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Here's a riddle: When is a croquet mallet like a billy club? I'll tell you: Whenever you want it to be.
—The Cheshire Cat
One of the most disturbing video games ever released, American McGee's Alice revolves around the titular character of the Alice in Wonderland series. Released in late 2000 by Electronic Arts, and helmed by Id Software alumnus American McGee, a former level designer for the Doom and Quake franchises, in his first role as project lead.
Alice Liddell's family members are killed in a fire, of which she is the only survivor. The trauma leaves her mostly catatonic and suicidal, and she is institutionalized in Rutledge Asylum. Years later, her White Rabbit plush toy apparently comes to life and summons Alice to aid a radically altered Wonderland, now under the despotic rule of the Queen of Hearts.
Alice must fight her way through the twisted dream world in an attempt to destroy the Queen and restore Wonderland to its former glory, and thus heal her mind. Along the way, she must destroy the Queen's minions, many of which are her former friends and companions. Her guide and primary ally is a twisted, emaciated Cheshire Cat, who can be summoned by the player for hints on how to go or just the occasional cryptic quote.
The game itself is an early action adventure, with Alice using a variety of deadly toys to kill the inhabitants trying to destroy her and solving a number of puzzles along the way. The soundtrack is particularly notable, created by Nine Inch Nails member Chris Vrenna with exclusively Victorian instruments and toys. The trailer for the first game can be viewed here.
In February 2009, roughly eight or so years after the game was released, EA announced that American McGee got the band back together, so to speak, and the sequel, titled Alice: Madness Returns was released on June 14, 2011. The first game ended with Alice escaping her insanity and leaving Rutledge Asylum with a smile. Now, Alice is a downtrodden orphan living in Victorian London under the care of Dr. Bumby. She suffers from hallucinations of Wonderland which make her sense of reality confusing. She eventually tumbles down the rabbit hole and returns to Wonderland, finding once again under threat from another corrupting influence which takes the form of the Infernal Train. Armed with new weapons, Alice must save Wonderland with new and old friends and enemies. However, it appears the house fire may have not been an accident after all.
- Action Girl: Alice.
- All There in the Manual: The manual here including Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass, as well as the journal of the staff psychiatrist. It's clear that a certain degree of real life is getting through to the catatonic Alice.
- Anti-Frustration Features: Meta-Essence that respawn after a while in the same spot appear only in boss arenas. These are actually necessary for the last couple of fights, where the only weapons you'll be using are the mana-guzzling Eye Staff and Blunderbuss.
- Attack of the Monster Appendage: The tentacles of the Queen of Hearts, making it Type 2.
- Awesome Yet Practical: The Jabberwock's Eye Staff. Takes forever to get, and you have to find the pieces, but it's a laser beam staff that also shoots explosions. For the most part, you probably won't use anything else.
- The only downside is that it takes a while to charge, so you can't use it when enemies are spawning right next to you (And the last levels tend to do that a lot.)
- Less so is probably the Blunderbuss. If you can skillfully herd an entire room's garrison of mooks into a group and stay well out of the blast radius, you'll be rewarded with a lot of meta-essence to restore Alice to mint condition should you survive the shot.
- Battle in the Center of the Mind: Solving Alice's problems tends to involve Stuff Blowing Up.
- Beam Spam: The Queen Of Hearts utilizes such an attack in her throne room.
- BFG: The Blunderbuss.
- Big Creepy-Crawlies
- Big No:
- Alice's response to the Jabberwock's Hannibal Lecture.
- Also when the Cheshire Cat dies.
- Blade on a Stick: The various mook Cards wield creative pole weapons reflecting their suits, eg: morning stars for the Club soldiers, Tridents for Spades and so on.
- Body Horror: The March Hare and the Dormouse. Good God.
- The Queen of Hearts' appearance and her true form are horrific.
- Not to mention the various deformed children running around, some of whom have the tops of their skulls sawed off.
- Boring but Practical: The Flamingo club/mallet. Hits harder than the Vorpal Blade, has a ranged projectile that uses only moderate amount of will. The 52 Deck Cards also count mainly for its high hit probability, if not damage. Both are found early in-game.
- Boss-Only Level: Almost all of them, with the exception of the Red King and Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum.
- Bottomless Pit: Many levels have dark voids in which Alice can fall to her doom.
- Cats Are Snarkers: Guess who's responsible for this trope.
- Cheshire Cat Grin: The Cheshire Cat, naturally, though his grin is actually a mix of Cheshire Cat Grin and Slasher Smile.
- Clockwork Creature: The automatons are made from random spare clockwork parts and insane children. Oddly enough, the bomb-dropping ladybugs look to be mechanical too. The Mad Hatter turns out to be one of these as well, to go along with the clockwork theme of his level. To top it all off, the March Hare and Dormouse are at least halfway this.
- Common Knowledge: The game seems to assume that the Red Queen and the Queen of Hearts are the same person, a popular misconception.
- The Computer Is a Lying Bastard: Some of the Cheshire Cat's clues are cryptic to the point of being false. For example, he implies the Jacks are dangerous to Alice if she uses them without enemies around, like the Dice, when in fact they're perfectly harmless.
- Convection, Schmonvection: Areas like the Land of Fire and Brimstone.
- Crazy People Play Chess: Alice has some adventures on a city of chess boards, including turning into different pieces and only being able to move according to those rules.
- Creepy Child: Alice herself.
- Creepy Cool Crosses: Early versions of Alice wore a cross instead of her omega necklace. Some badly done versions even made the cross look inverted, and you know that's never going to fly.
- Dark World: The Twisted Wonderland definitely qualifies.
- Darker and Edgier: The whole game, compared to what one would expect from something called Alice in Wonderland.
- Deadpan Snarker: Both Alice and the Cheshire Cat.
- Death Dealer: One of Alice's weapons is a deck of cards.
- Death From Above: The Jabberwock in the second encounter. Also the Eye Staff has a secondary fire mode which is basically a multi-shot artillery strike the longer you charge the shot.
- Deliberately Monochrome: The Pale Realm of the Chess people's world.
- Doom Magnet: Alice thought of herself as one as her Wonderland friends meet their untimely fate from various circumstances surrounding her.
- Down the Drain / Under the Sea: The Vale of Tears, complete with a few Underwater Ruins. For some, That One Level.
- Dream Land: Take a wild guess.
- Dummied Out: The HD console edition brightened up textures but removed quick save/load, the ability to hotkey weapons and the ability to call the Cheshire Cat whenever you wanted.
- Earn Your Happy Ending: While earning the ending holds true for all video games, Alice literally has to earn her sanity back by battling the Queen Of Hearts.
- Eldritch Abomination: The Queen Of Hearts, especially her final form.
- Eternal Engine: Beneath Queensland.
- Exposition Fairy / Stop Helping Me!: The Cheshire Cat. Less annoying than other examples since you actually have to summon his help but, the character's eponymous quirks being what they are, his "help" is often enigmatic to the point of uselessness.
- Eye Scream: Guess what makes up the business end of the Jabberwock's Eye Staff?
- Final Boss, New Dimension: In this case, a really dark void with platforms in a circular arrangement.
- Follow the Leader: The entire plot is about an institutionalized Alice returning to a darker, trippier, overthrown Wonderland, which is very similar to Dorothy's adventures in the '80s film Return to Oz. Despite that fact, it managed to be popular with the public (unlike the movie). Also more awesome.
- Frickin' Laser Beams: The Bishop chess piece uses this. Also the Eye Staff emits a continuous beam of massive damage.
- Fungus Humongous: The giant, flesh-eating mushrooms.
- Girl with Psycho Weapon: Alice is best known for her first weapon, a knife, called the "Vorpal Blade" in-game.
- Glasgow Grin: All the Insane Children appear to have these cut into their faces.
- Going Through the Motions: Play this game now and be embarrassed at the quality of animation.
- Grimmification: One of the more famous examples.
- Guilt Based Gaming: The Quit screen.
- Gusty Glade: Inverted in one area of the Hatter's Domain, where you can get sucked into machinery drawing in air. Played straight inside Queensland where visible gusts can blow you off while riding steam vents.
- Hannibal Lecture: The Jabberwock, The Mad Hatter, and the Queen Of Hearts especially.
- Happy Place: Subverted. This is what Wonderland used to be.
- Idle Animation - Looking down the barrel of the blunderbuss, prying open a jackbomb, burying a card in her own skull, playing with knives ... Alice is dangerous when she's bored.
- Improbable Weapon User: Alice's "toys" are mighty lethal. Decks of cards, flamingo-shaped croquet mallets, explosive Jack-in-the-boxes, dice which summon demons... the list goes on.
- In Case You Forgot Who Wrote It: Possibly justified, since American McGee's Alice is very different from Lewis Carroll's, but even so it has been said of the game that if you're going to put your own name in the title, it's better if people actually know who you are. The game had amazing graphics for its time, and it was heavily publicized that it was built on the then-cutting edge Quake III Arena engine. American McGee had been a designer for id Software and worked on the earlier Quake games, as well as its predecessor franchise Doom. A good portion of the target audience - 3D action gamers - were well aware of who he was.
- American McGee was actually not a fan of having his name in the title - he wanted to call the game just Alice. According to him, it was the publishers who wanted to put his name in the title, since "made by one of the masterminds behind Doom" would carry more weight with gamers than "a dark version of Alice in Wonderland". He got his wish with the second game, which is not called American McGee's Alice: Madness Returns. It still has "An American McGee Game" in smaller letters at the bottom of the case.
- Indy Escape: A large mechanical beetle drops a massive marble down into the hole Alice is in. She outruns it past an icy floor in which the marble crashes through. Comes back later to chase her after she gets the Ice Wand and be on her way.
- Infinity Plus One Guns - Blunderbuss and Jabberwock's Eye Staff. Blunderbuss simply annihilates everything non-boss in a pretty wide area while draining your full Will bar. Eye Staff is more gradual in its use, but just as deadly.
- To some, have such a long firing delay(Eyestaff) or completely exhausting what is essentially ammunition in one shot(Blunderbuss) brings it straight into Awesome but Impractical territory.
- Ironic Nursery Tune
- It's Personal: Well, it was personal to begin with, but it becomes much more so after the deaths of the Rabbit and especially the Cheshire Cat.
- Journey to the Center of the Mind: The basic premise of the game.
- Knife Nut: The Vorpal Blade is Alice' weapon of choice and the first weapon she finds in-game.
- Lethal Lava Land: The Land of Fire and Brimstone
- Macro Zone: The Wonderland Woods segments
- Major Injury Underreaction: Dormouse and March Hare, especially Dormouse.
- Make Me Wanna Shout: The Boojum.
- Matryoshka Object: Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum can open up and spawn smaller, weaker copies of themselves.
- The Maze: Queensland, a giant maze made of rosebushes.
- Mental Story: It takes place largely in Wonderland - in this case, the corrupted Happy Place of a catatonic girl who blames herself for the death of her parents.
- Mental World: And how delightfully mental it is!
- Mind Screw
- Minecart Madness: Yur Mine, though the whole minecart ride is just a cutscene.
- Nested Mouths: The Queen of Hearts monster has the Mad Hatter's face inside her mouth, with Alice's face inside his. See this in this video.
- Parachute Petticoat: The fashion by which it is used to ride steam vents.
- Planet Heck: Though not exactly Hell itself, the Land of Fire and Brimstone comes close enough, complete with small, pitchfork-wielding imps.
- Playing with Fire: The Jackbomb weapon. Enemies include the Jabberwock.
- Popcultural Osmosis: Some of the elements claimed to be from the original story are actually lifted straight from the Disney adaption, such as her parachute dress and only specific food altering Alice's body shape, and only in specific proportions. In the books every food eaten in Wonderland (except for a bit of tea she has with the Mad Hatter) altered the shape of her body, and not always in proportion. Odd they would leave this out, as it gave them perfect opportunity to use what was played as Rule of Funny in the books as Body Horror instead...
- Pop Star Composer: Chris Vrenna for the game's score.
- Pressure Plate: One instance where it controls a gate blocking your way to the endgame.
- Psychological Torment Zone: Wonderland goes from an ideal escapist realm for Alice to this, providing the setting for the game.
- Puzzle Pan: Inverted
- Ray Gun: In the form of a staff. Complementary explosive projectiles for a finisher as well.
- Room Full of Crazy: Though it's more like an asylum full of crazy; look at the walls in the Hatter level and you can faintly see he's been scribbling on them. (And there's the bloody "You're Next" warnings to boot.)
- Sanity Meter: You get more sane by drinking the essence of your kills! Try explaining this to your therapist after you finish the game. (Well, if what she's killing is a representation of her mental illness, then it makes a twisted... sort of... sense...)
- Save Scumming: One way to ensure you don't redo frustrating sections of platforming or to-and-fro tedium just because of a misstep later on.
- Scenery as You Go: A few of the puzzles work this way.
- Scenery Porn/Scenery Gorn: Madness Return's level designs look fantastic.
- Slippy-Slidey Ice World: The "Icy Reception" stage in Macro Zone, though it depends on the exact platforms whether or not you slip or slide.
- Spot of Tea: As in the novel, Hatter is obsessed with tea. So much so that if the clock strikes twelve during the boss battle with him he will immediately run off for his teatime.
- Strapped to An Operating Table: At one point, Alice wakes up in an operating theater... turned on its side.
- Super Mode: In the first game, Alice can occasionally find an atomizer that sprays... Something in her face which painfully transforms her into a demon.
- There are also other items, like a rarely found cricket filled with tea (Just go with it) that turns Alice into some kind of fairy with super agility, and even rarer hand mirror that makes Alice into... something you don't get a proper look at because it turns her invisible.
- Through the Eyes of Madness: The game comes with the journal of Alice's psychiatrist, who's gradually drawn into her descriptions of Wonderland and their disturbing synchronicity with the asylum's own mysterious characters.
- Tractor Beam: The Queen Of Hearts has such an ability, if not the actual weapon.
- Truth in Television: Sort of. The manual describes what you'd think were imagined and torturous treatments for various patients in the asylum, from pricking fingers, to bullying, to experimentation. A patient dies and the Doctor comments on it rather casually. But lunatics in Victorian England were third-class citizens and it all happened with nobody batting an eyelid.
- What the Hell, Hero?: The basis of the Jabberwock's Hannibal Lecture.
The Jabberwock: You selfish, misbegotten and unnatural child! YOU smelled the smoke! But you were in dreamland taking tea with your friends, you couldn't be bothered! Your room was protected and spared while your family upstairs roasted in an inferno of incredible horror!
- Where I Was Born and Razed: Essentially the backstory.
- Womb Level: The Queen Of Hearts' castle. Creepily organic, it's like you're working your body up through some intestines, through a ribcage, and up a cerebral column into the 'brain'. In fact most of the features of that section resemble a body part.
- Which raises the question 'where did you enter?' Oh, just through a snug, hard-to-spot crevice in a wall...
- Oh, and the Queen Of Hearts, a writhing mass of tentacles herself, has tentacles sticking out in most of the levels (they often serve as visible Invisible Walls since you simply CANNOT climb onto them)
- However, the main core of her keep seems to avert this, as it appears to be made of stone (except for the pool of blood).
- Your Head Asplode: The Duchess, The Mad Hatter and The Cheshire Cat die this way. They got better in the sequel though.
- Also Alice in one of her death scenes. In fact, there's a cheat code you can implement that will show you the death scene, but then allows you to continue playing the game. Headless.