Art direction is a very important part of game making, because it pretty much builds the entire world you want to present in a game. I like weird games, and games that present weird ideas with their environments, and among the games I've played, Alice: Madness Returns is the kind of game that does this really well. Please note this is not a "game review." Obviously, I wouldn't be reviewing a game that's 6 years old. I will just discuss something that can be useful for any game anyone might want to develop.
Alice: Madness Returns is a 3D action platformer inspired by Alice in Wonderland. In the game, you get to visit different locations, platform your way through the levels (Mario style, not Tomb Raider style) and fight a variety of enemies with a few weird weapons that include a teapot and a hobby horse.
I got the game without reading any review, watching any video or screenshots (other than the cut-out trailers). It was a "blind purchase" because I liked the first game. When I started a new game, I didn't see anything particularly remarkable, because it was all "Alice in Wonderland" stuff I was familiar with. I'm not saying "there's nothing remarkable in Wonderland" but rather "we are all so familiar with that environment that we are no longer wowed by it."
However, at some point, the world starts to change (due to some sort of corruption that's invading Wonderland). From there the game takes a very interesting turn. First, every new chapter features a completely different setting. First, you were in a Wonderland-looking magical forest, then you're in a world with floating hell mountains, then a steampunk clock-work looking factory, then you're under the sea, then a place made of cards, a Japanese environment, and so on. The game always plays the same, but the environments are all very different and that helps to continuously provide a fresh experience.
On top of that, Alice wears a different outfit in every environment, and the enemies and NPCs in those areas are also different. At some point, you even run into origami-like creatures. As a developer, I can't help to wonder how much it would cost to develop a game like this one, with such big variety of environments and characters.
Another interesting thing is how Alice: Madness Returns presents different parts of the story using visual elements rather than using text or audio logs or conversations between the player and the NPCs. For example, sometimes you find weeping statues, baby dolls and other things. These visual elements remind me of older Silent Hill games, where every enemy had a specific meaning.
Obviously this kind of art direction does not fit every kind of game. You can't make a sci-fi action game and pull out a "this level is decorated with weiqi things!!!" or make a third person military shooter that has mermaid-like enemies (unless, of course, you play as a drugged soldier). However, if there's anything to learn is how important art direction is when creating your environments (even if they are regular-looking grounded-on-reality environments), NPCs or even the look and outfit of your player characters. Some people will miss all those small details, but that doesn't mean others will not appreciate them.
Sergio Aris ROSA, Sr. Staff Writer