Alice: Madness Returns – A Beautiful Story With Flaws

I finished Alice: Madness Returns after I finally had time to sit down and complete it. It tells a beautiful story about overcoming trauma. The issues with I have with this game are mainly bugs and it feeling like a rushed game.

Story

In the last game Alice manages to wake herself from her coma by reconciling her guilt over her parents fire. But the trauma still remains. Her brain can’t let go of the fire even thought her psychiatrist, Dr. Bumby, encourages her to forget everything. The story takes place in both London where Alice tries to figure out what exactly happened the night of the fire and in Wonderland which is being ruined by an evil train.

Level Design of Wonderland

The game is separated into stages each with it’s own separate theme. You start out in Wonderland with Alice’s standard dress. You also get a steampunk dress for the Mad hatter, a Siren dress for an underwater level, a dress inspired by China for a China level, a hearts dress for The Queen of Hearts, and a patchwork dress for Dollhouse. The dresses were really fun and had lots of variety.

The levels were mostly fun. There was a ton of platforming that got more complex as the game progressed. Later on there are timed puzzles that were the hardest part where there would be two platforms that would change height based on the weight put on one of them like a scale. So you had to put a little clockwork bunny bomb down and race to the other platform before the timer went off. My other favorite levels were the little slides you could go down because it reminded me of a Harry Potter game I played, I think The Prison of Azkaban, where there were ice slides you could go down.

There are also collectibles in the level like bottles and extra dialogue that reveal more of the story. Collecting all of these will reward you with bonus content like artwork. You can use Shrink Mode during the game to find paths for these collectibles. There will be drawing of a bottle or perhaps a drawing of a memory. You can shoot pepper at pig’s noses to reveal hidden paths. Sometimes there are invisible walkways only revealed through Shrink Mode. My favorite was finding an Easter Egg where Spicy Horse’s logo could be seen by Shrinking down near a large teapot in the China world.

The levels did sometimes feel like they were dragging on especially since the environments looked similar. Besides the slides, there was nothing to really break up the levels. There are puzzles but these puzzles repeat like a sliding puzzle or a rhythm puzzle that lags. This game has no boss fights besides a final boss. There were mentions of a boss during Hatter’s stage but the boss defeats itself. I’m thinking that there was not enough time to design boss fights which is why they are not there.

Best Level

This goes to the Queen of Hearts level. There were occasional chase scenes with an Executioner. It also had a fun mini game section where you became a giant Alice and got to smash your enemies.

London Level Design

These levels were very small sections which did have some fun little parts. Basically each section of London would hint to the next area. So you go to a mermaid bar you enter an underwater level later. You got to a man obsessed with China you go to a level that is Chinese influenced.

The most intriguing part was when it wasn’t real at all. There’s one part where Alice gets eaten by The Red Queen. She wakes up in an insane asylum. The game then demonstrates techniques used in Alice’s era like leeches or drilling holes in the head. It then would show disturbing imagery such as a room with bloody drills in the ceiling or leeches falling down from the ceiling. Towards the end you could see insane people with disturbed faces.

Bugs

This game could be a bit buggy although it never crashed on me. The rythym puzzles felt like they were lagging as it was hard to time the notes correctly. I would think I was pressing at the right time and I wasn’t. There was also a weird bug where any time Alice entered a level she would automatically start running forward unless you hit a wall to stop here. It was a minor problem until I had to follow a corridor of lights and she kept running in the oppoesite direction until I paused the game.

There were also odd glitches. When the screen was supposed to black out I could still see things happening which caused some funny moments like seeing The Mad Hatter being taken and the scene blacking out and he’s just hanging out waiting for the next scene to load. The final bonus level area where you can collect paint for hearts there were missing textures. It wasn’t my computer as I looked up other playthrough’s to check and no there were just black textures in some places. This also led me to believe that this was rushed as it should have been caught.

Major Theme: Trigger Warning of Sexual Assault

The game’s plot twist is the fire was not an accident. The psychiatrist, Dr. Bumby, raped Alice’s sister and then burnt the house down to hide the evidence. The game hints at this very early on until it is very much obvious in the Dollhouse level. How the game handles this is a mix of really well done and odd.

To start, I’m going to talk about the enemies. Your very first enemies are black sludge babies. This could be the earliest hint of abuse and if it is; the impact is lost. At first it is creepy and disturbing but various types of this enemy will keep reappearing so it feels like it gets turned into a generic battle. But, there is an effective enemy in Dollhouse. There are these dolls and when you hit them their clothes will fall off and then their beating heart is exposed. That was genuinely disturbing and I felt extremely uncomfortable with those battles.

There are subtle hints throughout the story and that’s’ when I think the game is at it’s strongest. If you’re paying attention at the beginning, there are kids with numbers hanging around confused around Dr. Bumby’s orphanage. Later on, the game shows this kids as dolls who are being groomed for further abuse by adults and Alice was being conditioned to be like them. That was very effective to show you something small and then do a major reveal at the end.

Dollhouse was a bit over the top. I think it was effective but it could be potentially too disturbing and triggering. In two parts of the level there are dolls with doors. One you have to enter in through a hole in the front of the doll where there’s a big hole below the chest and the doll looks like it’s screaming and the other door you enter in through a hole of the rear and the doll looks very upset. That made me extremly uncomfortable and didn’t want to proceed but it was the only way to get through the game. I feel that was a bit too strong of an image even though it was highly effective.

Final Boss

After Alice figures out that she was mentally blocking out Dr. Bumby grooming kids and that he was attempting to do the same as her via this train she becomes enraged. Bumby insists that she can’t win because she’s considered insane. This starts the final fight.

The boss fight is also very disturbing. He grabs Alice and you have to defeat him by hitting his tongue covered in the black sludge and doll faces from the first monsters you see in the game. It is very clear that Alice was probably assaulted by him as well. It was the toughest fight in the game and I did die in this section due to a hand move that could wipe out a few of Alice’s rose health icons.

This leads to an ending that’s probably the happiest Alice could have. She pushes Bumby into an oncoming train full of new children he intends to groom then she walks off into a London that is now like Wonderland in her Alice dress finally free of her abuse and with a full restored Wonderland.

Final Thoughts

While this game isn’t perfect, I still would recommend it. The fighting was fun even with the repetitive enemies. The platforming and slide sections were fun. It also was overall a powerful story of a women overcoming child abuse and also fighting to protect others. It’s also a tale of Alice finding herself again even and coming to terms with what happened to her and her family now that she knows everything. While it does have bugs they were pretty minor and the game was still very enjoyable. I would reccomend getting the version I got on Humble Bundle which is The Complete Edition so you could both this game and American Mcgee’s Alice.

What did you think of this game?

My Plan for 2020 Month of Halloween

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I love Halloween and enjoy dressing up and watching horror films! This year I have new games to play and films to watch! I am dressing up as Kairi from Kingdom Hearts 3. I was her last year and due to COVID I did not want to get a new costume. I am hoping to possible be Harley Quinn next year.

Games

I enjoy playing Ghost Master every Halloween. It’s a game on Steam where you control ghosts and solve puzzles which usually involves scaring people or freeing ghosts. It’s a game from my childhood that I was glad Steam had so I could play it again!

This year Alice: Madness Returns is going to be played! I am working on finishing it and with it’s creepy atmosphere it is perfect for Halloween. This game is the sequel to American Mcgee’s Alice where Alice must go back to Wonderland to figure out who started the fire that killed her parents.

Finally, a pleasant surprise. I woke up last weekend to find out that Silent Hill 4 was on GOG! I am super excited as I’ve always wanted to play a Silent Hill game! So far it is definitely creepy with the weird locked apartment you’re in and the tunnel that leads to the subway. The protagonist is also surprisingly nonchalant about everything. He is really calm for someone that has been padlocked in his apartment.

Film/TV

This year I met a new friend that has given me a long list of Halloween films to watch including some horror anime and Tim Burton films.

I am currently watching BeetleJuice and Let the Right One In. I saw Let Me In years ago and it was my favorite horror film and Let The Right One In is the original Swedish version of the film. It’s basically about a young boy who falls in love with is vampire neighbor.

I also want to watch the original Prom Night as I have only seen the remake and the remake is one of my favorite films! I love prom so I love that their is a film that is basically prom and horror. I also want to watch a horror anime and maybe an Asian horror film as Amazon Prime and my smart TV both have them.

What are your plan for this Halloween?

Witcher 3 and Worldbuilding

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The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt is one of my favorite worlds to explore in gaming. As I am replaying the game, I am appreciating all the little things they do to keep me imersed.

Landscapes and City Life

The world is beautiful. Just look at any screenshot of this game and you feel like you’re in another world. The trees are beautiful and lush. The weather system is realistic like the when it rains or a storm is coming. The day and night cycle causes different things to occur like maybe the villagers are asleep at night. There are items you can collect while exploring such as different flowered trees being a symbol that you can collect herbs to use for potions.

The cities are also fun to see during different hours of the day. In the daytime you can see vendors and people shopping. You can also hear live bands. At night you can see guards patrolling the area or in Novigrad you can run into bandits. If you go into a tavern you can usually see someone there at any time of the day. All these little things make you feel like you’re in a real city.

Encouraging Exploration

One of the first things I do when I open up a new area is look at all the new sign boards in the area. Seeing them on the large map and going to them unlocks new fast travel areas and reading the signboards unlocks quests and question marks. Question marks are fun to explore because maybe you find hidden treasure, maybe you help the villagers gain back a piece of land that has been overrun by monsters, maybe you stumble across a monster’s nest. Another fun part is when you come across something that is way too challenging. A skull will appear next to the area you explored to let you know you can go back there later once you’ve leveled up some.

Characters

Each minor or major character in this game has a unique story that makes them feel real. For example, I am currently on the quest “Broken Flowers” and every single woman that I have met has something unique about them. The first woman I talked to turned out to be twins that were playing a prank by pretending to be each other. I also learned that one sister wrote a letter to Dandelion so that the other sister who had a crush on him could meet her. Later on, that same character led me to a “Fencing Lessons” side quest where I got to learn more about her personality.

Speaking of Dandelion, I do love how this game builds on fantasy stereotypes. We have the bard whose quest to find him has me running all over town talking to the many women he flirted with. But, based on what the woman have revealed, it’s possible that he was trying to talk to them to uncover clues about something he wanted to know about.

Story Quests

Whenever a quest line ends, you get a painting that shows the ending of that quest. My favorite was just a small side quest. I had to find Corinne because she could learn about Ciri through dreams and learned that she was investigating a haunted house. I found out that she was trapped in a nightmare by a godling named Sarah. Sarah just wanted to play and didn’t understand that nightmares were bad because she loved having them. She was also the reason the house was haunted because she loved pulling pranks. I could force her to leave or let her stay. I decided to let her stay and later on found out that she became friends with Corinne and they moved in together so Sarah could have a friend. I loved the painting because there was a little picture of Geralt tucking Sarah in like she was a little kid.

Favorite Worlds To Explore

I’d like for you to think of your favorite worlds to explore. Maybe there’s a game that you’re playing right now that also gives you the feeling like you’re in another world! I am enjoying replaying The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt and I am looking forward to writing more about it as I progress more in the story.

Let me know your favorite gaming worlds in the comments!