Alice: Madness Returns First Impressions

When it comes to combining video games with other entertainment mediums, we often think of movie-inspired games that almost always end up disappointing. The preconceived notion of building games off of other properties often spells out disaster, but when this practice changes to involve literature, a different beast is created. While I’m only a few hours into Alice: Madness Returns, I’m very impressed with what I’ve come across.

The introductory level eases players and Alice herself back into Wonderland. For review purposes and the interest of time, I went with Normal difficulty, so I could get through the game with as little roadblocks as possible. The first moments of the game were rather spot on, capturing Alice’s murky, colorless, dead-end of a life in Victorian London as a resident of an insane asylum. The jump to Wonderland itself found her once again surrounded by the utopia that could only be described in words. Seeing Lewis Carroll’s world come to life was a treat, but seeing American McGee’s influence in turning it into a nightmarish environment was equally important. Everything seemed fine until the pastoral setting of the Vale of Tears began to erupt with lava, changing the coloring of the entire landscape. The further I got with this level, the more twisted and vile Alice’s escape from the real world was becoming.

Of everything that I’ve observed so far, I was most impressed with the game’s controls. Alice’s movements are nimble and with finesse – the way she spins  when she double jumps and floats from one ledge to the other, or when dodging, she bursts into a swarm of blue butterflies only to reappear out of danger. While Alice isn’t a hulking bruiser brandishing a sword as tall as they are, she clearly shows that she can dish out the pain and look stylish while doing it. Movement isn’t slow and stiff, but it isn’t completely loose either.

Although this is a video game, players will get the most out of it if they’re familiar with Lewis Carroll’s original stories. Throughout the Vale of Tears, I was constantly picking up on nods to the books, from the gameplay mechanic of shrinking and growing to traverse new areas, to the Duchess awarding Alice with a Pepper Grinder (which doubles as a machine gun). This isn’t just another hack-and-slash game in the vein of Devil May Cry or God of War, but it takes some cues from those contemporaries.

I’ve only scratched the surface of Alice: Madness Returns, and so far, I’m excited to see what happens next for her. As someone who has read the book, it’ll be interesting to see how changed the denizens of Wonderland have been influenced by it’s degradation, and how the game allows us to explore and interact within this digital reimagining of Carroll’s classic. With the Vale of Tears behind me, I just stepped foot into the Mad Hatter’s domain.

Stay tuned for a review for Alice: Madness Returns.

Preparing for Alice: Madness Returns

Back in March, I was stationed on the Children’s floor of the local library that I work at, tasked with tidying up the shelves and making sure the place was orderly. I always admired it because the majority of the books I enjoyed from elementary school well through high school were aptly defined as children’s books. While I never could read everything I set my mind to back then, I always walked past a certain title that made me wish I were a kid again, with no responsibilities, free to leisurely read. Before Harry Potter took the position of the most important children’s book of our generation, that title was firmly held by Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland.

I checked it out immediately, and made a habit to read a couple pages a day since then. I finally finished it last night, and I not only enjoyed it for the literature it was, but I believe its going to be very important in terms of understanding the context of the upcoming game based upon it.

Alice: Madness Returns is the sequel to 2000’s American McGee’s Alice. Both games take the original plot from Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass in a decidedly darker direction… And darker is putting it lightly. Wonderland, the utopia as it was shown in the books, is corrupted by Alice’s mind, twisted into a bloody, grotesque, evil incarnation. It’s inhabitants also morph to reflect these changes; The Cheshire Cat goes from a plump, jolly feline to an emaciated feral beast with pierced ears. The Mad Hatter, constantly dining with tea and a pastry, regresses into a green-skinned fellow who spends his time experimenting on the other hapless denizens of Wonderland, taking them apart and replacing their body parts with machinery…

…This isn’t Johnny Depp’s Mad Hatter, and this isn’t the Wonderland any of us were taught in grade school. These are just a few differences, but you get the picture.

Although Alice: Madness Returns is clearly an action adventure title, I think it’s very important to not only take into account the game play elements, but also the atmosphere and the storyline. Many game reviews will either praise an action game’s storyline if it’s good, or hastily push it to the side and not weigh it as much if it’s bad. For this game, I think both sides will be important to take into account. Not many games draw directly from the world of Literature like Alice does, so I think this game will definitely be a treat.

Alice: Madness Returns will be dropping on June 14, 2011.