Let me be perfectly clear right from the get-go, Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa is not a game that was designed with me in mind. I've never seen the original movie, nor do I plan on rushing out to the theater and paying to see the movie this game is based on. It's also worth mentioning that I didn't play the first game, so I didn't know what I was getting myself into when I turned on my system and started to play Activision's adaptation of this popular franchise. What I found was that Madagascar 2 was a fun and inoffensive game. It's certainly not the kind of thing hardcore gamers are going to be swooning over, but if you're shopping for a young child then you could do a lot worse than this.
Thankfully you don't need to know much about the original film going in, the beginning of the game sets up the whole story. Apparently the series follows a group of four different New York City zoo animals (a zebra, giraffe, hippo and lion) as they break free and set off on an adventure to Madagascar. Apparently things didn't go well for them, so they (along with a smart-mouthed lemur and some penguins) board a shabbily thrown together airplane and embark back to the States. Unfortunately something goes wrong along the way and the airplane (along with its animal inhabitants) crash land in an African wildlife preserve.
Madagascar 2's story told through a series of mini-games, each of which involve you controlling one of the lovable characters. In the early stages you are tasked with rebuilding the airplane, which involves Alex the lion (not voiced by Ben Stiller) collecting the items needed to build the plane, Marty the zebra (not voiced by Chris Rock) kicking the luggage into the airplane, Melman the giraffe (not voiced by David Schwimmer) hammering the bolts in with is head and Gloria the hippo (not voiced by Jada Pinkett Smith) swimming around. You also get to control Julien (the smarth-mouthed lemur) and his sidekick, Mort (not voiced by Sacha Baron Cohen or Andy Richter, respectively).
Eventually you'll make it to the African wildlife preserve where things suddenly take a less linear path. The game will give you a large watering hole environment that you can explore, giving you a series of tasks to complete and objects to collect. Before long you'll be switching back and forth trying to beat the game's various levels and hire enough monkeys to re-rebuild the crashed airplane. You'll also run into a number of funny characters (not voiced by any of the movie's cast) and play some interestingly (albeit shallow) mini-games. Do all this and you'll be treated to a song and dance sequence that has all the animals of Africa dancing along.
Okay, so it's not the most thrilling action game. If you're an adult looking to buy this for yourself, then you're probably going to be better served with Fallout 3, Gears of War 2 or Fable II. However, the game's mini-games are simple and fun enough to keep younger players entertained for a good five to ten hours. The good news is that there's a nice variety of mini-games to play through, including everything from bowling to a variation on hot potato to miniature golf to some fun races to diving to dancing. There's also some fun platforming action that is fairly easy to wrap your head around. Seeing as the game is aimed at little ones, you'll find that most of the game is extremely easy to beat. You probably won't die too many times, unless you find yourself accidentally falling into the water when you miss a jump. Thankfully there's no penalty for dying, so a seasoned gamer can easily get through this game in no more than five hours.What makes this game work is the humor, which managed to win me over right from the beginning. Even though he's not voiced by Sacha Baron Cohen (star of Borat and Da Ali G Show), Julien the lemur is just funny enough to keep a smile on my face. That said, most of the other characters aren't nearly as entertaining. What's more, it's easy to tell that the stand-in voice actors were doing their best impressions of the multi-million dollar actors that passed on this project. Some of these actors do a passable job (the Chris Rock sound alike is surprisingly solid), while you would never know who the other actors were trying to imitate (the person that plays Alex the lion doesn't sound a thing like Ben Stiller).
And while this isn't a huge deal, there isn't much story in this mini-game collection. From what I know of the movie (based on reading reviews and watching the trailer) it looks like much of the movie is about rekindling a relationship with your parents. Well, none of that is apparent in this game. Outside of using the movie's location and characters, I suspect this game has very little to do with the storyline of the film. Then again, I'm not sure that it will matter all that much to the kids who pick this game up.
One thing that surprised me was the game's graphics, which weren't nearly as good as I thought they would be. It's not that they are bad or anything, but the similar textures and character models look like they are nothing more than up-scaled versions of PlayStation 2 graphics. Again, I doubt this will be that big of an issue, since everybody looks right and all of the main characters are accounted for. The game's visuals are on par with what you find in most games based on animated movies, which is neither a good nor bad thing.
When you beat the game's single-player mode there are actually a few different multiplayer mini-games you can access from the game's main menu. These games include animal-themed versions of chess, soccer, miniature golf, musical chairs, hot potato and more. These are fairly simple games, but with four people they can be a lot of fun. On top of these games, you can also try out a demo of Kung Fu Panda or shop at the duty free shop. The duty free shop gives allows you to buy videos, apparel and more.
While I'm a little embarrassed to admit it, I did have a good time playing through this game. The mini-games have enough variety to keep most people entertained and the humor is generally pretty good. Considering what a disaster most games based on animated movies are, I was pleasantly surprised by the quality of this title. That doesn't mean that you should run out and buy this over Fallout 3, but if you're looking for an inoffensive action game to keep the kiddies occupied, then you could do a lot worse than Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa.