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?

American Mcgee’s Alice and Mental Illness

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American McGee’s Alice is a game that I have been wanting to play, but at the time I could only get the sequel: Alice: Madness Returns on Origin. Last week, I saw a Facebook ad that Humble Bundles released Alice: Madness Returns – The Complete Edition so I decided to get the game again so I could play the original game and get the fun DLC for the sequel which include like new costumes and weapons. I am very glad I did as I loved this game especially due to how it portrayed mental illness!

Background

American McGee’s Alice is a horror interpretation of Alice in Wonderland by American McGee. Alice’s parents died in a fire while she was asleep. She managed to wake up and flee, but her parents did not survive. Alice could not cope so she became catatonic and was put in an asylum until she woke up. Alice goes into Wonderland after her stuffed rabbit appears to beg her for help.

Alice is in Wonderland which has been deformed showing how her mental state has declined. The Queen has corrupted Wonderland turning into a land of ruin and horror. You can see her corruption in the form of tentacles that have spread throughout the different levels. The inhabitants of Wonderland are also corrupted with the Chesire cat being so thin you can see his bones and horrendous creatures such as the boojum roaming around. The music also has a psychological effect on the gamer with eerie synths mixed in with old children’s toys. Occasionally a haunting chorus or mechanical like sounds will be in the soundtrack as well. This music also shows just how much Alice’s mental state has deteriorated since the tragic loss of her parents. Alice’s mental state is also part of the game. Your health bar is a Sanity meter which deteriorates as you take hits and powerful attacks can only be used through Willpower which is like the magic in this game. Most weapons except for the beginning weapon require Willpower to use.

The Loss of Innocence

When the game begins, Alice sees The White Rabbit which kinda resembles her stuffed rabbit except The White Rabbit is in better shape. Alice’s first task is to track down her beloved Rabbit with the help of Chesire’s advice. Chesire serves as Alice’s guide throughout the game. I believe you could ask him for hints as a button exists for that, but it doesn’t work in the remastered version that I played. I believe he also looks so thin because Alice has a real black cat and if the cat survived the first it would also be very thin.

Alice’s first area is a short mining area where the workers have been enslaved. They no longer have a will to fight back so they just do as The Queen says. Alice only wants to look for her Rabbit so she mostly ignores them. Then she goes to a school with Insane Children. Unlike Alice, there is no hope for these children. They are lost in their madness and have been experimented on by someone. They represent various mental illnesses like the happy and crying one symbolizing being bipolar. Alice is different from them as there is hope that she can still wake up from Wonderland and won’t be lost in her madness. Alice must gather ingredients from the school to grow smaller so she can find the Rabbit who shrunk himself.

Finally, the last world is The Vale of Tears which shows Alice’s grief as the water is literally tears from her statue. The first boss is The Duchess who enjoys killing people and The Queen lets her. She’s the first boss which shows you just how corrupted Wonderland has become.

After finally catching up to The White Rabbit, she loses him in The Vale of Tears. The White Rabbit is squished by The Mad Hatter who has grown quite mad. Alice loses the one friend she wanted to see most and she does not know how to go on. She feels that death follows her everywhere. Mentally, Alice cannot recognize that she is not responsible for her parents’ death. The Voracious Centipede is the next boss she faces who is Alice’s last obstacle before she can grow up. Alice shrunk into a small state so she can be with her Rabbit. Now that her childhood has been destroyed with the Rabbit’s death, Alice must grow up by eating a Mushroom which allows her to physically grow and face the Queen.

Facing Guilt

Alice ends up in a hellish landscape which acts as a hub world. This world connects to the next set of levels before Alice will finally fight The Queen. But, Alice must first go through this hell and find pieces of for the Jabberwocky staff which will open the door to The Queen.

While Alice is finding these pieces, she is captured by The Mad Hatter. The Mad Hatter shows just how “mad” Wonderland has become. He has turned himself into a machine and has started doing experiments on The Dormouse, The March Hare, and The Gryphon. He also experiments on The Insane Children which shows Alice’s fate. These Insane Children are turned into automaton monsters that attack Alice. They can only do what their creator commands them and no longer have any “sanity” or “will” of their own. Alice’s brain seems to be aware that this will be her fate if she doesn’t wake up soon. Alice has to first fight Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum which reference the orderlies who have been abusing Alice while they think she is not aware of what’s going on around her. Then, Alice must fight her madness through The Mad Hatter.

After that comes a very emotional boss. The Jabberwocky. The Jabberwocky is all the pain and guilt Alice is feeling. He tells her that she was too busy dreaming of Wonderland to save her parents and the boss fight takes place in her house on fire. Alice receives help from The Gryphon, but he is killed when she has to face The Jabberwocky the second time. Alice must face her guilt alone, but The Gryphon gives her advice before passing away. He just tells her to try her best to face The Queen. It’s such a small line, but it has an impact on me. I have anxiety and sometimes it’s really nice to hear that I just have to “try my best” instead of feeling like I have to do everything perfectly.

Facing Yourself

Alice must then fight through The Queen’s castle. The castle is macabre; full of tentacles, blood, and flesh. It’s a physical reminder of how disturbed The Queen is. Before Alice can face The Queen, she has to lose everyone. The Chestire Cat dies while explaining to Alice how both she and The Queen cannot survive. The Queen makes sure that Alice has lost all of her allies and must face The Queen alone.

The Queen is a two part battle. The first part shows a figure with no face whose body is connect to Wonderland through tentacles. After that, the form changes into Alice and The Mad Hatter, The Queen is Alice and her madness. That’s why Alice must face her alone. She must face all of her trauma and mental illness by herself as she needs to free herself from this hell she’s trapped in. The Queen tells Alice that there is no hope causing Alice to feel despair. But hope appears in the form of a butterfly which protects Alice through the final fight. It quickly restores her Willpower while she fights against The Queen until The Queen dies.

The End

After facing herself, Wonderland is restored to it’s beauty. Also, all of Alice’s friends are brought back to life. Alice is able to wake up and leave the asylum. She also finds that her cat has survived. By facing her madness and learning to accept everything she has gone through, Alice can finally wake up and live her life the way she chooses.

Have you played American Mcgee’s Alice? What games do you think portray mental health in a positive light?