Dreamworks Pictures' Madagascar doesn't break any new ground in the animated talking animals movie genre, and unsurprisingly also follows the conventional marketing ploy of releasing a video game in conjunction with the release of the movie. As is usually the case, the video game has to toe a line between being simply a re-packaging of the movie into a lower resolution media, or departing so far from the story line of the movie that the only real similarity is the title. Activision's Madagascar video game does a good job of finding a compromise between those two extremes. The levels in the game closely follow the progression of the story in the movie, but take the opportunity to expand on some of the story lines. In fact, it's almost like an interactive deleted scenes feature from the movie's DVD release. Scenes that lasted only seconds in the movie are expanded out in cut scenes and game play to provide a deeper level of detail. This works very well for either playing the game before seeing the movie, or waiting until after seeing the movie to play the game.
While the story of the game complements the actual movie quite well, the video quality of the Xbox version is below the capabilities of the Xbox hardware. The characters are blockier than one would expect or desire. Other clues that the game was developed to a lower capability console and simply ported to the Xbox crop up now and then: at one point the narration suggested using the 'circle' button to perform a function. While mildly disappointing, none of this seriously detracts from the entertainment value of the game.
The voices and voice acting are good. The voices sound very close to those of the movie. The dialog in the cut scenes is clever and very similar to that of the movie in tone and level of sophistication. In other words, there will be poopy jokes. As with many games of this type, however, the one-liners from the characters during game play quickly become repetitive and at times annoying. Kids don't seem to mind that as much as some adults, though.
We tested Madagascar with kids ranging from six to eleven years old. The older kids felt that the game struck a good balance between being too easy and too hard. They didn't think that any of the levels really stood out as exemplary, nor did they feel that there were any really bad ones. They completed the game in 10 or 11 hours each, offering two evenings of peace and quiet to their parents. The six year old needed a little help to get going, but was soon able to play by herself. As a parent, this is exactly what you want. "Daddy, can you come here and help me get through level six?" is not what you want to hear while you're trying to pay bills. When asked if they thought they would ever return to the game for a replay, they thought they might come back to it after a few months, but were also likely to load it up every now and then to play the minigames.
There are thee minigames: Tiki Mini-golf, Shuffleboard, and Lemur Rave. Mini-golf is what you'd expect from the name: a Magic Mountain type of mini golf course. It's a good enough game, but nothing spectacular, and suffers from the annoyance of all players having to share a single controller. Shuffleboard is a fun and addictive game involving players sliding on innertubes down one of three possible shuffleboard courts. Normal shuffleboard strategies of blocking and knocking other player's markers off the board apply. This game also requires players to share a controller. Lemur Rave is a mini Dance Dance Revolution game, and makes use of a second controller for the 2 player game.
The main game is a pretty straightforward platformer. It offers a nice combination of token collecting, stealth, and jumping/climbing levels. The player gets the opportunity to play as various characters from the movie, each having their own distinct moves. The levels are fun, if not overly challenging. Some of the jumping/climbing levels were a little more difficult than they should have been due to the sometimes mushy controls and a lethargic camera that seldom pointed itself where it needed to be. The levels involving mechanical equipment were particularly fun, although the idea of talking animals using a crane to capture and drop human sailors over the side of a ship at sea may be too much for some parents. In fact, there is quite a bit of talking animal on human violence, leading to a age 10+ modifier on the E - Everyone rating. Parents of children prone to picking up phrases and repeating them incessantly should also consider themselves as having been forewarned when they end up with a kid walking around the house stating, "This place sucks!" That was one of those annoyingly repetitive one-liners I mentioned above. As an inducement to buckle down and get to the next level, however, it was very effective.
There are also a few arcade games available for play on a couple of the levels, but you have to watch for them. They are essentially mini-mini-games, and are fun for a quick diversion from the platform play.
As far as movie tie-in games go, Madagascar does a good job of bringing the flavor of the movie to an interactive game. For the younger kids that really find that they enjoy the movie's characters, this will be a fun game. Without the tie-in to the movie, though, there isn't anything particularly compelling to recommend it.
Activision's Madagascar game, based on the Dreamwork's movie of the same name, offers the younger gamers the chance to play as their favorite characters as they make their way across the ocean to The Wild.
Rating: 8 Good
* The product in this article was sent to us by the developer/company.
I've been fascinated with video games and computers for as long as I can remember. It was always a treat to get dragged to the mall with my parents because I'd get to play for a few minutes on the Atari 2600. I partially blame Asteroids, the crack cocaine of arcade games, for my low GPA in college which eventually led me to temporarily ditch academics and join the USAF to "see the world." The rest of the blame goes to my passion for all things aviation, and the opportunity to work on work on the truly awesome SR-71 Blackbird sealed the deal.
My first computer was a TRS-80 Model 1 that I bought in 1977 when they first came out. At that time you had to order them through a Radio Shack store - Tandy didn't think they'd sell enough to justify stocking them in the retail stores. My favorite game then was the SubLogic Flight Simulator, which was the great Grandaddy of the Microsoft flight sims.
While I was in the military, I bought a Commodore 64. From there I moved on up through the PC line, always buying just enough machine to support the latest version of the flight sims. I never really paid much attention to consoles until the Dreamcast came out. I now have an Xbox for my console games, and a 1ghz Celeron with a GeForce4 for graphics. Being married and having a very expensive toy (my airplane) means I don't get to spend a lot of money on the lastest/greatest PC and console hardware.
My interests these days are primarily auto racing and flying sims on the PC. I'm too old and slow to do well at the FPS twitchers or fighting games, but I do enjoy online Rainbow 6 or the like now and then, although I had to give up Americas Army due to my complete inability to discern friend from foe. I have the Xbox mostly to play games with my daughter and for the sports games.