Death during combat isn't very common when you're faced with a handful of enemies - especially when they're the same type - but when you're up against a five or more, each coming at you from different angles, the game's target lock-on system comes unstuck. You're left unable to auto-target the enemy you're after, accidentally selecting a lesser foe by mistake. This often resulted in me fumbling with the controls while a group of enemies swarmed Alice, wiping out her health and forcing me back to an annoyingly placed checkpoint.
Lock-on and checkpoint problems aside, the combat is very enjoyable, delivering meaty melee strikes and powerful projectile attacks. Mixing the two styles isn't the easiest thing to do, yet for the most part it's handled very well by Spicy Horse. At times you'll wish the developer toned down the frequency of combat, though, with certain sequences feeling like grinds through to the conclusion as you battle room after room of near-identical enemies. The platforming and twisted whimsy on offer are the stars of the show, but sometimes the combat is thrown too much into the forefront of the experience.
There's no question that Alice: Madness Returns is a dated looking game. While it appears to have been built on Unreal Engine 3, early impressions are of a poorly modelled world, rough textures, horrible texture loading and iffy animations. Technically Alice's 2011 adventure isn't good at all, yet the wonderful art design makes this a game that's often beautiful to look at. There's a huge amount of variety in the environments and characters you'll meet. You'll move from an industrial factory-like setting to a world of ice, head under water and venture across an Asian-themed landscape complete with origami characters.
As much as I frequently bemoaned the technical shortcomings, I always wanted to see what was around the corner and often took the time to marvel at the sheer amount of crazy level architecture on display. Yes, this could and probably should have looked even more spectacular given the amount of creative freedom the development team had, but I couldn't help but be taken in by it all. The cast of characters are a bit hit and miss, but there are some real memorable performances and some completely bizarre ones that give the game a sharp dose of humour.
What's more, this is a big game, at least by modern standards. While someone will no doubt speedrun the whole thing in an afternoon, most players will be looking at an adventure that easily exceeds 12 hours, and will more likely take 15 or more. Much of this will depend on how many of the secrets you hunt out during your play through, with many hidden paths accessible by shrunk Alice and secret areas opened up by finding and shooting flying pig snouts - completely bizarre, but it fits inside this version of Wonderland.
I'd have liked the adventure to have been trimmed of fat, the combat is at times extremely irritating, and the art design far exceeds the technical prowess on show, but at its core Alice: Madness Returns is an imaginative romp through a world that's clearly been designed by some incredibly creative minds. If you miss the classic 3D platformer and like games with a heavy dose of surrealism, you could do a lot worse than give Alice: Madness Returns a shot.