Alice: Madness Returns is a third-person action-adventure video game developed by Spicy Horse, an independent video game developer started by among other peoples American McGee, and published by EA (Electronic Arts) in 2011. It is the sequel of American McGee’s Alice released eleven years earlier.
In Alice: Madness Returns we are following Alice Liddell, a young girl whose parents died in a fire. After being discharged from the Rutledge Asylum were she spent ten years, she moved to London to the Houndsditch Home for Wayward Youth, an orphanage, where she is followed by Doctor Angus Bumby, a psychiatrist. There Alice is trying to recover her memory in order to understand her past trauma and we will accompany her in her journey.
Alice is evolving both between a Victorian London and Wonderland. London is depicted as a dirty, dark and sad. Its inhabitants are deluded, gross and marked by life. Wonderland on the other hand is more colorful and livelier, but also full of strange and dangerous creatures. The game is composed of eight domains: Vale of Tears (which we already know from American McGee’s Alice), Hatter’s Domain, The Deluded Depths, The Mysterious East, Queensland, The Asylum, The Dollhouse and Infernal Train. Each domain has its own visual identity and Alice will encounter specific characters in each of them. In addition, her dresses change for each domains she visits, which strengthen the different atmospheres. The game structure is in line with American McGee’s Alice. She evolves through levels where she has to solve puzzles, pass through platform phases, fight enemies and bosses. There is a bit more platforming than in its predecessor.
A whole new set of ranged and melee weapons are available: Pepper Grinder, Hobby Horse, Teapot Cannon, Clockwork Bomb and Umbrella. Happily the classical Vorpal Blade is still here! Each weapon can be updated up to three times thanks to the tooth you collect throughout the game. It will allow you to have even more powerful weapons, but also to change their skins. Alice’s health is represented by red roses and when there’s only one left she can trigger Hysteria which make her invincible. It is similar to the Rage Box in American McGee’s Alice. The music was composed by both Marshall Crutcher and Jason Tai. It blends well to the different domains and stages of the game and offer a good musical background. However, we might have enjoyed a stronger musical identity as it was done in American McGee’s Alice. A reference is made to the first game with the song Wastland, composed by Chris Vrenna, who was in charge of the music for American McGee’s Alice.
A remarkable piece of artwork was done by the Spicy Horse team and Ken Wong, the art director. Using American McGee’s Alice as starting material they succeeded to develop it further, while respecting the work done on the previous game. We can emphasize the graphical evolution made possible by the technological progress made since the last game in 2000. It enabled to add more details, provide more realistic textures, while allowing for greater creativity. The incredible book The Art of Alice Madness Returns (Dark Horse Books) is an excellent reference if you want to know more about the design of the game and its visual identity.
In 2015 was released Alice: Otherlands, a series of two short films (Alice Otherlands: Leviathan, Alice Otherlands: A Night at the Opera) funded by a Kickstarter campaign which raised a bit more than 220,000$. On paper the idea was tempting. The plan was to bring Alice and famous people such as Jules Verne and Richard Wagner together, in order to explore their universe, but the result was rather mixed. Indeed, the visual identity was very different to the two video games, there were few references to Alice’s universe, and the execution would have benefited from more budget to give it a more finished touch.
In 2017, American McGee announced that they were currently working on the release of a third game called Alice: Asylum, a third-person psychological horror action-adventure. This sequel to American McGee’s Alice is currently in pre-development and they plan to release it in 2021. However, it is definitely linked to the capacity to fund this project which requires 30 million dollars to come to life. You can follow updates on this project on the YouTube page of American McGee. Nevertheless, preliminary drawings are already available and they look promising. We can just hope that the project will see the light of day and that we will soon be reunited with our beloved Alice.