It's has almost been ten years to the day that American McGee's first warped vision of Alice in Wonderland was unleashed on audiences in American McGee's Alice for the PC and Mac, so it seems only fitting that we're getting a sneak peek inside the sequel being developed by Spicy Horse Games, Alice: Madness Returns. The game was first announced last year, with the title Madness Returns unveiled at E3 earlier this summer, and here in Tokyo we were able to sit through a demo that shows off Alice's shiny, HD Wonderland.
We were taken through the looking glass and shown a "very pre-alpha" build of the new Alice, which takes places immediately after the first game. The game has a fairly striking look to it, and it's a look that encompasses two different versions of Alice: the Alice in the "real world," and the Alice in Wonderland. The Victorian-era Alice, which is the setting for 10% of the game, is a pale, gaunt version of Alice who looks like she's late for a goth convention. But when she flips into Wonderland, she's much more vibrant and stylized, right down to the skull in the middle of the bow on the back of her dress.
According to McGee, Wonderland slowly transforms Alice into an idealized version of herself, so she becomes stronger, prettier, and able to handle the impossible things that are thrown her way. Which is made much easier with the weapons she has access to, which include the return of the Vorpal Sword, and the addition of the Peppermill, the Hobby Horse, and the Teapot Cannon. We weren't shown the last two, but that Peppermill is a handy ranged weapon that Alice cranks from the bottom to fire, and the vorpal sword goes snicker-snack as always.
After a brief glimpse of the sooty and dreary rooftops of Victorian London, where a granny transmuted into a demon right before our eyes, we were dropped into the Vale of Tears from the first Alice game. It's a whimsical platforming level, full of enormous marbles, dice, and dominoes where Alice has to figure out how to safely traverse the environment using her double-jump and her brains. Speaking of brains, she's doing all of this to try and find fragments of her memory, so she can regain her sanity.
When she encounters an enormous pool being fed from a gigantic "Drink Me" bottle, she gains access to the ability shrink herself down, and to use the "Shrink Sonar" as they're calling it: shrink down and hold the shrink button for an extra moment, and you'll get a hint about which way to go. She could shrink and grow at will, but only from normal size to mini-Alice, and we're not sure if that's a permanent ability, or only useable in this area.
After that we headed into the Mad Hatter's Tea Party domain, which is an entire level made out of the remnants of a tea party, naturally. Alice does battle with evil, sentient teapots, who are best defeated by nailing them in the eye with the Peppermill, and then chopping them a few times with the Vorpal Sword. American told us that "Every enemy is a puzzle," meaning sheer brute force won't always win the day. Additionally, when you vanquish an enemy, they normally leave behind a tooth, which is part of a collection mechanic in the game, although Spicy Horse isn't yet revealing what you use those for.
Besides combat, there are a lot of puzzle-solving moments where Alice needs to figure out how to progress through a level, and this involves standard platformer tasks like turning valves, pulling levers and so on. At the end of this level is a massive room full of ginormous teapots pouring what appears to be lava, and you have to avoid baddies while platforming your way up and out ... until you have to confront a massive automaton. We encountered the Cheshire Cat several times (he's gaunt and creepy), but didn't see the Mad Hatter in the flesh. Although there are plenty of propaganda posters plastered everywhere saying that his reign will end soon. "All Aboard For Progress!" Looks like he's being deposed.
There's a lot more to come from this game, which has managed to make me believe six impossible things this morning: impressive graphics, imaginative creatures, a peppermill as a weapon, garish colors, dreary London circa 1865, and Lewis Carroll-inspired dialogue can work well together on consoles, and I'm actually now excited for the title. We'll have more later, and you can also follow @thewhiterabbit on Twitter for more information.