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

Tea for crazy

The Hatter may be tea-less, but the one-eyed, clockwork spider-legged teapots (“Eyepots”) Alice encounters in his dilapidated domain love tosquirt the boiling liquid at her. The chain gun-like Pepper Grinder – a gift from The Duchess, who has decided she’d rather not cook and eat Alice, but would prefer her to season pig snouts throughout Wonderland – stings their glass eyes, and gives Alice a chance to plunge the Vorpal Blade into their pupils.

It takes two stabs to break the teapot’s glassy eyeballs, so before they get up, Alice drops a remote-detonated Clock Bomb (also good for exploding rickety barriers to secret passages) at their feet, stunning them again.

Switches and platforms, switches and platforms

Alice must retrieve the Hatter’s arms and legs, which are in the possession of his two former friends, and are hidden deep inside their respective factories (what are they building?). Platforms raise and lower, steam vents lift her higher, and switches and valves control the whole production as Alice ventures into the hellish mazes.

Being the first of the game’s Wonderland domains, the puzzle solving and platforming is introductory and uncomplicated. Hints are offered by both the Cheshire Cat, and writing on the walls which is visible to Alice in her shrunken form (which also allows her to squeeze through keyholes and other tight spaces), but they aren’t very necessary. There weren’t any puzzles to solve, really – just switches to hit and jumps to jump – but we expect that the difficulty and complexity builds with the plot.

What was difficult at times, however, was collecting the memories and bottles hidden throughout the environment. Memories – some of which are accessible only via invisible platforms glimpsed only when shrunken – trigger voiceovers from Alice’s therapist, or those who once knew her, like her sister and parents. Some are insightful, others cryptic.

“Remember Alice, don’t curse the darkness or the cold when you’re in the library at night,” says one voice from her past. “If your family dies in a fire, try to look away,” might have been better advice, but maybe that’s just us.

The Hatter%26rsquo;s return

“I feel like a new man! Or whatever I am,” says the reconstructed Hatter after Alice returns with his limbs. “I feel like an unsprung spring; like an uncorroded gear; like an untarnished bit of metal that sticks in your eye!”

The Mad Hatter is mad again (in the right way), and naturally isn’t of much help to Alice, who demands to know what Wonderland’s new “rules” are.

“The law is just… Just a whisper away… A way home to wonder… Wonder who… who knows how to measure rules… with a ruler… Cruel rules,” says the babbling Hatter.

Exasperated, Alice demands more answers – what has become of the Looking Glass Line? The Hatter snagsher and bounds through his domain with spring-loaded leaps.Deep insidethey find the enemy and its train… if you can call it that. A massive Gothic church adorned with blood-stained windows rolls by, spewing fiery steam as it rumbles into Wonderland. TheHare and Dormouse might be caught, but the train keeps a-rollin'.

“Please Hatter. You promised. Where is that train going? What’s its purpose? Tell me, now!” says Alice.

Right:Madness Returnsdesigner American McGee's Hatter isn't quite as pleasant as the mad tea-lover in John Tenniel's original1865 illustration

“There’s no time for… whatever it is you want to talk about! It’s time for tea! Talk trains with Turtle, he ran the Looking Glass Line,” says the deluded Hatter as he attempts to fill his now-deceased friends’ mouths with tea, his domain collapsing around him.

“My memories are shattered. I’m trying to collect the pieces and I now believe the train impedes me. You must help me, you promised!” says Alice, but it’s too late.

“Ask the one who ‘helps them what helps themselves.’ Whoever that is,” says the Hatter…

For more on Alice: Madness Returns, see our last hands-on preview.

May 13, 2011