Reviewed: May 31, 2005
Released: May 25, 2005
Iíve never bee a big fan of video games based on movies. Iíve found that, more often than not, they suck. Why is this? The most obvious reason is that movie makers are not video game developers; video games are not their business. The second most obvious reason, is that most movie based video games are cash cows first and foremost intended to squeeze a few extra bucks out of a franchise with a recognizable name. They donít have to make a good video game. You already bought it when you saw the movie.
This annoying little reality is not universal, however. Every once in a while, moviemakers and video game developers work together in a rare and harmonious fashion, and come up with a decent game that will reward their fans and customers instead of ripping them off. Such is the case with DreamWorks and Activision, with the new movie based video game, Madagascar. As a platformer with more mini games than you can shake a stick at, Madagascar is a pretty solid game that attempts with some success to be as fun as the movie.
The story of Madagascar goes as follows: A zebra with an attitude named Marty is living in a zoo, as he has his whole life, in New York City. Growing tired of zoo life, Marty wants to escape the confines of the zoo to live life somewhere more open and free, like say, the wildlife. Marty does escape, with a few friends from the zoo who chase after him. Thereís the showoff and know-it-all, Alex the lion, the motherly yet haughty hippo, Gloria, and a whiny hypochondriac giraffe (why?), Melman. Zoo animals run amok downtown in New York, they end up on a ship to Africa, which gets hijacked by escaped Penguins looking to make it to Antarctica. Hilarity ensues.
So how does all of this translate to a platformer? Pretty well, actually. Depending on the layout and design of each level, players will play as different characters, whose unique abilities will be useful for their designated levels. For instance, Marty has a kicking ability that needs to be used at times to kick open gates and doors, while Alexís double jump ability will help navigate through multi-platformed areas.
Itís all pretty easy though, considering that players have to play these levels as the their designated characters, so there is no switching in the middle of play to figure who has an ability thatís needed at a particular moment. There are a few larger levels near the end where you will get to switch off between any of the available characters. This is done through totems that are placed around the level and character specific puzzles are clearly indicated with a sign and a picture of the animal required to complete that puzzle or challenge.
Also, new abilities are learned by collecting three ability cards, which, when collected, unlock these abilities. This is pretty easy as well, considering that these new abilities will be learned directly before they are needed, and cards are not hidden, scattered, or even remotely difficult to get a hold of. Madagascar is, like the movie, for kids. However, also like the movie, there is a little something for just about everyone, and that means, yes, you too, adults. Enter Madagascarís saving grace, the mini games.
There are loads of mini games. Loads and loads of them. Madagascar has everything from an insanely addictive mini golf course, to old arcade style classics, like Space Invaders and Red Baron (not the exact games, but brighter and flashier ones, with better controls.) Three of these games must be purchased in between levels at the Zoovenir Shop (how clever.) Coins for these purchases, and others, can be obtained throughout levels, which are replayable, if you want to go back and collect more coins.
Some of these games donít have to be bought, as some of them are available within certain levels through arcade machines situated in the middle of the level. This was a great idea, and I canít help but think that this was done to break up the monotony of the regular gameplay. I mean, sure, the story is all well and good to play through, but I think that even for kids, the difficulty level is so low, itís almost too much of a breeze. The mini games present at least some challenge, even if that challenge is nothing more than beating your best score. But hey, thatís how it was when I was a kid, and you didnít hear us complaining! We liked it that way!
What more can I really say than Madagascar the video game looks like, well, Madagascar the movie. Itís DreamWorks, here. Colors are bright and vibrant, character models are exaggerated and cartoony, yet crisper and sharper than a cartoon, and it all makes for some nice eye candy. Itís top notch, movie quality. What can I say?
I do have one complaint though, and thatís the background graphics in the main story levels. They are less than impressive and just feel kind of generic. There was just a sort of static quality to some that made it feel kind of like an afterthought, especially with the strong character designs.
I have to say though, I did like design for the Tiki mini golf. Each course is modeled after a level in the main storyline, only with a jungle setting, which I though was kind of clever. I especially like the jungle rendition of New York City, complete with heavy traffic being simulated with lemurs driving wooden golf carts in an effort to get in the way of your putt. A very nice touch.
In the movie Madagascar, there are of course, professional actors lending their voice talents to the characters, including the instantly recognizable Chris Rock. Iím not sure why, or how even, but for some odd reason, Rockís over-the-top voice really does lend itself to the character, Marty the zebra. Alex the lion sounds quite a bit like Alf, which does fit the attitude of the character quite nicely.
The sound alikes for the game get the job done, perhaps a little over done if you ask me. Pardon me for being so picky and a bit bitter, but some of the lines in this game are so tired, typical and downright annoying that I found myself cringing at points. Now, Iím sure this is all a part of the charm that kids are supposed to love about the movie, but I digress. Itís not entirely the voice actorsí fault. Some lines are too bad to be delivered by anyone.
As for music and sound effects, itís all pretty standard. Jungle music, animal and jungle noises, cartoony music, and the standard movie ďsceneĒ music that exists only to amplify the situation going on screen. It all just sort of fades into the background, especially since Marty and friends talk CONSTANTLY, usually repeating the same four lines over and over again to add a little ďfunĒ to the whole game situation. But hey, I can see kids getting a kick out of it, which Iím sure was the desired effect.
The storyline, that is, the main game in Madagascar can be finished in about nine hours or so. Still, there are plenty of things to buy in the Zoovenire Shop, which is not necessarily always mini-games. There are multiple costume additions for each character that are added to the game model as you purchase them, not to mention, in-game power-ups, and plenty of extra content like multiplayer versions of Tiki Golf and new boards and songs for shuffleboard and the dancing game.
The three big mini-games; mini golf, dance party, and shuffleboard also support multiplayer, so itís a good game to get for the kids and their friends. Without those mini games, Madagascar is just a nine hour platformer, which isnít too bad in and of itself.
Madagascar is not the best game Iíve played, not for itís genre, and not even for a kidís game. But it is pretty good at what it does, and it is one of the better movie based games Iíve seen. Thereís a little something for everybody in there, including bitter olí me, whoís not too big of a fan of the type of movie/video game that Madagascar is.
Iíd be lying if I said I wasnít charmed and entertained at some points, and I can definitely see this game being popular amongst the 7-13 year old age group. And I can also see a few of us adults jumping in from time to time and having a little fun. Madagascar is a solid game.