Developer: Spicy Horse
by: Mike "Pheriannath" Katsufrakis
You know, out of the many literary universes to choose from, Wonderland would make for a deliciously twisted game world on its own, but American McGee would disagree with you. Taking notes from the Tim Burton school of design and adding an extra dash of grimdark, the Wonderland presented here is a nasty place indeed.
As the followup to 2000’s American McGee’s Alice, Madness Returns has a lot to live up to, most notably rose-tinted views of its predecessor, a game remembered for its distinctive art style. Fear not, for Spicy Horse has come through with quite an artistic achievement- the game (some texture issues aside) looks flat out gorgeous, a fact reinforced by my wife, who almost never comments on things like that.
The bulk of the game involves light puzzle solving and platforming, and Alice has a handy triple jump, with the ability to glide short distances using her skirt. You can almost reimagine the game as a dark Princess Peach (a la Mario 2) platformer. Early on, you’re granted the ability to shrink at will, which adds the curious ability to see hidden messages or invisible platforms throughout the levels.
Combat plays fast and loose - Alice mixes light and heavy attacks using her snicker-snacking Vorpal Blade and a googly-eyed hobby horse, ranged attacks using clockwork bombs (that look like rabbits with top hats) and a pepper grinder repurposed as a gatling gun. Your defensive options include the ability to quickly dash away by evaporating into a cloud of butterflies or whipping out a lovely Victorian parasol to deflect projectiles. The clockwork bombs also double as a decoy, attracting unwanted attention while you flit away. Of all things, I got reminded of my time with Darksiders during the combat portions, and that’s not a bad thing.
Unfortunately, sections of the game that seem fresh at first begin to outstay their welcome. While the art stays strong throughout, you can only platform through similar sections so many times before it begins to feel like grinding. Madness Returns is a game in desperate need of an editor. Your moveset remains fairly static throughout the game, and once you have all the weapons, there’s nothing new to look forward to other than new environments.
If you liked the original game, you’re doubly in luck. Not only is this a good sequel, new copies of the game actually come with a port of the original Alice, which you can play from the main menu. If our patriotically-named friend and Spicy Horse can streamline the core experience a bit, I can’t wait for further adventures in this dark Wonderland.