Alice: Madness Returns Playtest – Wonderland’s Twisted Platformer

By Spencer . June 14, 2011 . 12:50pm


If you played American McGee’s Alice you probably know this, but I’ll mention it first since many trailers make the game look like Bayonetta or something similar. Alice: Madness Returns, like the original game, is primarily a platformer with bits of combat.


The sequel begins not in Wonderland, but Victorian London. Inside Rutledge Asylum, a therapist advises Alice to forget the past, but she’s fixated on finding out what happened to her family who were killed in a fire in 1863. Alice (and her stuffed rabbit) were the only ones that made it out alive. I walked through asylum rooms in search of secrets, but found none. The dreary London portions of Alice: Madness Returns aren’t designed for exploration, these just setup her entrance into a now ruined Wonderland. Asian art seen in the home of her lawyer inspires a world with floating Ming vases, grasshoppers in desperate need of her help, and samurai wasps. When Alice gets knocked out in a seedy, sea-themed brothel she dreams of an underwater Wonderland.



Before any of those areas, Alice wanders through an aged factory where the Mad Hatter, a clockwork giant in Madness Returns, lives. He, like most of Wonderland’s whimsical inhabitants, sends her on a fetch quest. Later in Alice: Madness Returns, Alice makes a snarky remark about how everyone in Wonderland is so helpless, but she continues fulfilling their requests. In the Mad Hatter’s mechanized world, Alice needs to soar past gaping pits to retrieve his limbs. Believe it or not, Alice actually gets more air than Mario (minus the cape or raccoon tail). In her memories, one of the kids compares Alice to a toad, which isn’t far from the truth. Alice has a triple jump and can float in between hops to extend her horizontal range. Mastering this is tricky, at first, since platforms move and judging the distance from afar isn’t clear. Alice: Madness Returns is quite forgiving if you fall and merely teleports Alice back a few jumps after she explodes into butterflies.


Mad Hatter’s domain was built with mushrooms to bounce on a steam vents that keep Alice in the air. The second stage, the third, and so on… used the same level design. While the setting changed from a Far East mountain to a demented dollhouse, Alice still searched for red targets to shoot with her pepper grinder (Alice’s take on a machine gun), shrank when there was no "ground" to make invisible platforms appear, and jumped… a lot. It’s like Alice: Madness Returns showed everything in the first level. Well, except for the mini-games. Developer Spicy Horse added variation by sprinkling events like sliding puzzles, a stylized 2D side-scroller, an unnecessary rhythm game, and even a horizontal shooter where you blast crabs with cannon arms.



Combat has a similar roadblock since Alice doesn’t develop much. Her range of attacks increase when she finds the weapon of the level – either a teapot that acts like a grenade launcher or the Hobby Horse, a toy horse Alice uses like a giant mallet. That’s actually her heavy attack, but you won’t get it until the second stage. Even after upgrading weapons Alice doesn’t learn new combos. Since the Vorpal Blade is her primary weapon I maxed out its level first and fights (outside of challenge rooms) ended up being a breeze. Each enemy in Alice: Madness Returns has a specific weakness. Menacing Ruins, for example, are vulnerable after you reflect a fireball using Alice’s umbrella. Eyepots, walking teapots that scald Alice with tea, need to be stunned with the pepper grinder before furiously slashing at them. This makes every weapon in Alice’s arsenal useful, but battles become routine since the same tactics are recycled.


Alice: Madness Returns has environments that beckon players to explore further. Shrink and you may find a tiny keyhole to walk in. Jump off the critical path and there may be a treasure trove of teeth (used to upgrade Alice’s weapons) or a memory. Or a bottle. Or a hidden pig snout to pepper. Like many modern platformers, Alice: Madness Returns is loaded with items to find, but if you move too fast you can miss them. In many points, it isn’t possible to backtrack. Doors close on Alice and collectibles are locked away. Memories are perhaps the most valuable since they complement the story. Yes, Alice: Madness Returns is a story driven title, but the voice acting is often drowned out by the game’s music. I found myself depending on subtitles, which was a bit odd since the reason why I played Madness Returns is to see Alice interacting with warped Wonderland characters. Spicy Horse delivers those in spades.



After a ten hour romp, Alice: Madness Returns is only extended by its predecessor. Every new copy of the game includes a HD version of American McGee’s Alice. Get the game used and you’ll need to purchase an Electronic Arts online pass to unlock it. While the original Alice is over a decade it old, it feels more fleshed out the Madness Returns. Perhaps, the sequel was so off the wall it was rushed out the door?

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  • Only 10 hours for a non multiplayer title? Er, I guess I will pass at 5$ an hour is pretty steep without multiplayer. Thanks for this though, interesting art direction.

    • HistorysGreatestMonster

      You’ve obviously never played any of the God of War or Metal Gear titles then.

  • pridesin

    I am tempting to buy this game just for its artistic beauty.

    • HistorysGreatestMonster

      It’s very worth it!

  • mikanko

    Kind of disappointing to hear.  I recall the original’s controls feeling a bit clunky, and the platforming and combat both both being rather blase.  Still love the aesthetic, which the original had enough of to carry the rest of the game. 

  • I was contemplating of getting the artbook for this series because it’s so mesmerising, but looks like I’ll have to hear more about the game first

  • Ten hours? I’m of the opinion that a relatively short game can be fun but just ten hours and very limited ability to backtrack? What were they thinking?

  • Aoshi00

    Could you turn down the music and turn up the dialogue volume in setting?  That’s what I do w/ most of the games, sometimes the music drowns out spoken dialogue..  of course I always have subtitles on too.

    I don’t know, 10 hrs is probably good enough for me even for single player like Enslaved.. too long it takes me forever to finish like Castlevania Lords of the Shadow (not sure if I’m half way done yet *.*).. even Uncharted 2 wasn’t very long and I’m satisfied w/ the game and haven’t played multiplayer yet.  I think it’s the experience that counts, plus they threw in the original game..  anyway, haven’t played the original, this looks really tripped out :).

  • HistorysGreatestMonster

    Playing the original, for the first time, as it came with this. Really loving the platforming of it. Haven’t started the second game yet, since I wanted to get the story in order, but I’d still say with two games for the price of one, it’s a good deal. Especially because it gives you a chance to play the first one on an actual controller, instead of a mouse and keyboard.

  • Code

    rar, I’m rather interested in this ever since watching the trailer out of curiosity a few months back. Immediately was draw in by the art style and look of it, and have been curious ever since. Will probably look into down the road sometime, although I don’t like to judge games based on hours, I also like to get a good bang for my buck. Also it’s a shame about back-tracking, in-ability to backtrack in games where you can miss things, always strikes me as poor game design omo;

    • HistorysGreatestMonster

      The backtracking is a minor annoyance, though, and the individual chapters are REALLY long. I played the second chapter for three hours, and that wasn’t from constantly dying or anything. I guess if I rushed through, just trying to get the end of the level, it probably would’ve taken me only half that time, but if you’re like me, and you’re obsessive about finding secrets and collecting stuff, then it’s well worth the money.

  • PrinceHeir

    looks amazing :)

    this, Majin, and El Shaddai will probably gonna be one of the most underrated titles this year

    • HistorysGreatestMonster

      It’s a great game, quite honestly. I almost get the feeling people were expecting something other than what the game is and that’s why it’s getting reviewed so poorly, yet the player reaction I see amongst my friends and online is mostly positive. Definitely a sleeper title.

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