Without a doubt, Alice: Madness Returns has the most beautiful and well-realized aesthetic of any game I’ve seen in ages. But, I’m begging you to never play it. Why? Because it’s heartbreaking that a world rife with so many imaginative possibilities ends up feeling so empty, so dull, and so soulless.
When I first started playing, I set my controller down after a few minutes to answer an instant message. I looked back up at my TV, and for a split-second I thought I’d left one of Tim Burton’s stop-motion flicks paused. The look of London’s dingy brown streets and the spindly, jerky nature of how the city’s inhabitants are animated are dead ringers for Burton’s gothic stylings. The stark contrast between Alice’s reality and the vibrant tapestry of the goings-on inside her mind is breathtaking. When I first entered Wonderland I was enchanted by the domino-dotted sky, the flowers that bloomed as I walked past, and the butterflies that wafted from Alice’s dress as I double and triple jumped between platforms.
Every element of the visual experience feels cohesive and well thought out. The crisp, dark reality sequences are juxtaposed with lush colors and a coat of dreamlike haze that represent the protagonist’s psyche. Even Alice’s arsenal blends naturally with the world. She packs an oversized pepper grinder for a machine gun, along with white rabbit remote bombs and a parasol doubles as a shield. In order to pass through certain doors and see otherwise invisible platforms, you’ll have to take a sip from the Drink Me bottle.
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