Alice comes back to Wonderland thanks to a surprise reunification between EA and American McGee, who now rides at the helm of a recently opened studio. In the original, McGee made Alice into an older, wiser, and mentally precarious character to craft an deliberately disturbing tale of one woman’s falling out sanity. The sequel carries on her struggle to distinguish fantasy from reality.
The team at developer Spicy Horse lays claim Madness Returns has a much heavier narrative focus than the initial title. The sequel starts a decade after the events of Alice, as our protagonist is discharged from Rutledge Asylum and into the care of a shrink in London. Overwhelmed by the switch in scenery and still carrying the mental and physical scars from the consequences that led to her parent’s death, Alice pulls back into the dark recesses of her mind once again. The familiarity and protection of Wonderland lures her, extending something Alice could not find in the real world.
The demo sets out on a rooftop in London, where Alice is joined by an aged woman running a garden. Without notice, the woman distorts into a sinister creature before her eyes. Unluckily, the woman then falls down from the lofty height, and when Alice attempts to flee the scene, a weak part on the roof breaks, and she spirals down the rabbit hole once more.
Wonderland is in a state of disrepair, but like before, the fantasy world bears the key to Alice’s recuperation. Restoring peace all over the realm will fix her fractured mind. Still, the old woman’s transmutation points that reality and fantasy are beginning to bleed together for Alice. Wonderland has got out of the confines of Alice’s mind and begun to pervade her London home. The inverse is true, too. As Alice steps into a familiar domain – the Veil of Tears – childhood playthings litter the level. Another familiar site meets her: a bodiless Cheshire grin.
In terms of gameplay, much of Madness Returns remains true to Alice’s roots. Strong emphasis is invested on platforming, and you will see Alice double jump her way from mushroom cap to mushroom cap all over the Veil. When she chances upon a curiously colored waterfall, the alluring words “drink me” scroll nearby. One sip gives Alice the power to bring down her size on a whim. She could also use Shrink Sonar, a hint system which surveys the level and checks when her diminutive form is demanded. The skill can also be handy in combat as well.
Combat does not take center stage until you enter Mad Hatter dominion. Foes are puzzles in their own right, and Alice must assess the best technique for dispatching every new foe she finds. Mechanical teapots are the pest of choice in this stage. A ranged shot to their mechanical eyes temporarily shocks them, allowing Alice to close the gap and lash out using the Vorpal Blade.
Teeth burst out from bested foes and serve as the currency in Alice’s disturbed domain. These can be swapped for upgrades to her arsenal and for unlocking combinations. Collectables such as memory fragment audio logs also inhabit Wonderland.