very shallow. The flow of the combat is very smooth and exciting, and it reminded me of Batman: Arkham Asylum, although in a very superficial way. (I mean, it looks good). There are no combos and no tactical maneuvers, although each enemy requires its own technique to be defeated. There are some challenging mini-bosses but when you know how to kill them, dealing with them will be mechanical. However, thankfully, there are numerous various enemies and the game never becomes boring. Combat remains shallow, but that’s understandable as it’s not the main focus of the game.

And now we have the minigames. There are multiple puzzle and platformer minigames in the game. They are not intrusive, and mostly provide a great resting point and stop the game from being repetitive. However, they vary in quality; some are very good and some are OK. The most beautiful one takes place in the Oriental chapter when the normal gameplay of the game is turned 2D and rendered in a style similar to Japanese/Chinese miniatures. One minigame puts you in control of a severed head and it’s challenging and hard, and mind-blowing. However, some puzzles are old and easy, and can be described by the juvenile expressions “meh”.

The worst aspect of the game is its collectibles. You have to gather teeth to upgrade your weapons, which isn’t very effective, some Memories which serve as audio logs but remain superficial (most are only one sentence) pig snouts which lead to rewards and then bottles which are completely useless. They’re just there, an artificial challenge. The other deadly sin of the game is its save points, which force you to replay levels and are troublesome when you are killed in the battle and/or have to turn off and go get busy with your life.

On a more positive note, the game is long, really, really long. Plus, the original game is included, and your money isn’t wasted at all. Overall, the gameplay is not flawless, but great and entertaining.


If this game was released as an original game, I could say a lot about its innovative story, but the elements which were revolutionary and fascinating about the original game are tried and old now, as this game is a sequel. That said, the story of the game remains good but not great. No, not great at all. The writing begs to be great and deep but it remains pretentious, and the game tries to tackle deep issues such as insanity, love and guilt, but it wanders on the surface. The game refers a lot to its source of inspiration without remaining loyal to its roots. This is why I said this game fails to stand up to its artistic potential. The game could be a masterpiece but it’s not, yet, it’s very, very good. I’m sure it’ll be one of the top 5 or 4 games of 2011, but it won’t go above that, it won’t be one of the best games of all times.

The best point about this game is Alice herself. Her character is deep, realistic, sympathetic and lovely. You will learn to care for her and respect her. Her mighty presence overshadows all the game, as the rest of the characters are nothing but mere foils and shadows. However, the game completely succeeds in dealing with her emotions and personality and it can be applauded for that.

The story engages you and you will happily follow it to the very end. There are some minor issues but they don’t matter, and the story flows easily. However, I believe some longer cutscenes and dialogues could help the game. They are some really interesting lines and dialogues and scenes, more importantly, some instances shine like a masterpiece (such as the breathtaking opening or the deeply moving asylum scene), but that’s all.

I will not be crude enough to call the story of the game disappointing, not at all. The story delivers, but one can only imagine how greater it could be.


If the gameplay and story are good but flawed, the graphics of the game is perfect and flawless. I believe it’s one of the most beautiful worlds that I have ever seen. Wonderland, whether in ruins or in its normal shape, is breathtaking and beautiful. There are very various visual landscapes, all detailed, all enthralling. You can look at this game and enjoy it a lot, simply because of the artistry put into the graphics of this game. Some levels are masterpieces of visual art, especially the Orient level. And the beautiful elements exist in all details, as the details are artistic. The way that flowers and butterflies appear as Alice floats, how she explodes to many butterflies as she dies, and how her hair dances in the wind, and how she shrinks, the way that the environment looks and feels. Everything is superb.

Another perfect aspect is the music. The music is mostly played with classic instruments and it suits the mood, it can be exciting, sad or moving. The track which plays during the main menu is so beautiful that I sometimes would stop navigating and listen to it. The sound effects are also great and they do what they should. One should congratulate the voice actors for their great work, especially Alice herself, whose beautiful and charismatic voice plays a great deal in her character development.


I highly recommend this game to everyone, buy it and enjoy it, it’ll be worth its price. Not a flawless game, but a very respectable one indeed.

One Comment

  1. An interesting review and an interesting game. I’m looking forward to playing it.

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