I'm not sure I should like Alice: Madness Returns as much as I do. Spicy Horse's Xbox 360, PS3 and PC follow-up to 2000's original twisted tale at times feels a few months of QA Testing away from release, graphically struggling to compete with anything that's hit stores in the last two years, and rather bloated in terms of length, but it's still somehow incredibly likeable.
Alice: Madness Returns picks up 11 years after the events of the first title, with Alice seeing a psychiatrist in Victorian London. Twisted memories see her slip into Wonderland, a once beautiful place that's been destroyed and taken over by nasty creatures. All the while the details about the fire that killed Alice's family are gradually revealed, slowly unravelling as she makes her perilous journey towards the truth.
What we have here is something of an endangered species these days: A 3D platformer. At its core, Madness Returns is a sprawling adventure that features plenty of jumping from platform to platform, with our heroine able to triple jump and glide in between in order to reach distant areas. There are plenty of pull this, press that and shoot this styled puzzles, combined with some pretty challenging jumping, which gives the game a retro feel.
It's retro in a good way, though, with this type of gameplay rarely seen outside of Mario games. Alice is also able to see hidden platforms by drinking a shrinking potion, which adds a whole new level of trickiness to the proceedings. You can only see these invisible platforms when small, but can only jump when normal sized, so you're often asked to leap about without being able to see where a platform ends and thin-air begins.
Thankfully, die by falling into the ether and you'll be returned to a safe place reasonably close to where you were before. The same can't be said about death during combat, which often forces you to replay lengthy chunks of gameplay for no apparent reason - a recipe for frustration that will likely force some players to give up entirely or at least lower the difficulty setting.
Combat here feels like a mix between Zelda: Ocarina of Time and modern hack 'n' slash titles like Dante's Inferno. While not all available from the get go, you'll eventually get your hands on two melee weapons (the fast Vorpal Blade and the slower but more powerful Hobby Horse), two projectile weapons (the mini-gun like Pepper Grinder and the more deadly but slower Hot Tea Launcher), a timed bomb and an umbrella that can deflect enemy projectiles. Each weapon can be upgraded by using teeth found along your adventure, and the two melee weapons can be used together to perform some basic combos.