Requested by bloodrosered
Ten years ago, after a fire killed her family, Alice Liddell fought her way through a corrupt Wonderland in her mind. Now she’s trying to regain some semblance of a normal life only to have to fight her way through a corrupt Wonderland once again. Will Alice be victorious or will insanity overtake her?
Be warned that there are major spoilers in this review. I’m talking “give away the ending” spoilers because there is no other way to discuss how complex this storyline is without doing so. If you want to go in fresh, skip to the third to last paragraph. Another warning is that this review, like the game, contains extremely disturbing content. If you’re easily triggered, you might want to skip this review. As for Alice slipping back into insanity after conquering her demons in the last game, it’s a little unbelievable to think that she’d be okay after everything that’s happened. Especially when you consider that, since Alice’s family is dead, she’d have no place to go. So Alice ends up at Houndsditch Home for Wayward Youth under the care of Dr. Angus Bumby, who tries to help her forget the traumatic memories from her past.
First let me tell you that this so-called “therapy” is actually gaslighting to not only rewrite Alice’s memory of the fire but to manipulate her into a life of prostitution. Houndsditch is a front for a child prostitution ring and Bumby’s purposely picking out children who have no place to go. He pretends to be a confidant and parental figure then, when he has fully gained their trust, sells them as prostitutes. Not only that, but he is also the one responsible for the fire that killed Alice’s family. Which I’ll go into more detail about later.
Remember how the last game took place entirely in the corrupted Wonderland of Alice’s mind? This game changes things up a bit by showing some segments in London while slowly venturing into Wonderland. The first London segment has Alice getting medicine for Bumby from Pris Witless, a nurse from the Asylum who’s blackmailing Alice into doing free labor for her. This becomes the first segment into Wonderland where Alice has to go through an evil factory where the Dormouse and the March Hare literally work the dodo employees to death. Which is a clear reference to the deplorable nature of Victorian factories but can also work as a reference to the slave labor Alice has to do for Nurse Witless’s silence. The second London segment is about Alice narrowly avoiding a rape experience to see her former nanny turned prostitute, Nan Sharpe, only to get slapped by her pimp. This leads to the next chapter in Wonderland where Alice has to help Walrus and Carpenter put on a show not realizing that she helped them gather sentient ocean citizens for the Walrus to eat, including oysters and fish, until it’s too late. While it’s supposed to be a metaphor for pimping, I believe that there’s more to this level which I will go into later. In the third London segment, Alice visits her former attorney to get the stuffed rabbit he unlawfully took from her. The Asian art in his office inspires Alice to visit a country in Wonderland inspired by both Chinese and Japanese culture which is an inaccurate blend of both countries. This is justified since Alice has never been to either one in her life. During Alice’s journey to see the caterpillar, she comes across innocent peasant origami ants brutally attacked by samurai wasps. While this could be taken as a reference to the historical British colonization of the East during that time period, in the case of Alice, it represents how the weak get overtaken by the powerful which is how she feels throughout the game. At the same time, the ants see Alice as their savior, which reflects her desire to be the hero yet, no matter how many wasps she defeats, they just keep coming. This represents just how helpless she feels in a dangerous world. The very last Victorian segment is when Alice gets thrown in a jail cell after accusing the pimp who slapped her of burning down a pub/brothel. The jail cell turns into the dungeon of the Red Queen, who Alice thinks she must defeat once again to save Wonderland. However, despite the Red Queen’s actions, she’s not the true villain of the story. Just like how Alice believed that the pimp, while an awful man, was the true villain when the true villain was right in front of her eyes.
After that is the final part of the game, the Dollhouse. It’s unique in that there’s no Victorian segment. Instead, it begins with a flashback to the asylum, showing the torture and humiliation Alice went through.
Then slowly goes to the Dollhouse, where the true enemy is revealed. The man I mentioned earlier, Dr. Bumby, who gives Alice and the children at Houndsditch therapy sessions so they can forget their traumas. Since forgetting is essentially a bad therapy practice all together, the true purpose was to erase their minds until they become a blank slate and then sell the blank slates to satisfy the twisted desires of the rich. It was not only Bumby’s plan for Alice, but he also wanted to erase her memory of the fire. Years ago, Bumby was obsessed with Alice’s sister, Lizzie, and snuck into their mansion late at night to rape and murder her. Then burned the mansion down to erase any evidence that he committed the crime. In Wonderland, Alice’s mind turns Bumby into a creature known as the dollmaker because, in a twisted way, he’s making dolls for the rich citizens of Victorian London to play with.
Unless you’re sick in the head, you have to find all of this incredibly disturbing and the game doesn’t shy away from it. In fact, they do the exact opposite. The chapter with the Walrus and the Carpenter shows the Walrus eating the oyster dancers alive while they scream in terror, helpless to do anything else. It doesn’t censor the walrus’ actions, who tricked the oyster dancers into thinking that they were only supposed to perform a show only to find out at the last second what they really signed up for. Which could also be a reference for modern day Hollywood but that’s a whole other thing. The Dollhouse level is extra disturbing as it shows some references to rape and molestation, one example would be the doll girls who attack Alice. In order to defend herself, Alice has to attack them with a tea pot or the hobby horse, slowly removing their clothes in the process. The whole thing is so incredibly uncomfortable that it makes you want to quit and I wish I could say that was the only creepy thing about the Dollhouse. Not only that, but there are scenes in the game where Alice comes across men who threaten or have actually raped her and the game does not sexualize this. Instead, they portray it in the creepiest way possible that can make any normal person sick to their stomach. As someone who has played far too many games where rape and/or abduction is sexualized, seeing this game portray the actual horrors was a good change. The only exception was the statue of the woman crying blood with the kimono opened to show her breasts, something that wasn’t really needed.
Here’s my one problem with the game. The way it’s portrayed makes it feel like we’re supposed to blame Alice for not seeing the truth. Which, honestly, comes across a lot like victim blaming. Alice was only eight when her house burned down. Sure, she should’ve at least been suspicious about the noises instead of thinking that a centaur’s in the house and Lizzie was talking in her sleep. Yet, if she had known, what could she have done? Go up there to help Lizzie? There’s an Urban Legend where a woman comes back to her college dorm and hears noises that she mistakes for her roommate getting up to some late-night fun. She goes to bed and leaves the light off only to wake up the next day to her murdered roommate and a message in blood on the wall saying “Aren’t You Glad You Didn’t Turn On The Light?” Meaning that, had she turned on the light, she would’ve suffered the same fate and there’s a good chance Alice would have also. Then, years later, oblivious to working in what was really a child trafficking house, Alice just got released from an asylum where her brain was literally picked at. They force fed her poison and two workers raped her. Her mind wasn’t fully there, and it was how Bumby could easily prey on her. Not just that but, as a single woman in Victorian London, Alice has no power. She can’t own property and, due to her history in the Asylum, she probably has no marriage prospects. Had Alice not gotten a job at Bumby’s, she would’ve had to become a prostitute which, ironically, was exactly what Bumby was trying to turn her into. Subconsciously, Alice must have been aware because that chapter with the Walrus and the Carpenter felt more like a metaphor for sex trafficking than it did regular prostitution. Promising a comfortable life to unsuspecting women only to not find out the truth until it’s too late. Alice, being the one who helped the oyster dancers get ready for the show, unwittingly played a part in their demise similar to how she unwittingly played a part in the capture of those children as if she knew what was going on but didn’t want to admit it. Even if Alice was consciously aware, what could she have done? As Bumby points out, if Alice had gone to the authorities who would they believe, a respected therapist or a former asylum patient? Lucky for Alice, Bumby happened to be standing in front of train tracks when he pointed this out which Alice took advantage of.
While all you do in London is walk around, you’re much more powerful in Wonderland. You can kill enemies with a knife, a pepper grinder, a hobby horse or a teapot. If that’s not enough, you can collect teeth to upgrade them to their most powerful level. You can jump and glide to where you need to go and shrink to not only find secret locations but see hidden platforms.
Though the camera can get a little wonky to the point where you and the enemy you’re fighting completely disappear from the screen. For anyone buying the game on Steam, be warned that there’s a serious coding problem. In the game, you pick up an umbrella which you can use to block while locked on to enemies but, when you push the button, the umbrella doesn’t even appear. Trust me when I say that this will get really irritating, especially with enemies where you need the umbrella to beat them. I had to google how to get around it and mess with the coding in the files just to use the umbrella and, since it’s an old game, I doubt Steam’s fixing this. You also have a time bomb which you’ll end up using more as a glorified paper weight than anything else. During the game, you can also collect bottles with artwork, shoot pig snouts to access different areas or get more teeth and collect memories so you can get the full story. Though I should warn you that the game isn’t open sandbox so, if you miss any, you’ll have to actually use the chapter select and start the game over right from that chapter. Which I’ve actually had to do a couple of times. This is why, if you’re going to have a collection side quest, you need to make the game an open world. So, if you miss something, you can always go back and get it.
Despite the many enemies you’ll find in this game, there are no boss battles whatsoever. Sure, the game teases boss battles throughout each chapter, like Chapter 1 teasing the Dormouse and the March Hare and Chapter 4 teasing the Executioner. Instead, both villains are easily taken care of in a cutscene. All right, that’s not entirely true. There’s one boss battle at the end of the game with the Dollmaker. Apparently, there’s a reason for this. American McGee felt that Boss Battles were becoming a cliché, so he chose not to have them. The only reason there’s a Boss Battle at the end was because he wanted to end the game on an epic note. Unfortunately, he failed to realize that Boss Battles are the point of battle games in general. You gather weapons, you practice your fighting skills to take on the big Boss at the end. Otherwise, what’s the point?
This game is addictive, yet disturbing. I give it 7 out of 10; stay away if you’re easily triggered but, otherwise, enjoy.
2 thoughts on “Alice: Madness Returns (Steam)”
Great game. I loved the environment of it except for the large amount of platforming. Queensland was my favourite and my least favourite was the dollhouse.
Yeah, the dollhouse was too much but my least favorite part was still trying to get that stupid umbrella to work.