As low as some of the prices were, I made a conscious effort to buy games from the Steam Summer Sale that I knew I would actually play. I wanted to avoid buying games because of their ridiculously low price, since I knew they would sit in my Steam Library without even being installed. The first game I would buy under this wallet protection plan was Alice: Madness Returns – a platformer that takes a dark tone andsurrounds the colourful Alice in Wonderland story. Were it not for the different perspective on a familiar childhood tale, I would have never even considered giving it my attention. At the same time, I don’t think anyone would have given Alice: Madness Returns a fair chance if it didn’t ground itself in Alice in Wonderland. Strip away the aesthetic and attention to the littlest of visual details in the environments, and Alice: Madness Returns is an unevenly paced, tedious platformer that never seems to end.
It’s not fair to reduce a game down to its core, even though it can reveal the reality of the experience a game offers. The uniqueness of Wonderland is the most important part of Alice: Madness Returns and developers, Spicy Horse, emphasize that point by the amount of detail that went into each environment and object. An area within Chapter 3 – by far the worst area of the game – has an Oriental theme, with trees made porcelain, covered with many patterns; or broken pieces of glass with hand painted flowers on them in the place of actual flowers. I often would spend time, despite not doing this with other games, looking around each room and admiring each little visual detail, even if I would only briefly remain in the area.
The major faults of the game such as, terrible voice actors, poorly connected story sequences and awkwardly transitioned cut scenes, leave me confused and ultimately dismissive of the “dark” tones. For a story that takes itself so seriously regarding a plot that is just so devoid of actual emotional significance, the mass blood spatters of killed enemies, dark shadowy places or gruesome deaths of enemies, are essentially part of a thematic gimmick . After playing through the entire and way too long single player, I can honestly say the “dark” tone is a basis for a visual flare. The reasons connecting a mass grave yard of slaughtered fish people in Wonderland, only barely connects to reality, as I happened to remember the one instance when I walked by a pile of dead fish at a dock. But the reason for why Wonderland’s fish people were hanging by hooks and gathered up into corpse piles, is not disclosed in the story events. Using Alice’s past and her far too often foray into Wonderland as a basis to convey a forgetful story is not the issue, it’s the poor execution on this idea, which gives the impression that Spicy Horse was hopeful that I would be too stupid to notice the obvious disjointedness that come with each story bit.
And I wouldn’t be so critical of the narrative if combat and other the mechanics of the game, weren’t clearly such an afterthought. Auto lock-on in a third person action game? You’ve got to be kidding me. Even if you want to free aim and use the crosshair freely, the confined platforms and hallways restrict your vision, losing sight of your targets. Not to mention that the ranged weapon, The Pepper Grinder (you actually grind fresh pepper at your enemies) barely does any damage, making the hassle of aiming the thing, not worth the effort.
Despite being around 12 hours in length, playing Alice: Madness Returns feels like it takes an eternity to reach the end. Having great graphics and an unique aesthetic, might be perfect for a photo or a painting, but it will not carry a game for very long. There is just nothing interesting to do in Wonderland, nothing to challenge the player or get them to think about the story and any underlying themes or messages. Each new chapter is worse than the previous, and every moment longer that I spent playing Alice: Madness Returns, my tolerance lessened and my frustration grew. I played Alice: Madness Returns based on my interest in its aesthetic. While my curiosity was satisfied, everything else about the game is not worth trudging through just to see some great looking trees.