Reviewed: November 30, 2005
Released: November 7, 2005
Madagascar was one of the most popular animated movies of 2005. Featuring another all-star cast, including the likes of Chris Rock, Ben Stiller, Jada Pinkett-Smith and David Schwimmer, Dreamworks’ story of the four city-zoo raised animals who end up back in the wild of Madagascar really made its mark on Hollywood.
Inevitably, the games followed closely behind. The first featured the four stars in a team-based platformer that received rave reviews from this publication. Now comes along the GBA-only sequel, Madagascar: Operation Penguin , a game that follows the "real" stars of the movie – a group of crafty militant penguins bent on escaping from zoo, who inevitable are the cause of the main characters’ relocation.
For anyone who has seen the movie, Operation Penguin follows the exploits of the penguin “specialists” as they try and succeed in escaping from the zoo. The timeline loosely follows the movie, and sees the penguins going from the zoo to the subway to the freightliner ship, onto Antarctica and finally to the African island of Madagascar – where they meet back up with their old zoo friends who were marooned there on their way to being reintroduced into the wild.
The game plays out as a 2D side-scrolling adventure, where the penguins learn to use stealth tactics (like their hero “Sam Fishy” – yuk yuk) to avoid human capture, as well as a handful of interesting and innovative gadgets that will help them break through walls, shoot through barriers, anesthetize curious humans, even rocket-ship onto high ledges and platforms.
Most of the objects have humorous origins that are misconstrued or misunderstood by our penguin friends. Gamers will giggle as the penguins use candy canes as hooks to hand-over-hand pipes, or when they mistake discarded hamburger wrappers for parachute canopies – “Can you believe the humans just throw these parachutes on the ground?” Some even have humorous names – like the “Bass Knuckles” that consists simply of a huge frozen fish used to bust through rock walls and barriers.
The gameplay is pretty run-of-the-mill, with simple “get from point to point” missions. None of the puzzle elements are all that hard – and except for a couple of tough jumps and parachute glides, experienced gamers will find little or no challenge in the few hours of gameplay.
But Operation Penguin really is a game for kids, and as so it is a very solid offering. Sporting solid level design and innovative gameplay mechanics – Operation Rescue fives gamers a fresh look at the genre without straying too far from known gaming conventions. And while there is a bit of mandatory reading, it is by no means extraneous drivel that would drive the younger set away.
Operation Penguin is a gorgeous example of what a 2D handheld platformer should be. While the shadowing isn’t quite realtime, it is significant enough to give the characters added depth and dimension and make you forget that the characters are actually flat sprites. The animations feature more frames than the standard platformers, so movement flows quite smoothly.
The integration of Madagascar movie frames is really well done, as well are the gorgeous environments featuring neat little touches like layered backgrounds and 3D-styled shading.
Operation Penguin features standard handheld sound quality. There are a few neat voiceovers and sound effects, but the repetitive background music will have you cranking down the volume early on.
Clocking in at somewhere around two hours to complete the story mode, Operation Penguin isn’t the lengthiest of opuses. Compulsive gamers can add a significant amount of playing time by returning to earlier stages with newly acquired gadgets and skills to find the hard-to-get medallions, but even that goes by quickly once you master the use of both the rocket and chute in concert.
Operation Penguin features some interesting and innovative gameplay mechanics for a 2D side-scrolling platformer. The use of situational gadgets and “vehicles” always injects a bunch of fun – although maybe the stealth elements were a bit overused.
Operation Penguin is technically a very solid game, and only falls apart once you realize that no matter the environment, no matter the level, no matter the character…it is all the same old same old. Good, but old.