The developers describe each enemy as a little puzzle with a weakness to exploit. For example, the cards must be struck from the rear to do real damage, while the Ruined shoots flaming rocks that need to be repelled back into its face using Alice's parasol. She can perform combos and dodge enemies too. The latter move turns her into a rabble of butterflies because, again according to the developers, "everything has to be wonderful".
After the battle, Alice breaks into a nearby bandstand through a wall of creepers and recovers a memory fragment. In this case, it's a snatch of dialogue from her psychiatrist in real life. Elsewhere, we're told she will encounter larger epiphanies that play out in Victorian paper theatre, which we don't get to see this time.
We're also told that some of the game takes place in London, which is where Alice is physically located in the world outside Wonderland. Madness Returns is set 11 years after the original game, and Alice has been released from Rutledge Asylum into the care of a psychiatrist, but things are actually getting worse for her mentally, and this latest retreat into the mental depths of Wonderland is not working out massively well.
For example, back inside her head Alice moves through a hedge maze and encounters more playing card and Ruined enemies, some flying through the air and dodging around unhelpfully. As well as engaging them with simple two-stick combat controls, she can lock on with the left trigger for a better chance of doing damage.
Once they're out of the way though, she is assailed by the Executioner - a larger, scythe-wielding card with a mad jester's hat, who chases her through the maze toward the camera, spinning his weapon like a conductor's baton or like General Grievous out of Episode III (possibly the first and only time Star Wars and Lewis Carroll can legitimately be accused of coinciding).
Just when it looks as though Alice is about to get punted back out the rabbit hole, she escapes into a clearing and finds a cake on a table. "Eat me," it says, and we all know what that means: Alice grows to the size of a house and towers over the Executioner, who drops his scythe in fright. Alice then squashes him beneath her tidy little buckled shoe.
Madness Returns, then, as they say, and brings with it some pretty familiar gameplay mechanics. Based on the few minutes we got to play with it at GDC, it's a game that will live or die (or go bonkers) based on what developer Spicy Horse can do with Wonderland itself.
The original American McGee's Alice built up a cult following on that basis, so you could say it stands every chance. But the world of games has moved on a lot in the past 11 years, and we'll need a little more convincing before we believe Alice has learned enough in the meantime. In other words, Madness Returns looks promising, but you might want to give it a sanity check closer to its 14th June release.