Reviewed: June 2, 2005
Released: May 25, 2005
Activision isnít playing by The Rules. I get a movie tie-in title I expect something only slightly less grating than teeth being shortened by a power sander. I actually want to put the disc into my machine and have the world be organized into something like sense because here is the one thing I can count on: tie-in titles are bad. Some may be better than others, but as a whole you have a range of terrible to not worth the DVD itís printed on, and that has stability. You could count on that.
Anticipating this most recent horror I place Madagascar into the tray and wait, wishing that Madagascar and disaster rhymed just a little bit better. However, as Iím running through the basic training involved in the first stage I stumble across an arcade machine that you can play (never mind how a Zebra operates a joystick) and spend the next 20 min. defending my fort from enemy tanks in a maze, and I realize that I have to stop, otherwise it will be the next hour. The next stage I find a somewhat Galaga-like shooter waiting for me, and the stage after that a bobble headed bird defending a zeppelin in WWI era fighters. And donít even get me started about the mini-golf.
You arenít supposed to do that. You canít have a movie game that does what all movie games do, take the characters from the film and run through some adventure roughly similar to that of the movie, and then lying in wait like some covert penguin operation, have crazily addictive mini-games. Itís not right.
We start with the deceptively mundane, the tutorial stage. Here they teach you the basic ropes of the game. In this case, you learn how each of the main characters control differently through a set of games, each of which emphasizes each characterís unique abilities. The hippo runs, the lion double jumps, the zebra kicks and crawls, and the giraffe spins and floats. Whatís nice is that you arenít just run through a repetitive area with each animal, but actually presented with completely different tasks that further the story, and this holds true for the whole game.
The best example I can give of this is that each level has completely unique tasks to complete. Stage two, you escape from the zoo by sneaking past the guards. You stay out of their view, ducking behind walls and distracting them, or kicking trashcans at them from a distance. Stage three you run through the streets of New York avoiding, or breaking through traffic, and on four you help a group of penguins take over a cargo ship. The absolute best thing about this game is that the gameplay is always kept fresh. You are constantly given new challenges to face with the set of abilities you have and new abilities you can unlock later in the game.
There are a few interface issues; when running as the hippo it is hard to control where youíre going, and the level design is less than stellar, but since you never get mired down in repetitive collection or jumping puzzles you are much less likely to notice.
As far as challenge is concerned it is a little simplistic for an experienced gamer, but the game does seem to be marketed for a younger audience so that isnít too much of a downer.
As good as the gameplay is, it sort of has to be because this game is not the belle of the ball. While there is great style to the presentation of the game, the levels are laid out on a map with lines connecting different locations, a la Indiana Jones, and other such niceties, the actual graphics are a little sub par. The game really looks more like a title that would have been pushing the envelope for the PS1, not something released near the end of the PS2ís life cycle.
There are jaggies on almost everything and a lot of the game looks fairly static Ė like a set was erected and here is where this should go, there is where that should be. Good blocking should look natural, not like someone has told you it should go there. The good thing is that there is a large variety of environments, none of which really repeat, so even if the graphics arenít the greatest, at least you arenít looking at the same tree every five feet.
There arenít really a whole lot of special effects in the game, at least not of the explosive variety. There are wind gusts, dust trails, etc, which are pretty good, but again nothing very exciting. Animation is pretty good, at least on the main characters; otherwise, it looks like low budget childrenís television animation. Especially if you look at the lip synching, I mean there is out of synch and then there is just someone talking while their mouth is closed.
I have to hand it to the voice cast; they had me fooled. I thought that the actors for the film were doing all the voices, so it came as quite a surprise when I looked at the credits in the manual and didnít see Chris Rock and the rest of the crew there. Knowing that, you can kind of tell that it isnít them, but if you go in cold you would swear that Chris Rock is the Zebra, and once you buy that you figure that everyone else is along for the ride.
Aside from good voice acting, and it is pretty good, mimicry aside, the characters are expressive, but not overly so, and they actually have some pretty good lines. What is unfortunate is that sometimes it sounds like the mixing is off. You can tell that there were actors just reading these lines in separate sound booths on separate days and mixed later. Mostly this is in some odd pauses in the flow of dialogue, but for the most part you donít notice.
What is bothersome about the voices though is that the characters have to spout little set phrases at random, and there is a fairly small group of them, so they get old really fast. Good news, they change every level. Bad news, even so sometimes you just want to strangle them.
Music is good, and it had better be since they put in a pseudo DDR mini-game. Most of it is fairly forgettable, but the mini-game tracks are good percussion driven tunes.
As mentioned above the game itself; worth the price of admission if you liked the movie and have a younger relative who liked it, or are just looking for a fun diversion. The mini-games make this worth that and more. The mini-golf seems deceptively simple with the first three or four holes, but those last three will have you go from a game that is under par to well over the limit, and cursing the whole way. You also will set up for another game right after.
The DDR-esque game also seems easy at first, but has some really complex rhythms to follow, and good enough music that you wouldnít mind partying with lemurs yourself, that is if they can keep the poo flinging to a minimum.
Iím not going to tell you to run out and buy this game, but I am going to say that you will be pleasantly surprised if you do. As a tie-in game this stands above the pack by giving you enough diversions, and keeping you interested with constantly evolving gameplay that you can forgive it its graphic shortcomings.