Reviewing Alice: Madness Returns Creatures

Eleven whole years after American McGee's Alice a high definition sequel game was announced seemingly out of the blue, promising a bigger, bolder, weirder and even darker adventure than ever before...and I'd say it certainly succeeded, but one of the first images ever released as a teaser was the following:

Man oh man. LOOK at that. I remember this visual getting me pretty pumped for this game! Can you think of anything in the world more epic than Alice facing off against a giant, monstrous, steam-powered snail on the roof of a lighthouse? Topping it off are the smaller snails slithering their way up the structure, but apparently getting picked off here and there by a flock of massive gulls. Or maybe those are albatrosses, which are already that huge. I don't even know!

And we'll never know, because this never happens in the final product.


...And neither does this! I can barely begin to guess what's going on here, but what an even dreamier, even more fantastical scene!

Whether these really were concepts for game sequences or just accompanying paintings, I'm not completely sure, but a great deal of content did have to be cut for time and budget by the final release of Madness Returns. We're not only going to be reviewing the creatures that appear in the final game, but many of those that, unfortunately, had to be scrapped!

Just how much madness DOES Alice return? Was she kind enough to rewind it first? You be the judge!



White Rabbit

I didn't get around to reviewing the white rabbit when we looked at the first game, and his design didn't change much, but what an absolutely WRETCHED Lagomorph, isn't he?! I kind of adore how well this design makes a rabbit look scuzzier, creepier and more unsettling without technically giving it any features more monstrous than a real rabbit at all. It's basically no different, anatomically, from countless Easter Bunnies you see every spring, but the realistic texturing and the eyes staring out to the sides - like the real thing should - make this animal look fairly deranged without any additional fangs or bloodstains or stitches.



The March Hare

...Unlike, of course, the March Hare, who returns from the first game with a very different but still gruesomely cybernetic design. Such a ludicrous concept in such an entertaining way.



The Dormouse

Same for the March Hare's little pal, looking even more like a Taxidermied corpse than before! Sadly, this duo represents some content that was at least sort of cut, since they actually commandeer a giant, clockwork robot in their thirst for vengeance against the Mad Hatter (or something like that), but it abruptly breaks down on its own. This was apparently because the team found the original boss battle to be difficult and not very fun, but the mecha was still an important plot point and it was easier to just cut the fight than cut the robot entirely.



The Mad Hatter

Hatter, like the Rabbit, doesn't change his design much at all, but I thought you'd like to see him in 3-d. He is such a better character than Johnny Depp's Hatter, isn't he? I've heard that Burton's brainfart killed any chance of this Alice getting a feature film, at least back in the day.



Mock Turtle

The Mock Turtle's design is totally revamped here, and I think for the better. He's now a lot more stylized, a lot more like old caricature artwork, and just a lot more aesthetically appropriate to the setting, if you ask me. Much more pitiful at just a glance.



Insidious Ruin

Now we're into the enemy monster characters, the REAL good stuff! Madness Returns sees Alice back in an even more deteriorated Wonderland, and the "ruin" are pretty much everywhere, masses of dripping black sludge and random junk with signature baby doll heads lodged in the middle of their bulbous, oozing torsos. While this nearly humanoid mode is kind of their "main" form, it isn't technically their most basic; the weaker "slithering ruin" is nothing but a simple lump of the same black slime.



The Menacing Ruin

When upgraded to "Menacing," a Ruin loses its left sludgy arm, but the right becomes relatively huge. The rusty pipes and wheels all over its back are a lot bigger, too, it now has a cluster of three doll faces, and it also gains a pair of giant dollbaby arms as well. Interesting how those are still much, much too big to match the heads. Where are they getting all these different giant doll parts!? You'll see.



The Colossal Ruin

The largest Ruin is a whole flaring tower of sludge, even MORE rusted junk, more scattered baby heads and limbs, one extra massive doll head at its base and four giant doll hands it walks around on, like a ghastly turtle. Or a regular turtle, depending on your perception of reality.

Interesting how this one doesn't form any arms or legs from the slime itself anymore.



Drifting Ruin

This is the very last of the Ruins, which admittedly get fairly repetitive at this point, especially when they're major encounters in almost every area of the game. The "drifting" variety is probably my favorite, though, just a sphere of slime with the doll face and four little doll arms that floats around like a balloon. It's the simplest, other than the slithering blobs I mentioned, but I just really like the whole idea of it.



The Bolterfly

Considered the "fauna" of the Mad Hatter's domain, these are metal bolts with dragonfly-like wings that inhabit large hives, and attack by latching onto Alice and draining her health. That's a lot of different insects rolled into one concept! There's an odd error in their official description, however, which describes them as flying crossbow "Bolts" rather than the kind of bolt that holds machinery together.



The Madcap

The Hatter's maniacal underlings actually come in several different varieties, but all of them look like wrinkly, green-skinned trolls with oversized heads, much like Hatter himself, wearing giant teacups as helmets and attacking with cutlery. Also, clocks for codpieces. Hilarious. Amazingly scary, too; maybe not in-game, but the idea of these things coming to get you with their massive, Political Caricature looking faces is pretty hideous.



The Eyepot

Is that a pun on "Ipod?" Haha. Wait...we already don't even have those anymore, do we? I can't think of the last time I saw one.

This creation of the Hatter is one of the more memorable creatures in the game, a huge and ornate teapot seemingly crafted from the wreckage of building materials, from the looks of it, with three mechanized legs and a single huge, reptilian, intensely red eyeball on one side. Fighting one of these big, clanking oddities was a lot of fun!



The Cannon Crab

One stage of the game takes place underwater, and a major enemy there is this otherwise realistic crab with a cannon for a right claw and a lit cigar in its mouth. I love how normal the rest of it is, though, with a crab's normal, cute little beady eyes and everything.



The Ice Snark

Snarks are back, but now as deep-sea Anglerfish versions! I like both, for very different reasons, but I'm definitely still more partial to the quirkiness of the regular Snark.



Oysters

Not enemies, but NPC's whose fate you may already know if you're familiar with the original Alice in Wonderland. In this game, the Carpenter and the Walrus host an entire stage play in the underwater world, and hire oysters as a troupe of burlesque dancers. The fishnet stockin and human hairdo on this veiny lump of mollusk flesh is at once hilarious and deeply unpleasant, as are the pure white little eyeballs.



FISH PEOPLE

The Walrus's audience are also on the menu, and consist of these wonderfully ludicrous humanoid fish. Their huge heads, bulging fishy eyes and realistically detailed faces are such an unsettlingly comical delight, like so much else in this game.



Turtle Chest

A treasure chest with sea turtle flippers, this creature was intended to be part of an entire quest in which Alice would have to swim after it to capture its contents, but the sequence was cut and a turtle chest is only seen as a decorative NPC. Can't say the chase sequence sounds terribly fun enough to miss, but I'm glad they left this weird thing present in some form.



Shipwreck Shark

I don't believe you ever get to battle these creatures, which simply serve as a plot point, and I somehow forgot their existence entirely until now. I can't believe I've never really seen this concept anywhere else, either; a giant, skeletal shark literally formed out of shipwreck scrap! That is SO appropriate, downright obvious, yet I think this is the only time I've ever seen it done.



The Mayor

We tragically never get to meet the undersea mayor under better circumstances. He's a man with a huge, lifelike nautilus for a head and that is adorable, but we only see him as the crucified murder victim of the Walrus. I do appreciate however that though there's a huge saw partially lodged in his shell, his little mayor hat is balancing on top of the sawblade. Wouldn't the Walrus have had to put the hat back on there? Did he leave the saw because it was too hard to cut any deeper and carefully set the hat there as if it would hide evidence?



Music Fish

These living musical instruments are just fish in the shape of big wine jugs, with eyestalks! That's so dang cute!



The Octopus

Octopus is the scriptwriter for the Carpenter and Walrus, and doesn't seem to know or care that the show is one big trap for mass murder. All he cares about is what a genius he feels he is, and what a "pusillanimous, parsimonious, pettifogging moron" his boss the Carpenter is. Oh, and getting drunk, even squeezing himself entirely into a big bottle of ale.

He sounds adorable to describe, really, but the realistic old man face sprouting from his octopus head mitigates the cuteness a tad. Good call, honestly, with actual octopus features I'd have found him too lovable to accept his nasty personality.



THE JELLYFISH

These giant moon jellies serve primarily as bouncy platforms, but of course those veiny red ones with the thorns are not safe. Everyone knows only regular giant Cnidaria are up to code for use as airborne trampolines. Didn't you go to SCHOOL!?!?



The Origami Ants

Moving on from the ocean realm for now, a shorter area has a sort of mixed-up ambiguous "Eastern" motif, which makes sense for the image Alice would have had of places like China and Japan during the set period. The Origami ants are truly darling little characters, though, just anthropomorphic ant people made out of paper with simple, rectangular heads and tiny black holes for eyes. They're friendly, which is strange, because ants are pretty much the most territorial and violent bastards in nature.



The Samurai Wasps

So of course the "bad" counterparts to the ants are a bunch of wasps, even though real wasps are definitely easier to get along with between the two insects. Love the idea of wasps as nasty samurai, though, and this design, with the realistic wasp wearing a ghoulish white oni mask, is positively killer!



THE DAIMYO WASP

A more powerful wasp is fully decked out in plated samurai armor, with a Kabuto helmet and pitch black mask with a more humanlike facial sculpt. I like that, at a distance, you might just mistake it for a human samurai anyway, but then you see how it moves, and that it has too many limbs, and that those limbs are much more spindly than any human's could ever be.



The Caterpillar

Caterpillar has now morphed into a butterfly, as we usually expect him to in any adaptation. He kind of has the same cartoony green man-face he always did, but now of course with a butterfly body. He also has a long, white beard and his wing patterns form another oni face, so I guess he was supposed to be Japanese all along? Huh.



The Doll Girl

GOOD LORD. I've seen a lot of creepy doll characters, but this is absolutely one of the most wretched in any video game, perhaps because it isn't trying that hard to look like a monster. It's technically a normal, realistic baby doll with a frilly dress and pigtails, but the eyes and nose are missing and the whole thing just looks dirty and decayed like an actual doll gets if it's left out in the woods or something long enough. What really makes this a memorable enemy, however, is the fact that it's about ten feet tall.



The "Bitch Baby?!"

Wait, THAT'S this thing's name!? Seriously!? That's so utterly messed up. I guess it's appropriately messed up, for a giant doll head with screws in its eyes and four doll legs that whirl like a propeller. Yeah, this thing flies, actually. Somehow it flies by spinning its big plastic doll legs. What a horrible, horrible thing.



The Hallucinated Jabberwocks

These aren't an enemy, but there's a cutscene in which Alice imagines a crowd of men with the heads of the Jabberwock, and it's interestingly not the Jabberwock design from the original game, but closer to its iconic original illustration, albeit even more ratlike. I like the touch of the pale, glowing pupil-less eyes and the sparse little hairs on their heads.



The Card Guards

I didn't include the first game's Card Guards, because they were just guys with playing cards for torsos, like you already know from other versions of Wonderland. In Madness Returns, on the other hand, they've become undead ghouls! The heart symbol in their chest has been neatly carved out, leaving a big Valentine-shaped hole through their body, and the grinning, bare skull has a single heart-shaped socket instead of a normal skull's separate eyes and nose. That's pretty rad looking! My only complaint is that I think the "card" body should have been significantly flatter. It's just puffy enough here that these feel more like pillow people than playing card people.



The Executioner

This is the guy the Queen of Hearts actually employs to lop off all those heads, and he looks cool as hell! I love how his stitched-together, black and red executioner's hood branches into those two stripey tassles, like he's also a horrifying jester, I love the withered Nosferatu-looking nose and mouth we can see peeking from that hood, and I love how there's just a pair of eyeless tentacles waving out of the mask's little round eyeholes. It's an instantly unforgettable and genuinely nightmarish visage!



The Queen of Hearts

The Queen's presence in this game is a bit of a red herring, I guess, since she's no longer a threatening antagonist, but just wants to be left alone in her sad, rotting kingdom. She now appears mostly human, except for her huge, slimy red hands and the fact that her mouth stretches open like some kind of viperfish. You never have to battle her, because this time, she's not the cause of Alice's decaying mind...



The Dollmaker

Is this not one of the most horrific bosses you've ever seen? It's the more "normal," more "realistic" aspects of this gaunt old man that enhance the horror of his more monstrous features, rather than the other way around, with black gunk pouring from his misaligned, circular eye sockets and drenching his mouth to the point it can't even be seen. Also pretty gruesome are the doll faces growing from the backs of his giant, knobbly hands, which he will "walk" around the arena for one of his attacks!

I won't spoil the story significance of the dollmaker, but I will say that you won't really want to look into it if you suffer from any kind of significant trauma, because it covers a fair number of the worst and most repulsive things a villain could ever be responsible for, if you weren't already tipped off to some of it by all these broken, filthy dolls running around.



Alice's "Flesh Maiden" Dress

The last fully "canon" content we get to review is just an alternate costume you can unlock for Alice herself, but is this living meat dress, complete with a few eyeballs and teeth, not one of the coolest things yhou've ever seen?


CUT CONTENT


The Mock Sparrows

The Mock Sparrow or "Cowbird" was originally going to be a woodland creature of Wonderland, and came in both Cow and Bull variations. Both are pretty funny in totally different ways, and like most of the cut creatures we're going to see, still appear in an in-game art gallery. Their entry states that the Mock Turtle considers them a threat, but it doesn't say why...



The Footman

The Queen's little frog footman! Unfortunately set to appear in both games and cut from both games, except standing around in one of the backgrounds of Madness Returns, if I remember right. The original plan was that he would follow Alice around in the woods and only attack if attacked first.



The Doll Boy

A variant of the Doll Girl, oozing some sort of pale slime with actual eyeballs in his sockets, which really only makes him look even worse.



The Toy Soldier

I really like this design, just a skinny wooden soldier whose simple, wooden ball head has nails driven into it and a big, burnt hole blasted clear through where the face ought to be. It's a simple but effectively frightening look!



The Automaton

Obviously meant to be another Hatter creation, its whole body is basically just the same red eyeball as the Eyepot, wearing its own special armor with metal arms and legs, as well as clamp-like hands. It's really cute!



The Bulbfly

Who knows what this might have been used for in relation to the boltflies. This one's just a lightbulb with a single pair of insect wings. Its bio in the art gallery, presumably written by Alice herself, expresses disbelief that electric lights could ever replace oil lamps.



The Dodomech

Both regular dodos and these pitiful Hatter experiments were set to appear at some point. The dodomech's cinched neck, featherlessness and screws for eyes are probably its most unpleasant details, really looking like something the Hatter would make out of a dead bird and call it a day.



The Mersquid

This is, frankly, a GENIUS concept. It's nothing but a mermaid figurehead that broke off from a shipwreck, with multiple anchors on chains that it uses like "tentacles." The idea that this constitutes a "squid" is a cooler and even more original concept than the shipwreck shark, by far. This is so good, it's not just painful that it was cut from this game, but painful that it was only ever made for one video game in the first place. An entire nautical horror movie could revolve around this entity alone!



Empress Wasp

The mother of the samurai wasps would have been a boss character, and it's a dang shame she was lost, because this giant, hunched wasp draped in a kimono, a different weapon in each hand, looks magnificently fearsome even without the witchy green oni mask, or the other creepy masks seemingly hovering around her. One appears to be a fanged tengu, and the other a highly exaggerated geisha, which I think might be the most unsettling of all three options. Would she have switched into different masks and changed her attacks for each?



The Snail

Shown here without a shell, so really a slug, but it also doesn't matter because not all cultures even actually differentiate snail from slug. In a lot of languages it's one word, and the animal is simply understood to sometimes come with a shell, sometimes not. Seems obvious, really.

This is such a beautifully rendered gastropod, though. Mostly realistic, except for the rainbow sheen and the more human-like eyes on its stalks. It still appears as a piece of set dressing, but it would've been lovely to see it moving around.



The Darksnail

And now we're REALLY talking, except for the fact that this was cut without a trace. It's not the monster snail from that concept art, but it's actually even better; I love its big, gaping, vertical mouth, kind of like a lamprey with fewer teeth, the thin stalks terminating in large eyes that almost look "empty" here, as if there's nothing within those unpleasantly pink-rimmed lids, and then there's the spiny, black and white striped shell. It's SO dang goth!



The Dog Baby

Perhaps one of the coolest looking and freakiest critters in the game, cut or otherwise, the Dog Baby appears as a decoration in a later stage but it's a real shame that we never got to fight something so outlandish. It isn't even anything like a dog or a baby, really...it's more like an exaggerated rabbit skull, with baby doll eyes and eyelashes in its sockets, rabbit ears stitched to its cranium and four metal legs formed from giant screws and nails. GRISLY, and it also feels a bit like a homage to Jan Svankmajer's Alice film.


Anyway, don't get me wrong, this game is still full of some delightfully weird scenery and characters, but between the concept art that never fully manifestated into any particular elements and some of the other cut content, it feels like even the technology of 2011 couldn't contain the full degree of madness that this game deserved to revel in, that its ideas were still a little bolder and more surreal than gaming at the time was entirely ready for.

Still, though...any single level of this game is a metric shitload better looking and more enjoyable than the entirety of that Johnny Depp thing.


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