Alice: Madness Returns
I recently sunk my teeth into Alice: Madness Returns, thanks to the magic of Steam sales. One of the game’s biggest draws is its visuals; specifically, its art style. The scenery is gorgeous, and the game often feels like a sightseeing tour leading you through a twisted museum of weirdness.
So, like any good tourist I packed my trusty F12 key in my suitcase and took screenshots of every fascinating shot along the way. I haven’t quite finished the game, and I’m not even sure how far I am through it, but I’ve already amassed over 50 pictures.
This post was originally going to just be a collection of pictures from the game, but the captions ended up being so long that I eventually realized I have a lot to say about it. Also, I really don’t feel like uploading, resizing and cropping all of those pictures.
But I’ve still got some pictures to show that don’t have a whole lot of text to go along with them, either because I think they’re funny or interesting on their own or because I have something to say about them. So consider it a half-photojournal, half-discussion-review-thing.
Alice: Madness Returns is a 3D platformer. Hey, remember those? We had a lot of them in the N64 and PSX era, what with Crash Bandicoot, Spyro the Dragon, Banjo Kazooie, and 3D revivals of countless older platformers like Mario, Sonic and Donkey Kong. But with each passing generation the number of new 3D platformers dwindled and now it’s practically an endangered species. The only 3D platforming franchises I can think of that are still kicking would be Mario and Ratchet & Clank. Well I suppose there’s also Sonic, but just acknowledging the fact that that insidious creature still makes money kind of makes me want to puke.
I suppose many would argue that games like Tomb Raider and Assassin’s Creed are platformers. They’re great games, but calling them platformers sort of feels like a stretch to me. I’ve always thought of platformers as adventures in running and jumping from one platform to the next, while Altair and Lara are more interested in climbing, running on walls and other sorts of acrobatic stunts. I feel like those sorts of games should be classified under a different label, like parkour or freerunning games.
But anyway, I really miss 3D platforming. Some people say the 3D makes it hard to judge jumps, and I suppose it does take some getting used to, but I still think it’s a worthwhile genre. Maybe it’s some deep-seated nostalgia on my part, or maybe jumping long distances gives me that same intense thrill that once had me jumping between pieces of furniture in the living room and insisting that the floor was made of lava. But whatever the case may be, I’m willing to accept Madness Returns with open arms, as long as it doesn’t suck.
This game gets several points right off the bat by featuring a non-sexualized female protagonist. I know this probably sounds like a minor point, but it’s so frighteningly rare in the games industry these days that I really do feel the need to give it a thumbs-up for it. The main character is a girl, but we’re never expected to look at her in that way. She’s a girl, but she’s also a person.
I also have to say that I like Alice a lot. She seems about as disinterested in the various characters’ quirks and fetch quests as I am. She makes the snarky comments I always want to, and her desire to simply continue onward neatly mirrors my own.
The art style in this game is interesting, if strange. The original American McGee’s Alice may or may not look similar. I wouldn’t know; I haven’t played it.
There is a plethora of collectibles to find and snatch in this game. Most of them seem to just give the usual concept art and brief dialogue lines from Alice’s life before she went bananas. Sometimes you’ll find teeth, though, which are used as currency in a completely token weapon upgrading system. I never notice differences between a weapon before or after I upgrade it. I suppose it just deals marginally higher damage.
This is what some of the cutscenes in Madness Returns look like. Imagine a bunch of assorted paper cutouts shaking about like they’re hopped up on caffeine and you’ve got a pretty good visualization. To the game’s credit, these cutscenes don’t show up very often, and most of the cutscenes are rendered in the in-game engine, but whenever these concept art scenes show up they blend about as well with the rest of the game as a vegetarian at a steakhouse.
Here’s me attempting to navigate past an invisible wall. I failed. Invisible walls are all over the place in this game, and sometimes it feels unfair and unnecessary. It makes the game feel more old-school, in a bad way.
Funny story: When the crab walked out and made a clicking noise I thought to myself, “Wait, why does that crab sound like a Predator?” Then I remembered that, oh yeah, crabs did it first.
On the whole, Madness Returns is a pretty fun and interesting game, but it just isn’t very captivating. I stopped playing it because of other games, and I’m not sure when and if I’ll ever go back. That’s not because it’s a 3D platformer; it’s because it just doesn’t have a whole lot of substance to it. It does have a decent variety of enemies, weapons and environments, but it feels padded. It might just be too long.