How Alice: Madness Returns begins with blackmail, Jabberwock-men, and a very mad Hatter

Did Alice really burn her own family to death as a child? We presume not, but who knows? She is completely, utterly mad, and as 10 years in an asylum and round-after-round of vintage therapy sessions have proven useless, only the memories she recovers in Wonderland can reveal the truth.

Above: The truth is back in Wonderland... if only it would stay so lush and friendly

We’ve played the first section of Alice: Madness Returns, in which Alice returns to the Hatter’s Domain to see what has become of Wonderland since her stay in the loony bin. If you want to approach the game fresh, note that there are light spoilers ahead… mwahahahaha! MADNESS!

London meets Wonderland

The incorrigible Alice may be coolly dismissive of her situation, but the gooey, black corruption devouring her life isn’t easily shrugged off. First of all, she’s poor and insane (sane folk aren’t often attacked on the streets of London by men with rat faces and bug eyes), and on top of that, she’s being blackmailed by the grotesque Nurse Witless.

Above: Therapy isn't going so well

The hideous nurse took Alice off the streets (where she’d otherwise be “selling her backside”) after she was released from ten years in Rutledge Asylum. But Witless’ services came with a catch. “All died on my account, I couldn’t save you,” Alice once uttered of the fire which killed her family when she was a child. Witless overheard Alice’s delusional words, and now sells her silence to the pitiful girl.

“Come along home, then, and look at my pigeons. Pretty birds… like you,” says Nurse Witless to a frazzled Alice in a London alleyway. Why so frazzled? Just before the nurse appeared, Alice gave chase to a stray cat (she admits she has a problem with chasing furry animals), which led her to the dark alley where she was encircled by a gang of Jabberwock-faced men (see Sir John Tenniel's original depiction of the Jabberwock for an idea) intent, it appeared, on devouring her. They disappeared just in time, and were replaced by Witless’ no-less-cruel mug.

Powerless, Alice follows the nurse to her rooftop, where she keeps her “pretty birds.” Alice is on edge... so on edge that in the midst of the nurse’s cruelty, she too transforms into a toothy, winged beast. Alice's only escape is down, and through a fissure in reality, she plummets into Wonderland again.

The beautifully bloody Vale of Tears

“When you’re not on edge, you’re taking up too much space,” says the cruel-faced, riddle-happy Cheshire Cat. Aside from the feline meddler, Wonderland is looking quite nice. Domino stepping stones and clear-as-air waterfalls are scattered through the lush, candy-colored Vale of Tears. It's only unsettling that Alice herself – or a statue of her – is the one eternally sobbing out the forest's glassy river of tears.

There’s even a slide – like the “big slide in Hyde Park,” which Alice recalls her sister describing. But why is the ride peppered with loose teeth…?

Were it not for Alice’s madness, things might have stayed so pretty, and her tears may not have turned to blood. Even corrupted, however, the environments of Madness Returns are sumptuously grand, detailed and often colorful (or just blood red).

A gorily gory introduction

“I’ve not come back here looking for a fight,” says Alice as she examines the edge of the Vorpal Blade with her fingertip.

“That’s a pity, one’s certainly looking for you,” replies the Cheshire Cat.

Doll-faces animated by the gooey corruption rise from the ground, goblin-like Madcaps attack with spoons and forks, and looking for a fight or not, Alice responds by slicing their heads off, and blood coats Wonderland.

There’s still some beauty in the world… Alice, largely. Her dress and hair flow with the wind, and she jumps and floats with perfect grace. As a fork-wielding Madcap thrusts his weapon at her, she evaporates into beautiful blue butterflies, and he jabs his weapon into the dirt. It sticks, and off goes another head. More gore.

In the previous build we played, Alice’s butterfly dodge ability seemed to need a bit of recharge, but she’s now apparently able to use it freely, which is helpful. Additionally, time very slightly slows down in the midst of an enemy’s lunge, giving the player a better chance at evading the attack. This is especially important later, when Alice is confronted with many enemies at once.

A very mad Mad Hatter

Things got ugly in the Vale of Tears, but they’re even uglier in the Hatter’s Domain. Alice did leave him in "a decrepit condition" the last time they met, so what can she expect? Perhaps not that his teatime companions, the March Hare and Dormouse, apparently intent on destroying Wonderland, would leave his decapitated head to rot as they corrupted the ‘Looking Glass Line’ - the train which runs through Wonderland.

“The world is upside down, Alice. Inmates run the asylum – no offense. And worst of all… I’m left teeeeeaaa-less,” whines the Mad Hatter, who not only lacks limbs, but is pitifully without his own namesake – his hat.


  • philipshaw - May 16, 2011 noon

    This games is looking better every time I see it but it either comes out the week of Infamous 2 or a week after it so I will wait until later to get this game
  • Redeater - May 13, 2011 9:01 p.m.

    @Tyler Those screenshots frightened me a little. Hell, to be perfectly honest the first two pictures, while great looking, are making me wonder how many times I'm going to reload after dying! Maybe it was just me but I had a terrible time landing the jumps in the first one. God bless them for including a triple jump in this game!
  • GamesRadarTylerWilde - May 13, 2011 8:48 p.m.

    @Redeater I did have a little difficulty knowing where I'd land - Alice's shadow doesn't always appear under her to indicate whether or not she's over a platform. However, the triple-jump is pretty forgiving, and after falling to your death, you're not set back far. I didn't really have many problems getting through it. I did wish there was a little more platforming/puzzle variety, but I only played the first area, so I can't judge it until I see more.
  • Redeater - May 13, 2011 8:40 p.m.

    Has anyone heard or seen how the gameplay is this time around? I'm concerned about the jumping specifically. I know a lot of time has passed since the original came out but as someone who loved and play it countless times I thought the jumping/moving mechanics left something to be desired. While these pics look great a small part of me is shuddering at the possibility of having to climb up more flowers or god forbid crossing more abysses..... Still very excited though.
  • Sy87 - May 13, 2011 8:20 p.m.

    This game will be my only sanctuary from a meaningless summer. Can't wait to stab stuff.
  • xDxP - May 13, 2011 7:42 p.m.

    Excited. Hopefully ambiance doesn't totally trump the gameplay.
  • CancerMan - May 13, 2011 5:46 p.m.

    Have to play this game!
  • Biopiate - May 13, 2011 5:44 p.m.

    This is looking pretty awesome.
  • JMAN1156 - May 13, 2011 5:17 p.m.

    I need to get this game... The first one is so awesome but dated!

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