Archived Story

JOYSTICK: Alice finds no joy in Wonderland

Published 8:00pm Saturday, June 18, 2011

At its best, “Alice: Madness Returns” is a dark, beautiful, chilling story. At its worst, it’s a nightmare to play.

The sequel to “American McGee’s Alice,” the 2000 cult PC game with a twisted Lewis Carroll interpretation, Alice’s art design is incredible.

The game centers around Alice, the protagonist of Carroll’s “Alice in Wonderland.” More than 10 years after Alice’s second adventure from “Through the Looking Glass,” as well as a fire that claimed her home and her family, Alice has left the mental asylum that provided the backdrop for the first game.

This is definitely not for children. There’s blood and gore, a heavy dose of Victorian creepshow aesthetics and some sexualization which feels awkward in a tale most people know from a Disney movie. Alice turns lolita in this game, with several costumes gained as you progress and about five weapons that reinforces female stereotypes (a kitchen knife as your main weapon, a pepper shaker as a gatling gun, etc.).

The art design is stunning, with each set piece, each character, each platform adding unease to your experience. This game’s ambience and use of Carroll’s stories are definitely creepy.

Yet for its artistic merits, A:MR spectacularly fails at some very simple things. The game is short, only about 10 hours long, and you’ll be spending half your time trying to jump on platforms that aren’t there. The game design makes you think there’s places to jump that aren’t really there.

That makes this game repetitive and linear. Worse, the enemy battles aren’t that interesting, even with a super-powered mode. It’s all right to have a platformer with few battles, but repetitive levels in a short game feels like you’re getting the short end of the stick.

Despite an intriguing story, gorgeous design and several sidequests, there isn’t enough to A:DR to warrant $60. It feels like an incomplete console game, though it does include a free copy of “American McGee’s Alice.” That’s not enough to make up for some serious gameplay flaws and repetitive levels.

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