Alice: Madness Returns, developed by Spicy Horse, published by Electronic Arts
I'm not normally a fan of platformers (too much repetition and too little forgiveness to suit my taste), but when American McGee's Alice debuted 11 years ago, I could tell right away that it was something special; a beautiful, macabre, and deeply atmospheric rendition of Lewis Carroll's classic world and characters that continued Alice's adventures in Wonderland.
A dress for every occasion:
The game sounds wonderful. The music is suitably haunting, the in-game sound effects are clean and original. The voice-over work is compelling and cinematically professional (although you may want to leave the subtitles on for those occasions when you have trouble deciphering some thick English accents). The only niggling point I had with some of the audio was that it could be hard to hear characters speak at times, though this may have been due to camera and character positioning issues (again, the subtitles will come in handy).
As mentioned, I am normally not a big fan of platform games. The only reason I felt any desire to set my bias aside in this case was because of the game's interesting story, lush environments, and high production values. In those terms I was not disappointed. In regard to actual gameplay, there are a few aspects that set this platformer aside from some others. There's the novelty of the weapons you will use to defeat your foes: the Vorpal Blade, a nasty-looking kitchen knife with which you will slice and dice your way through enemy ranks with frenzied abandon, and which is mostly ubiquitous except for close encounters with armored foes; the slower but more powerful Hobby Horse, used both for smashing through armor and destructible obstacles; the Pepper Grinder, which propels a destructive stream of red-hot spice at your targets from a distance (think "mini-gun", but with pepper instead of bullets); the Teapot Cannon, for launching volleys of scalding-hot tea onto enemies from afar that has both a splash damage radius and the ability to knock down barriers. All four weapons can be upgraded as you progress, those upgrades paid for with "teeth" that you collect along the way (they are the coins, gems, and collectible whatzits of every other platformer you've ever played). One other weapon in Alice's arsenal is the Clockwork Bomb, which can be used to destroy or distract enemies, remove barriers, and weigh down pressure plates.
Dodging and deflecting aside, Alice can also "shrink", which is useful for evading some enemies. While shrunk, Alice can see invisible platforms, clues written on walls, and she can travel through previously inaccessible keyholes to pick up bonus items and reach new areas.
And to round out Alice's repertoire, she has the ability to "float". Hitting the "jump" key a second time and holding it while she is in mid-air allows Alice to float for a short duration, good for slowing her descent and gaining some distance to her jumps. And she can jump multiple times while in the air, gaining more altitude for harder-to-reach platforms. Much like her "dodge" effect, Alice's jump and float effects are accompanied by pretty bursts of colored feathers and light.
The gameplay itself consists of jumping across platforms, sliding down ramps, fighting enemies, and collecting teeth and other artifacts. There are levers to pull, timers to beat, puzzles to solve, and pressure plates to manipulate. There actually isn't a bad variety of things to do, but even so, the "jumping and fighting" gameplay still felt too repetitive to me at times. Happily, there are a number of novel mini-games interspersed between the regular gameplay that help to add some more variety to the action, and with the exception of one or two I found them sufficiently entertaining (and challenging) as taken in short doses.
Alice also "wakes up" from Wonderland at various points in the game so she can make her way through the drab and dreary real world, gathering clues and moving on to the next part of her quest. All of this, along with the aforementioned eye-candy and some very unique environments, makes for interesting and attractive gameplay (despite the inevitable platformer repetition). I did experience some minor control issues, the saving grace there being that at least I was able to map the controls (PC version) to my own preferences for keyboard and mouse.
Alice: Madness Returns is a fun and affecting game with some interesting twists on Carroll's original world and characters. A few minor gameplay and coding quibbles aside, I would recommend it to anyone looking to immerse themselves in an experience that is both grown-up and fantastical.