In this blog of mine, aside from blogging about the various blog-worthy happenings in the video game world, I will also be reviewing a new game once a week. Not any game in particular, and probably not a game that is new to the market. It is just my way of giving you, gentle reader, a suggestion of something great to play, or something putrid and awful to avoid like my mad lib skills.
This week, I will be tackling "Alice: Madness Returns" or as I like to call it "American McGee Presents: A Game EA Out-Right Stole, and Probably Had No Part in the Development of: Alice 2"
Now, for those of you not familiar with the "Alice" franchise (as it is now) Let me start you off with a little history lesson. "Alice in Wonderland" is in the public domain. That means it is free to use as a basis for whatever you like, the story belongs to the public for use by anyone, for anyone's benefit. That is why there are so many incarnations of the story published in film, comics, games etc. This is why American McGee was allowed to create "Alice" as such a fun and twisted adventure, because the characters belong to everyone.
EA on the other hand, had a bit of a different take on this. See, American McGee created what is pretty much a sequel to the "Alice in Wonderland" series of novels, but lacked the resources to publish himself, EA allowed American to publish through them, and who would decline that deal back in EA's heyday? Nobody, that's who! But EA very heavy handedly copyrighted every aspect of the game, from the characters down to the phrase "American McGee's" So, in essence, American no longer owns his creation. EA now sits on the IP, and don't really let American touch it. Really an injustice. At least, that is one version of the story. EA probably has a different version, but that is aside the point.
Several years after "American McGee's Alice" Enjoyed a fair amount of success for a niche game, EA so graciously offered American the chance to work on his brain child once again, and thus spawned "Alice: Madness Returns"
Now, "Alice: Madness Returns" or as I will call it from now on "Alice" is a bit of a unique rabbit in today's world of "Call of Duty: Modern Battlefield of Honor 5". It is somewhat behind the times, and that could not be more of a blessing.
Alice is an action platformer heavily reminiscent of Banjo Kazooie, Donkey Kong Country, or Psychonauts, which is the eloquent way of saying it is a collect-a-thon and a half, but it has the soul to back it up, so it's many hidden goodies are not gone to waste. Now you may be weary of collect-a-thon games, but rest assured, nearly every collectible in Alice feels important. If it isn't giving you a boost to your stats, it is giving you a short dialog snippet that unlocks more of the story. The collectibles are just... Right. The collectibles serve another important duty in this game, and that is to feed into the astounding level design, which brings me to my next point;
The game is split into several "worlds" in the fashion of older platformers like Super Mario Bros. Each world or area is more beautiful than the last, and none left me wanting. The game's strongest point is definitely it's visual design, and cohesive, yet heavily varied style. From lush gardens to steam punk factories, to far east origami villages, the game never lets you get bored of a setting, and flies you away from world to world just as you get accustomed to the last one's visual themes. As I said, most definitely the game's strong suit. The visual style is not crippled by the buttery smooth graphics of the Unreal Engine either, though there is some pop-in when entering new areas. This is largely a non issue. All of this is tied together with pitch perfect audio design (pun intended) the sound effects, especially the tooth collection sound, are candy to the ears. Satisfying and crisp, all compounded by a fantastic OST.
Graphics and collectibles are fine and all, but that isn't why we play games now is it? Well it shouldn't be! The real reason we play games is for fun! Right guys? Right? Right. Well, there is no need to fear, because Alice has some of the best platforming fun this generation, with jumping puzzles up the ass, extremely varied enemies (at least 3 distinct enemies every world) and surprisingly satisfying, quick, brutal combat that leaves your many many enemies in a bloody heap at your feet. Alice is a gamer's game, as it offers just about everything you could want in the gameplay department tied all up neat and tidy with a heaping helping of difficulty. When a new enemy is introduced it can seem like the hardest thing in the world, but as you progress in your skills, bosses become common enemies, and that makes you feel like a total badass. Progression is extremely satisfying, and happens fast enough to make even the most ADD gamer feel like a complete hard-ass, or as much so as one can while running around in a pretty dress.
Now all of this isn't without its faults, no matter how few they are. As I have said, the game, or should I say the engine, has a problem with pop-in. While not game breaking, this has a detrimental effect on immersion when all of a sudden you find that Alice has no eyebrows.
Pop-in aside, the gameplay doesn't get a free pass either. There are a number of minigame puzzles in Alice that would have been fine as one off things, but get repeated ad nauseum.
But those things don't detract much from a game that shows more polish and care than most anything we have seen this generation. "Alice: Madness Returns" is a platformer, and a collet-a-thon, and that should be taken into account before playing, but if you liked Banjo Kazooie, and if you like games, which I hope you do, you will be sure to love Alice.
Let's hope hope hope that EA allows American McGee visitation rights in another 10 or 12 years so we can come back to Wonderland once again. It will be a long awaited day, gentle reader. And I will be there on the widow's wharf waiting patiently as always for EA to man up.
Did I mention the pretty dresses?