Earlier this week we finally got a confirmed release date for Lost in Random, a new upcoming platformer under the EA Originals banner. It looks devilishly charming, with Tim Burton-esque visuals, platforming and a world we can't wait to get lost in. The bad news is there are still two months until we can finally play it. But fear not, there's another great game out there to scratch that itch, and it just so happens to be in Xbox Game Pass for Ultimate members.
Alice: Madness Returns - the sequel to American McGee's Alice - is a severely underrated platformer. It's nowhere near as big as other titans such as Crash Bandicoot or Spyro, and its dark fairytale world is perhaps not as enticing as some of the more colourful examples out there. But it's absolutely a must play and arguably one of the best platformers you can enjoy on Xbox at present. It's also included as part of EA Play, so if you have Xbox Game Pass Ultimate, there's no reason not to check it out.
It plays on the whole Wonderland subject with a much darker design. The world, while still looking childlike, has many numerous undertones that relate to Alice's mental wellbeing. You see, the story here acts as an analogy for her real world trauma, managing to be both accessible and heart-breaking. Her story is not a happy one, but combating her inner demons through satisfying platforming gauntlets and punchy combat makes it a ride worth taking.
You'll earn different weapons in the game that are known as Toys, and each of these take a classic item and give it an unusual spin. For example a jack-in-the-box can be used as an explosive in tricky situations. The creativity of the monsters you fight also extends beyond your own imagination, with one particular level inside a dollhouse being a standout for its sheer insanity. When you're using a tea pot to disperse of creatures made up of bits of toy dolls, it's hard not to wonder what was going through the creators' minds.
Some of the classic abilities from the iconic story also come into play, namely Alice's ability to change size. While the original story only had this happen in key moments, here it's used to great effect to solve puzzles and complete platforming challenges. There's even a great moment where you get to feel like a giant and stomp your way through a city as if you were Godzilla - it's tremendous fun. This is only the tip of the iceberg in what you'll be doing, but we don't want to spoil too much!
There's a surprising amount of story in play, too. It's not all adventures in Wonderland, as small sections in the present disperse the action. You'll explore the Victorian streets of London - either in third or first person - as you get to see Alice's real life first hand. These aren't dramatically long sequences, but they add a powerful punch due to their sporadic nature throughout the story. They also do well to serve a stark contrast between present day and the world of Wonderland, as you see how Alice's imagination portrays different parts of her life.
Despite being a decade old, Alice: Madness Returns is still an absolute stunner, and that comes down to its unique art design. Much like Lost in Random, it feels heavily influenced by Tim Burton's classic work. Films such as Beetlejuice, Corpse Bride, and even Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street shine through. While Lost in Random perhaps leans into his more child friendly works, Alice: Madness Returns embraces the darkness he's known for to great effect, making it seem like you're playing the starring role in one of his films.
It's a shame the series has never got the success its rightfully deserved. There's a huge cult following, but it's slipped under the radar for many. There's even an idea for a third game known as Alice: Asylum, but the details around it seem distorted for now. Whether it will come to light remains to be seen, but in the meantime, Alice: Madness Returns is a classic platforming adventure, providing a darker edge, and a great experience for Xbox Game Pass Ultimate members looking for something unique.
Tide over the wait for Lost in Random with this little gem.
Have you played Alice: Madness Returns? Let us know in the comments below.