Reviewing American Mcgee's Alice Creatures

American Mcgee's "Alice" came out a full twenty years ago now, but I remember it like it was yesterday; tons of magazine ads, promotional statues, action figures and t-shirts making the same hullabaloo over how dark, gritty and totally twisted this interpretation of Alice would prove to be...which, if I recall correctly, even proved to be a little controversial with a public still paranoid that Doom might be teaching children to do murders on people.

Not having a personal computer at the time, I never would find out how "disturbing" this game was until many years later, when I would finally discover that it is, in fact, more or less about as disturbing as Alice in Wonderland normally is, except that this version of Alice stabs things with a knife and may be hallucinating the game's events from the confines of an old-fashioned insane asylum.

None of this is really a condemnation of the game. The "Insane Asylum" twist has been overdone now, yes, but it was considered fairly original back then, and this was one of those situations where a victim of mental illness was unambiguously the sympathetic, cool protagonist, so that was a fair bit nicer than the "crazy people want to murder you for no reason" angle of so much other media. And despite all that grit? The game still has a more lively, whimsical feel to it than anything else, even if the gameplay doesn't hold up too well.

I've thought about reviewing its creatures for a long time, and we're making 2020 the year! May as well get all these game reviews out of my system while we still have a civilization!



CHESHIRE CAT

With his horrible emaciation, goth carnival worker fashion sense and bloody mouth, this take on the cat sums up a lot of this game's sensibilities, including the fact that he's actually a good guy despite surface edge. He was often the first, sometimes only thing one of the game's promo ads would even show back in the day, and kind of remains the foremost face of the setting itself. It's not quite my style, but I can respect the level of unashamed 90's TUDE this exudes. Exudin' tude! Exude that tude!!!



ANTLION

We're not going in any specific order for the rest of these; the antlion is just one of the enemies I remember most readily. It doesn't look anything like an actual antlion or even some fanciful hybrid of literal ant and lion, but it is an insect with extremely large, menacing jaws, which is what counts. They're more vertebrate-like, almost crocodilian jaws with massive, protruding teeth, and the creature can hide underground with only its jaws partially exposed like a trap. It also, for some reason, screams in a human voice when it's hungry.



ARMY ANT

Accompanied by rather than preyed upon by the antlions, the army ants are somewhat run-of-the-mill anthropmorphic bug people, just dressed up like they're in Napoleon's army or something. They actually look a lot like the ants from the movie Antz, except that insects with people faces are supposed to look weird and uncanny in American McGee's Alice, while insects with people faces in CG children's movies are usually supposed to look appealing, and usually do not. Not at all.



LADYBUG

Another "bug" enemy when Alice is in her shrunken state, the cat complains about how "even" ladybugs have turned to the Queen's side, but they've got a mechanized look to them, so I'm not sure they're natural ladybugs at all.



Voracious Centipede

The boss of the ants is susprisingly not an ant queen, which is odd because that might have made an interesting rival to the Queen of Hearts or something, but instead their commander is this "centipede" in a German military outfit for some reason. With a humanoid torso on a more maggot-like body, it really looks more like a beetle larva or maybe a hellgrammite than any myriopod.



CRAWLER

These tiny things are only unleashed as an attack by the centipede, but I think they're the best looking of the game's arthropod-types. What perfect little critters! Love that baby alien mummy head they've got going on, with a simple rove-beetle sort of body!



CATERPILLAR

One of the most iconic Wonderland characters and a core essential of any adaptation, McGee's caterpillar is a pretty straightforward interpretation, just a very large Lepidopteran larva with kind of a weird person-face on it, giving out the kinds of cryptid clues the caterpillar always does. He's the one who directs alice to hunt down the centipede, who's actually guarding the mushroom she needs to grow bigger again.



BILL MCGILL

The game didn't really have time, space or budget to include a whole lot of Wonderland animals, but it did include Bill McGill, the Lizard with a Ladder, and it decided he should be a photorealistic chameleon in a denim vest, which is great.



BLOOD ROSE

Huh. JUST a rose? For some reason I misremembered these as having more to them than a flower on a stalk, but I guess that's cool. Putting a scary monster face in the rose would be so obvious it would actually feel a little less interesting than just a big rose that attacks you.



KILLER MUSHROOM

Show me a mushroom monster that isn't good on some level, I dare you. Wasn't I JUST talking on another page about how they "work" pretty much wherever you decide to put facial features? It's actually not often that I see the eyes situated so far up the mushroom cap, and it manages to give this fungus an almost "grumpy octopus" look to it. We don't have a model that shows this off, but the underside of the cap could open up into a big, chompy mouthful of teeth if I'm remembering correctly.



LAVA MAN

Humanoid lava creatures are often pretty creepy looking, and I like the half-melted ghost face of this one. Other than that, nothing too unusual for something called a Lava Man.



SNARK

I'm a little torn here, because on one hand, a fish with legs is one of my very favorite creature tropes, and this is a perfect design for one in revery way; I dearly appreciate that it has such a normal, frightened looking fish face instead of an edgy-menacing one.

On the other hand, the "snark" mentioned by Lewis Carrol is most commonly interpreted by some as a combination of a snail and a shark, and I definitely might have liked to see McGee's take on that.



RED PAWN

Most of the living chess pieces aren't that exciting, but they're all kind of meaty looking, and the pawns are these weirdos with vestigial little arms and huge cyclops eyes, which is kind of a little more unsettling to look at than anything else in the game, honestly.



PHANTASMAGORIA

This ghastly phantasm is a pretty memorable adversary, since it's almost invisible until it opens up its "cloak" to reveal its interior, textured to look like the fusion of many tormented souls. It's a kind of cheesy effect by our standards today, but I still really like that pattern, which would be a pretty rad fabric pattern too, wouldn't it? You would make some drapes or a skirt out of that, don't lie.



NIGHTMARE SPIDER

Pretty abstract "spider" with those curly, wrought iron looking legs! The whole thing looks artificial, really, and the back of its abdomen is even sort of a porcelain doll face:



I feel like this is the kind of imagery this game could have used a little more of, but once we get to the sequel game in a few more articles, you'll see that U.S. Magoo totally agrees with me!! More creepy doll parts = more better!!!



BOOJUM

These are apparently one of American McGee's favorite creatures in the game, which I guess explains why you'll encounter far more of them than you probably want to, especially given that they fly and their primary attack is a scream that will knock you backwards...in a platforming game. Oh boy.

Other than that, they're an okay design. A tattery phantom with a too-large skull head.



MOCK TURTLE

The mock turtle is such a good joke that's so totally lost on us today. Turtle soup was once a staple of people's diets, I hear it's honestly pretty good and it was usually made from a type of soft-shelled turtle that not only isn't endangered but is even an invasive ecological pest in some places, so I don't know why we stopped eating tasty turtle soup.

But at some point, there was already "imitation" or "mock" turtle soup sold in cans, so the "mock turtle" from the original Wonderland is supposed to be the animal we made that from. I feel like it was kind of a mistake to give it any actual turtle parts, and it would have been funnier if it was entirely beef or a hybrid of other non-turtle animals, but now I'm just critiquing a gag written by a drug-addled creep who died centuries ago.

American McGee's 2000 version of Mock Turtle is alright.



MARCH HARE & DORMOUSE

It's funny how some things in this game were no "darker" than their original literary inspiration, but every so often it hit you over the head with something like this. Like the March Hare and the Dormouse being half-taxidermy, half-mechanical affronts to nature. Not bad designs, honestly.



MAD HATTER

...And the reason for the March Hare and the Dormouse is that, in this version of Wonderland, the Mad Hatter is also sort of a mad scientist, taking his obsession with clocks to new extremes as a deranged tinkerer. I do like this design, too. Sorry for the tall as hell image, but he's skinny! If I shrink it down, you'll lose too much detail! He just has a really nice cartoon troll or goblin-man sort of look to him. Unlike some of these other designs, it really does feel more like a 90's update to the fantasy art associated with the original Wonderland.



JABBERWOCK

A very major, very menacing presence in the game and a favorite character of the creator, the Jabberwock has presumably been reassembled and reanimated by the Hatter's haphazard engineering skills, with mechanical wings and headlamp eyes. I generally like its design quite a bit myself, but we'll need a closer shot to really appreciate it:


The creature still has the huge teeth of its classic design, but the overall head shape is closer to a rat skull, which is excellent, and the rest of it is such a bony, lanky, pallid reptiloid that you really get the impression you're looking at a sicklier, more broken version of whatever it once was.



JABBERSPAWN

...Plus, the Jabberwock in this game has its own signature minions! A monster with just a single pair of limbs, a big head and a shrunken body is almost always a hit with me, and I feel like even removed from the context of the Jabberwock, "Jabberspawn" would still seem like an appropriate name for this creature, which is just as well, because if I have just one critique here, it's that it doesn't otherwise really mesh with the Jabberwock's aesthetic style.



QUEEN OF HEARTS

The evil dictator of Wonderland and main boss of the game appears at first to just be a woman on a throne, but soon turns out to be a fleshy "puppet body" on the end of a red tentacle - matching red tentacles Alice encounters interwoven throughout the entire game's scenery! That's honestly pretty rad and pretty terrifying.



So, the true form of the "Queen of Hearts" actually IS a gigantic, monstrous heart-creature. Within its mouth is the face of the Mad Hatter, oddly enough, and within that is the face of Alice. This is, of course, all intended as metaphor for Alice's "insanity," her mind and consequently all of Wonderland having deteriorated as darkness and misery took over. Since Alice is released from the Asylum after defeating the queen, many players believed the queen's defeat was supposed to have "cured" Alice of her "madness," but if you understand anything about mental illness, you know that it doesn't actually get "cured," and it would really simply be the case that Alice learned how to manage something traumatic that was agitating her symptoms and harming her more than it should...no thanks at all to the Asylum itself, though.

American McGee's Alice, like I said earlier, doesn't really feel like it holds up too well. In fact, revisiting almost any platformers of this period, I'm often struck by just how awkward, slow, clunky and frustrating the gameplay almost ALWAYS is. We really liked those mechanics back then? Really? Wow.

But still, it's a pretty interesting game with some pretty interesting designs, and its sequel, which we will absolutely look at, really did take a lot of what worked here and ran with it!

Or...it was going to. We'll get to that.


MORE HALLOWEEN FEATURES: