|System: PC, PS3, Xbox 360|
|Dev: Spicy Horse|
|Pub: Electronic Arts|
|Release: June 14, 2011|
|Screen Resolution: 480p-1080p||Blood and Gore, Sexual Themes, Strong Language, Violence|
by Adam Dodd
Since it's been eleven years since American McGee's Alice was released, I wasn't sure what to expect when I booted up Madness Returns. Would it be a horrifying adventure filled with terrifying creatures and limited health? Or maybe it would be more of an action adventure game with clever puzzles and solid platforming? Well, it has elements of both, but in the end it's really none of the above.
Madness Returns is an interesting beast. It's obvious that a lot of effort, love, and dedication were invested into building an experience that is as beautiful as it is frightening. The team at Spicy Horse has made one of the most unique games I've had the pleasure of playing in a long time, but unfortunately there are a few issues that keep this game from being the follow-up many of us so desperately wanted it to be.
Let's start with one of the game's best features: the art style. This definitely won't stand up to the better-looking games out there, and there are a handful of graphical issues like slow-loading textures and noticeable seams. But it's evident that quite a bit of time was taken to make sure each of the game's six levels looks different than the next, and each new level brings with it a completely different aesthetic with new creatures, both good and bad—terms I'll use loosely—to inhabit it. The only issue is that while each environment looks different, they each play almost exactly the same. You have the geysers that lift you high into the air, pads on the ground for you to bounce on so you can get to those hard-to-reach places, and enemies that look different but require similar strategies to vanquish as their siblings in the other worlds.
Basically, you can break Madness Returns into three sections: combat, platforming, and puzzles. Sadly, the only section that requires any real effort is the combat, and that's only when you're forced to fight a large number of adversaries at once. The platforming, for the most part, is pretty basic. You jump and float from one area to the next, using the geysers and jump pads that have been strategically placed to help you. Occasionally you'll come across invisible platforms that require a little more effort to cross.
Early in the game, Alice gains the ability to shrink herself so she can walk through small keyholes near the ground that lead to hidden items like collectible bottles, memories, or teeth, the game's currency. This ability also comes in handy for revealing the invisible platforms that can only be seen when Alice is very small. These help to break up the otherwise monotonous platforming, but they're never really used to their full potential, and they're almost always easy to get past.
The puzzles, though few and far between, are also very simple. For example, there's one puzzle that has you gather cubes strewn about the environment that act as pieces of a sliding puzzle. There are also targets that must be shot to reveal hidden platforms and pressure plates. Alice can stand on these or place a timed bomb on them before quickly scurrying to the next area. If the bomb explodes before you finish, everything resets and you must start over. The puzzles are fun, but never require much time to figure out. Once you've successfully completed them, there's no real feeling of accomplishment.
The combat is one of the most important pieces of the game, since you'll be fighting enemies as often as you'll be traversing aerial platforms. There will be a variety of enemies thrown at you over the course of the game, but you'll soon come to realize that while an enemy might look unique, it can usually be dispelled using the same technique used on a similar enemy in a previous world. Essentially, there are only a handful of different foes that are just wearing different skins.