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Alice: Madness Returns
Score: 93%
ESRB: Mature
Publisher: EA Games
Developer: Spicy Horse
Media: Blu-ray/1
Players: 1
Genre: Platformer/ Action/ Adventure

Graphics & Sound:
About 10 years ago, there was a very dark and twisted videogame version of Alice in Wonderland called American McGee's Alice. While most of us didn't really think that Alice in Wonderland needed to be any more twisted, American McGee has a wonderfully twisted mind and proved that Alice could handle an upgrade to the macabre. Now, American McGee's studio, Spicy Horse, has given us a sequel in Alice: Madness Returns.

I love the visuals and artwork in Alice: Madness Returns. There are so many areas where you can press (L1) just to zoom in on the details of a particular scene. Granted, a large part of the areas will end up blood-splattered, so be prepared for that, but still, it's just beautiful. Little things like Alice turning into a bunch of butterflies every time she dodges (or dies) will make you dodge a few times just to see it. Considering how many different outfits she wears, all slightly different just to match the area, you can tell that they put a lot of work into making each little detail count.

Normally, I can take or leave the music in videogames. It's there, but I usually don't care about it. In this case, though, I really like the background music and it is quite useful. First, you can tell by the music if there are still enemies around. While they are there, it is much faster and darker. This really helps you know whether you're safe or not. Second, there are things that you need to be listening out for, like Pig Snouts. While you are going through, you will need to collect Pig Snouts and the best way to know when one is near is to listen for the oinking. So my advice is to enjoy the music in Alice: Madness Returns as it is quite pleasant and the sounds are more than helpful!

When you first launch Alice: Madness Returns, it installs the game data, which took well over 10 minutes, so just plan for it to take some time. After you start the game, you'll get a very bloody and disturbing introduction that I just loved. Apparently, we are now 10 years in the future. Alice's parents were killed in a fire and she just wants to forget her past. She spent 10 years locked in an asylum, but now she's in the care of Dr. Bumby, who is trying to help Alice forget her past. After a session with Dr. Bumby, Alice is sent to pick up some pills. On the way to pick up the pills, Alice runs into Nurse Witless who blackmails her. When Witless turns into a demon, Alice falls through the roof and back to Wonderland. Once back in Wonderland, things are at least more colorful for Alice, but the Cheshire cat warns her right off that things have changed in Wonderland and she really needs to be on her guard!

Alice: Madness Returns is a platformer and an action game. It is the first truly great platformer that I have played in years. Granted, you can run straight through and miss the majority of the more difficult jumps and glides by not exploring to find the extra hidden memories, bottles, and pig snouts, but where would the fun be in that? There are several things that you need to collect as you go to save Wonderland. This whole journey is for Alice to save Wonderland and therein, save herself. To do this, you'll need to collect memories, bottles, pig snouts, and teeth. You will have several different weapons to do this, eventually. You'll get the first two, the vorpal blade and the pepper grinder, in the first chapter. The vorpal blade is a close combat knife and the pepper grinder is a long range "gun." In Chapter Two, you'll get a hobbyhorse that is very useful for strong smashing. Finally, in Chapter Three, you'll get a teapot cannon, which is a much stronger but slower-ranged weapon. You can upgrade all of these weapons with the teeth that you have collected from killing enemies and picking them up from the boards, so you want as many as you can get! If you shrink inside a violet, it will surround you. When you become big again, it destroys it, giving you two teeth each time. This is a quick way to get more of those teeth to max out your weapons.

There are six chapters total for you to go through, so if you're like me and looking to find everything, I am guessing that this game will take you quite a number of hours to complete. I believe that it took me about 8 hours on the first chapter just because I was having so much fun exploring everywhere. You will run into the characters that you know and love from the original Alice in Wonderland, but fair warning, they will not be as you remember them! If you want to see the memories again, you can do so from the Main Menu by selecting Memories. You'll also notice at the bottom of the Main Menu there is an option to download American McGee's Alice. There is a free code to download the original American McGee's Alice in the case. It is 946 MB total and you can download it in the background while you play. To play it, you will have to choose Play American McGee's Alice from inside Alice: Madness Returns though. It is not a standalone game on your PS3.

Alice: Madness Returns is not necessarily an easy game, but you can make it easier or harder if you want. There are four difficulty modes: Easy, Normal, Hard and Nightmare. You can switch between them at any time though, so if you want to see the differences, you don't have to start a new game. The main difference is in the number and difficulty of enemies. Alice has roses for health. Anytime she gets hit, a piece or even a whole rose or more will be taken away. She can collect rose pieces to recover that health from defeated enemies though. The more difficult you choose to play, the more monsters there will be and the harder they might hit.

Alice does have a "power" mode. Hysteria is really freaking cool. When your health is really low, near death, you can use it. The screen goes to black and white, other than the blood red. Hysteria makes Alice invincible and more powerful, so you can clear out enemies quickly. It is only activated for a short period of time though, so be careful and make sure you use it wisely! Personally, I just found those Malicious Ruins tough for some reason and several times had to resort to Hysteria Mode and just wail on them! To make it easier to hit things, I love that the gun tells you when you're sighted by turning the target circle orange-red. It makes it a lot easier when you're trying to hit a target quickly before it disappears!

Game Mechanics:
Alice: Madness Returns has a lot of controls, but you'll get the hang of them very quickly. The movement is very fluid for the most part. The only complaint I have is that when you step on a pressure plate to trigger it, the game takes 3-4 seconds rotating the camera to show you where the target that popped up is. This would be fine, except for the fact that most of the time, you have to throw a bomb on the pressure plate and run somewhere else, a lot of times on invisible platforms, so you need every second that you can get. You can move while the camera is being held static to show you the target, but it takes practice to learn where you're running without being able to see where you're going. I do wish that you could hit a button to just not have it center the camera on the target instead.

Shrinking is very useful. You can see things while shrunken that you can't while big. You can also fit through tiny keyholes. Hold down (L2) to stay shrunk. When you're in an area that you can't get big, like running through the keyholes, you don't have to keep holding (L2) though. You can let go and it'll just make you big again when you can fit.

Alice: Madness Returns autosaves for you. You can tell when it is saving by the pocketwatch on the bottom right corner. You can still move while it's saving, so the bit of time it takes isn't a problem. You can't pause while it is saving though, but since it usually saves after the trouble areas, it's not like you need to pause while it is saving. I think my favorite move is dodging. As I said before, you turn into butterflies to dodge. You can dodge at any time, even while jumping. I love that when you use (R2) to dodge, at least as far as I've found, it won't let you dodge and fall off of a cliff. You'll be left on the edge if that's the way you went, so you have to be careful but you can't dodge and end up dying on accident.

I have loved playing Alice: Madness Returns and I'll be playing to finish it just as soon as I finish writing this. I am determined to finish it off soon and see what happens to Alice and her friends. Alice: Madness Returns definitely earns its M+ rating with the violence, blood, and language. I would not recommend you let your kids play or even walk by as you're playing, but if you're an adult who likes blood, violence, and a challenging game, then Alice: Madness Returns is for you!

-Cyn, GameVortex Communications
AKA Sara Earl

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