Alice: Madness Returns

Hey ho,

Some days ago the first real information on the sequel to 2000 game American McGee’s Alice was released, among which a trailer, a bunch of screen-shots, an official website and the game’s title: Madness Returns. Although I’m going on vacation tomorrow, I just had to spend some time noting my observations of the promotional material released so far. Note that I won’t be discussing the projected quality or ‘worthiness’ of this sequel, it’ll just be observations and speculations. Also, it’s been some years since I played the original, so there’s probably going to be some things that I’ll miss out on. Please feel free to post any additions you have in the comments!

Let’s start with the trailer. You can watch it right right under here, though if you haven’t seen it yet, I advice you to watch it in HD on the website.

So, quite a bit more morbid than the original, I think (or at least as I remember it). But, for those of you who, like me, fear not, as the screenshots seem more in-tune with the original atmosphere.

Anyway, there are a lot of little details in this trailer. Let’s go from start to finish…

First of all, here’s the best shot I could get of the key at the start. I don’t really have a clue on what the key itself is about, looks like a generic fantastic Victorian key. Don’t see anything familiar of otherwise meaningful in the handle art, though through movement blur it looks somewhat like a skull. Intentional? The use of the key, however, is clear: it’s being used to hypnotise Alice. She is subsequently awoken by the sound of her name, and we are presented with a view of the therapist’s room.

Very briefly, we can see a book on the right, presumably on anatomy, with a picture of a rotting (dor)mouse carcass.

Hanging from the ceiling we see numerous arms. Though I couldn’t find anything peculiar about any of the individual arms, their collection reminds of the Mad Hatter’s occupations in the original game. He might also have made use of the anatomy book for his creations… There are many more clues coming that suggest that this room belong to the Hatter.


Such as this tea set. Note the rose decorations on the porcelain, and the Jabberwock.

Then there’s this model, half-skeleton, half-suited. Except for his face, which is half-muscles. And he’s wearing a hat.

And there’s another hat on the hatstand.

There’s a deck of cards to the right. The visible cards seem to be the Ace, Queen and Three of Hearts (FYI, the original books do not mention the Three or Ace of Hearts).


Also to the right are several glass containers holding preserved creatures. I really can’t make much out of them. The one could be a worm just as well as a horn, and the other looks like a cross between a penguin and a walrus. In the back of the room are many more of these kinds of bowls, jars and domes, which I won’t all address individually as they don’t hold significance that I can determine. There are a couple of shelves, though, that I’ll discuss.

Shrooms can’t stay absent from Alice…

A set of tools, dentist in nature? Notice the heart-shaped handles on a couple of them.

A statue of a rabbit in a scarf, and a dog skeleton. Not sure what we’re looking at below the tail of the dog, looks a bit like a wheel?

Lastly, these shelves display some interesting items. There’s the obvious chess piece, and some more clocks (one shaped like a teapot?). Additionally though, there are five or so small heads, seemingly having belonged to dolls, lying on the boards. What do these mean? Also note the empty portrait frames and the mysterious mess of brown beneath them.

Mandatory flamingo, preserved under a glass dome. Interestingly, I couldn’t find any hedgehogs.

A bunch of pipes, dials and other machinery, again reminding of the Hatter’s lair in the original game.

In the far left of the room is a painting of a person. Kudos to anyone able to figure out who that is!

A globe resides in the room. It doesn’t seem to portray Earth.


Returning to the desk, we see a book and a quill, a large hourglass, and a number of books supported by Tweedle bookends. There’s also some kind of shiny object on the corner of the desk, which I have no clue about.

Soon enough Alice starts spewing blood and her teeth fall out. Note that there is a symbol on the tooth that we see falling (more about this later), and the game logo is already briefly visible in the back.

At the end of the trailer the EA logo is shown in the form of a pocket watch (referencing Rabbit, of course). As it rotates into place, we can see the time as being just past three. I think this may be the same time as shown on the watch in the opening cut-scene of the original game, though I’m not sure whether it has any more significance. The back of the watch is revealed to be beautified with a picture of a grinning cat.

Since that was all there is to see (to my knowledge), here’s a little bit about the soundtrack of the trailer. I think on this side at least, it’s very well done. I love how, when Alice is asked about her Wonderland, all sounds seem to indicate that this question was rather a mistake. The ticking of the clock turns into a slow, demonic churning, and we hear the sounds of creaking wood, often associated with sinking or sunken ships. When we enter her mouth, we hear what seem to be the sounds of crawling insects and other horrific things. The music at the end finishes it off well and evokes the feel of the original game.

Now that we’re all done with the trailer, let’s look at some other pieces of promotional material. You can find a lot of screen-shots on the official website.

The evil card enemies have had their faces replaced by skulls. I’m not sure how I like that, but I do think the way they have the symbol of spades worked into them is really great. They also have two toes.

Another couple of images can be found on the game’s promotional Twitter account as well as American McGee’s. In particular, these pictures are:

I’d like to use that last picture to, before I close, briefly take you away from observations and facts and closer to speculation and wild guesses.

As you can see in the picture, a number of Wonderland characters have been portrayed on playing cards. Each card also contains a symbol. These are all either Greek symbols for planets in our solar system or letters from the Greek alphabet. Assigning each symbol to the corresponding character yields the following list:

  • Cheshire – Alpha (first letter of Greek alphabet)
  • Duchess – Jupiter
  • Hare – Saturn
  • Dormouse – Saturn
  • Humpty – Ceres
  • Tweedles – Pluto
  • Carpenter – Neptune
  • Hatter – Mercury
  • Caterpillar – Uranus
  • Rabbit – Sun
  • Alice – Omega (last letter of Greek alphabet) (she wears this sign around her neck in the original game and new promotional art)

Note the character designated as the Carpenter. I’m not sure, but I think the new character in the picture must be him, given the nail and the pencil. Also note that Saturn appears twice, both for the March Hare and the Dormouse. This might be explained by them sharing very similar, closely related roles, at least in the original game. The inclusion of Uranus as a Greek symbol is somewhat surprising, since the ancients did not know about the existence of this planet. It was only until later that it was named and a symbol was devised for it, based on the name of the discoverer: Herschel. This is also the symbol on the tooth in the trailer. Now, in dreams, teeth falling out is said to symbolize a fear of losing something. Given the Greek symbol connection, could the teeth symbolize the Wonderland characters, and is this trailer saying that Alice will lose her friends?

So much for the wild speculation. Hopefully we will soon see more of Alice: Madness Returns, and I hope you enjoyed this post!

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5 Responses so far »

  1. 1

    Meggy said,

    Hey there!
    Just posting here to share the enthusiasm for the upcoming game. I was really enthralled by the original, although my clumsy platforming skills and the unwieldy controls of the game made for an unfortunate combination..

    I thoroughly enjoyed your detailed analysis. I think all your observations are quite accurate, except for that skeleton part. I think the skull is too round, so it more likely belongs to a cat. And I think what you describe as a wheel is just the kink of a long tail.

    About the enemies, I do think that skulls are a bit of a cop-out when it comes to making Wonderland creepy, but I think they carry it well so far. And perhaps this is the clearest way they can include death in the game – as I am sure Alice’s torments involve the death of her family. What I did greatly enjoy was the use of hollows in the game art – such as hollowing out the card symbols on the card enemies, and the hollowed out heart on the castle in the screenshots.

    All in all, though, it’s great to see this vision of Alice displayed with today’s graphical capabilities. The main I can say is: moar, MOAR!

  2. 2

    Ivi Violence said,

    I loved your description! It is really interesting but I think you have two things wrong:

    1.- The skeleton is not from a dog, It’s from a cat, possibly refering to Cheshir
    2.- The bird is a dodo not a flamingo (it is far too small to be a flamingo)

    Out of it, I can only say I’m super excited for this game! I think it is going to be as great as the first one :D

  3. 3

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  4. 4

    Obie said,

    It’s a dodo, not a flamingo.

  5. 5

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