A decade on from American McGee's Alice, a stylishly gothic and twisted interpretation of Lewis Carroll's Wonderland, gamers are given the opportunity to return to this twisted world with Alice: Madness Returns. It's not crazy to delight in that not much has changed over the past decade for Alice, is it?
For those unfamiliar with the 11-year-old American McGee's Alice, that PC game told a video game sequel story of its own, following the events of Carroll's Through the Looking-Glass. In the EA published video game, Alice's mental breakdown sends her to a corrupted Wonderland under the rule of the Queen of Hearts.
In Madness Returns, previewed at GDC last week, Alice is still beautifully bonkers, having returned to the fantasy world of a macabre Wonderland, an alternate reality twisted by her own insanity. Wonderland represent a refuge for her and a tool to uncover memories suppressed after the death of her family, the trauma that led to the events of 2000's Alice video game.
Alice will travel back and forth between the realities of her life in London and the gorgeously macabre Wonderland. As she becomes more troubled in her waking life, Wonderland becomes more corrupt.
Alice: Madness Returns features a mix of platform-jumping adventuring and combat. Alice is armed with a handful of reliable weapons: with her Vorpal Blade equipped, she can slash and stab at enemies; a tea pot lobs powerful charges at enemies; her pepper mill acts as a hand-cranked machine gun; and her hobbyhorse can crush foes like a powerful club. Throughout her adventure, Alice can gather collecitble teeth, the currency with which she upgrades her weaponry.
She can also deploy clockwork white rabbits in Wonderland, decoys that serve to distract foes long enough for Alice to find an enemy's weakness and attack for (what else?) massive damage.
When she's severely damaged in combat, Alice's world will transform into a ghostly whiteness, her hair will whip wildly from a spectral wind. This is Hysteria Mode, a last ditch attempt, only a few seconds long to destroy enemies with a boost in attack power to recover Alice's health.
The combat in Alice: Madness Returns won't revolutionize third-person action games, but it's a beautiful ballet of violence. Gorgeous effects light up the screen. Alice flits about the battlefield, dissolving into a swarm of glowing butterflies and reforming in another location to avoid enemies.
When Alice isn't fighting ghastly Playing Card Soldiers, she'll be exploring the corrupt Wonderland. There's some elementary platform jumping here, made more interesting by Alice's ability to shrink and grow at will. When shrunken, Alice can see things in Wonderland her full-sized self can't, like a series of invisible moving platforms or graffiti scrawled upon the walls, messages left to her by her friends in the London asylum.
While Alice: Madness Returns doesn't appear to radically build upon the gameplay of American McGee's earlier game, it's the gorgeously realised world and developer Spicy Horse's interpretation of Alice In Wonderland's characters that are most appealing about this adventure.
Alice: Madness Returns comes to the Xbox 360, PlayStation 3 and PC this summer.