There's always been something beguiling about "Alice in Wonderland" - intrigue, otherworldliness and above all creativity and artistry.
So what would happen if some of today's top commercial artists re-created the geographical terrain of "Alice," but transformed it into an even more horrific, killing adventure?
This is what "Alice: Madness Returns" is, a long video game supposing Alice aged 10 years in an asylum; her family burned to death in a house fire; and now she's sent back, armed, to a murderous and extremely colorful Wonderland.
In the game, you portray Alice in her striped stockings and bow adorned with a skull.
Hordes of evil creatures attack you, from floating baby heads that spit acid at you, to worms, goblins, teapots with eyes, crabs who shoot cannonballs at you through cannon arms, invisible pirates, mechanical sharks, "snarks" and much more.
Your goal is to destroy these monsters with creative weapons: a pepper grinder that acts as a machine gun; a knife; and a horse head on a stick, which operates as a sledgehammer.
Top Ten New Games
Here are the Top 10 best-selling video games, according to GameStop.com. Games are listed by title, company, gaming system, and rating from the Entertainment Software Rating Board. Most games are priced $60 for Xbox 360 and PS 3; $50 for Wii; $40 for PSP; $30 for DS and PS 2.
1. "Child of Eden" (Ubisoft) for Xbox 360; rated "E 10+" (mild fantasy violence)
2. "NCAA Football 2012" (EA) pre-order for July 12 release for Xbox 360; will also be also available for PS 3; rated "E"
3. "Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3" (Activision) pre-order for Nov. 8 release for Xbox 360; will also be available for PS 3 and PC; rating pending
4. "NCAA Football 2012" for PS 3
5. "Battlefield 3: Limited Edition" (EA) pre-order for October release for Xbox 360; will also be available for PS 3, PC; rating pending
6. "The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim" (Bethesda Softworks) pre-order for November release for Xbox 360; will also be available for PS 3, PC; rating pending
7. "Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3" pre-order for PS 3
8. "Assassin's Creed Revelations: Signature Edition" (Ubisoft) pre-order for November release for Xbox 360; will also be available for PS 3, PC; rating pending
9. "F.E.A.R. 3" (Warner Bros. Interactive) for Xbox 360; also available for PS 3, PC; rated "M" (blood, gore, intense violence, partial nudity, strong language)
10. "Assassin's Creed Revelations: Signature Edition" pre-order for PS 3
(Ratings: "E" for "Everyone"; "T" for "Teen"; "M" for "Mature 17+")
It's not a simple run-and-gun game. You progress through Wonderland by running and jumping across platforms floating in the air, by shrinking Alice down to a tiny human to sneak into secret locations, and by solving puzzles to unlock doors.
It's easy to become enraptured by the art-school splendor of "Alice's" set pieces - the house of cards in the sky, exploding pretty flowers and forestry painted in oversaturated hues.
I admire many things about "Madness Returns," especially the rich story and depth of game play variation, exemplified by invisible jumping platforms that appear to your eye only when you shrink yourself magically.
But it's too often difficult to control Alice's physical movements. That makes it frustrating when you push buttons to dodge bad guys or to jump on invisible platforms. I find these buttons are sometimes unacceptably sluggish to respond, thus I die frequently despite my quick reflexes, especially later when the game becomes impossibly, impossibly difficult.
Also, camera angles are just plain stupid at times. The game starts lame, so you have to stick in there. Plus upgrading weapons is a slowww slog and doesn't do squat to make you much more formidable.
If game makers had worked smarter on character movement, camera angles and weapon upgrades, this could have been a top game of the year. But they didn't, and it's not.
However, if you're in art school, you could do well to play "Alice: Madness Returns" just to regard the latest iteration of Wonderland.
It's definitely not for kids, however, no more so than Sigourney Weaver's 1997 depiction of the evil witch in the excellent but grim "Snow White: A Tale of Terror."
"Alice: Madness Returns" is bloody grim. But then again, "Alice in Wonderland" never did seem like a feel-good story.
("Alice: Madness Returns" by EA retails for $40 for Xbox 360 and PS 3; $30 for PC - Plays interesting but not super fun. Looks great. Very challenging. Rated "M" for blood, gore, sexual themes, strong language, violence. Two out of four stars.)
Doug Elfman is an award-winning entertainment columnist who lives in Las Vegas. He blogs at www.lvrj.com/columnists/Doug_Elfman.html.