Mechanically Beautiful – Alice: Madness Returns

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*spoilers*

*trigger warning: sexual abuse, human trafficking, mental illnesses*

Alice: Madness Returns” is a psychological horror and action-adventure game released in 2011. It was produced by Electronic Arts, American McGee and Spicy Horse. It is a revamping of the original 2000 game “American McGee’s Alice.” The story takes place a year after Alice Liddell has been released from Rutledge Asylum, where she was put due to her descent into insanity after her family died in a fire that she believes she has caused. While out getting pills, Alice finds herself back in Wonderland. With the strange help of the Cheshire Cat, Alice learns that she must stop the external force that is controlling the Infernal Train and ruining Wonderland as well as her mind.

The game does an extremely clever job at twisting the original “Alice in Wonderland” story that we all know and love. Almost all of the classic characters are back, although not exactly as they once were. The Cheshire Cat is bony and covered in tattoos, but still gives that signature smile. The Mad Hatter is just as mad as ever, only this time to the chagrin of Alice and the player. Even some lesser known characters, such as the Mock Turtle, also make an appearance throughout Alice’s journey. The recreation of the world of Wonderland is also well done. Everything still has the whimsical and nonsensical element that parallels the original story. However, everything has now transformed into a bloody and twisted mess from the Infernal Train and the ruin it leaves in its wake.

Graphically, there is no question that the game is stunning. All of the little details that they managed to create in each individual section are amazing. Each world is vibrant with color and detail, sucking the character into this new, corrupt Wonderland. Unlike other games, the player is constantly interacting with the world around them, so it doesn’t just act as a visual. Pink flowers that would normally serve no purpose are used as a guideline when Alice shrinks. Mushrooms are used as trampolines to boost Alice up to higher locations. Crumbling walls must be destroyed with Alice’s Hobby Horse, boxes must be destroyed by the signature Vorpal Blade, and buttons must be pushed with the Clockwork Bomb. This helps use the world as an actual component to the game rather than a background piece as well as include the weapons in use other than combat. The Pepper Grinder is used to activate switches and the Teapot Cannon is used to destroy far away barriers. The game is not without fault, however, and does occasionally have some glitches. At one point when I was playing, Alice stopped walking and simply stayed frozen in her position, floating around everywhere. Sections of the floor would occasionally flicker as well. Regardless, the overall graphics are so amazing that these glitches do not take away from the overall experience.

The game does not stick to one single art style. In between sections of gameplay, narrated scenes will appear in a paper-art like fashion. (Imagine someone putting paper creations on sticks and then using them to perform a play.) The scenes serve to further the game’s plot as well as provide insight as to who might be controlling the Infernal Train. While most narrative pieces in other games are usually bland and stick to the same animation, these scenes change it to further envelop the player into the world of Wonderland. It keeps them interested in the game as well as create an amazing visual. There is also a section in the game that changes the gameplay to a sidescroller. While in the Asian-inspired world, Alice must travel through paintings to get to various locations. While traveling through these paintings, the game becomes a sidescroller in which your only options are running and jumping, rather than being able to use your weapons. The art style becomes one of a traditional Japanese painting, once again changing the style of the game and preventing the player from looking at the same constant animation.

The music of the game is another incredible feature. They range from ones with creepy, high-pitched violins to simple, yet also creepy music boxes. Each song manages to help with the psychological effect the game has. When enemies appear, the song changes into a much faster, dramatic, and drum-induced piece, making the player feel unsettled and anxious. When Alice has gone the deepest into insanity, the player is not entirely sure what is going on. At this point, she wanders around a dollhouse with seemingly no purpose. The music box is used at this point and helps to serve the creepy, isolated feeling the player has while traveling through the dollhouse. The high-pitched violins are the music that actually starts the game, immediately making the player feel unsettled and slightly creeped out. Each song is amazing to listen to even without playing the game at the same time. They all stand out on their own as amazing pieces.

The mind tricks that are played on the player throughout the game are the most important part of “Alice: Madness Returns”. The overall plot is revealed as the game goes on, with the player learning about the mystery of the fire at the same time Alice does. This helps the player feel as though they are truly in Wonderland. While the player may be able to predict the ending, they still are experiencing the same things as Alice, which helps them be more involved with the game. The world itself is so creepy that it constantly leaves the player either scared, unsettled, or disturbed. The monsters are a huge part of this, especially considering most of them have faces taken from disturbing baby dolls. They are all extremely creepy and help add to the overall effect. The twist at the end is probably the creepiest and most disturbing part of all. It is revealed that Doctor Bumby has been tricking Alice this whole time. He has been wiping her of her memories, but not to help her. The secret is that Bumby has been wiping out the memories of many other children, causing them to be “blank toys” to be sold to abusive masters or child molesters. Bumby also was the one to burn down Alice’s house and sexually abuse her little sister, Lizzie, in the process. Alice knew about this, but progressively forgot as Bumby erased her memories to eventually make her another child to be sold. If that doesn’t automatically disturb the player, the boss battle is also extremely unsettling. In Wonderland, Bumby (now known as “The Doll Maker”) has taken on an extremely large form, with black goop (similar to the goop in the Ruin monsters) dripping out of his eyes, ears, and beard. His huge hands chase Alice around a board, grabbing her whenever she cannot escape. Even when the player finally defeats Bumby and the game ends, they are still left feeling uneasy for a while after the game ends.

 

Overall, “Alice: Madness Returns” is an incredibly well done game that adds a horrific twist to the classic “Alice in Wonderland” story. With a great array of weapons, characters, monsters, and animation, the game constantly keeps the player involved. The worlds are amazingly beautiful, and the music is stunning. There are so many themes and hidden metaphors throughout the game that one could analyze it much like they would a book. The game leaves a lasting impression on the player, much similar to the effect of an incredible work of art.