Developer: Toys for Bob
Release Date: May 24, 2005
Madagascar, a game based on the DreamWorks movie of the same name, is geared towards fans of action-adventure or platformer titles. From my experience, the target audience is for young kids and pre-teens who have stomachs that are strong enough to handle the game's sudden camera angle changes. If you meet those requirements, you are certainly ready to enjoy the adventure of Madagascar.
In the game's storyline, Marty the zebra is sick and tired of the zoo and wants to venture into the wild. He shares these sentiments with his friends, and word gets out to the penguins, who help Marty escape from his jailed existence. Your story follows the characters of Alex, Marty, Gloria, and Melman, with an occasional appearance by those crafty and adorable penguins. There are a total of 10 missions, allowing you to go through the entire storyline of the movie.
Each of the characters has his or her own unique move, and during the first mission, you get a hands-on experience with the characters to familiarize yourself with their most basic move set. Before the mission can even begin, you must first pick up the skill cards to unlock that skill, and most the time, these newly acquired skills are crucial for the current mission/objective. Marty's abilities are to kick, sneak, slide and long jump. Alex the lion's are to roar, double-jump, throw, and claws. Gloria the hippo's are the butt bounce, tumble, and hip check. Melman the giraffe's are to spin, helicopter (also used to glide), throw, and head bash. Finally, the stealthy penguins, who have the ability to attack with their fins, can call up the rest of the troops and fish.
Depending on the character you are given, you are required to play in a different style. In later missions, you will have to switch characters to complete objectives based on their move sets. Having played as the characters enough, you can instantly tell which character is needed for each task. If you need a character to kick an item such as a trash can or crawl you use Marty, if you need someone to scare off enemies and reach higher places you will use Alex, if you see hot peppers you know you need Gloria for her speed, and lastly if you see steam spots you would use Melman for his levitating ability. The character switches can only occur at a totem pole and unfortunately, you aren't allowed to change to the penguins, but you will get to play as them somewhere along the way. The penguins are my favorite character because they have the best move set.
The penguins also have the most difficult objectives, although that is nothing in comparison to other games in this genre. When playing as them, it's a bit like Metal Gear Solid, where you must wait for the perfect time to knock out an "enemy" and then execute the finishing move when they're on the ground. This is crucial because if you don't do this, you won't be able to move on, since your objective as the penguins is to clear all obstacles in your path. This includes enemies because your group can't move up unless the coast is clear; you will keep restarting from the last "checkpoint" until you find the best solution. It's usually pretty straightforward, but the penguin puzzles sometimes require a little more thought than with the other animals.
As an example, the items that Marty is required to hit during his mission are so obvious that you can't miss the next step. They literally throw the object right in front of your character, and you have no other choice but to execute it. For the other animals, the prime example is the New York street chase, where Alex, Gloria and Melman are trying to find Marty. Even when you use different characters and routes, the idea is the same: Alex jumps over the traffic while collecting the rings and scaring off any cops in pursuit; Melman rides over traffic by hopping from bus to bus or using the New York subway system's steam to "power" his helicopter move; and lastly, Gloria who just uses her sheer strength to knock away the cops and cars and to locate the hot peppers to give her a speed boost to lose the pursuing officers. She also has a mini-game that is similar to Frogger, where you try to cross an intersection without getting hit by a car (Gloria cannot knock away cars during this section).
The game is so straightforward that at any given point, you should always have an inkling about what needs to be done. If you happen to do something stupid (which I do all the time), it's just a simple restart from the last "checkpoint." You might lose a life, but you can easily purchase more lives at the store or replenish them during the missions.
The objectives can actually be beaten extremely quickly, but to lengthen the game, each section has a good amount of cut scenes to build up the story. You can play the game in two ways: either get every coin and item and watch all cut scenes, or finish a level as quickly as possible and move onto the next mission. The first is probably the most ideal method to play the game the first time through because you can then purchase and unlock the mini-games such as mini-golf, shuffleboard and lemur rave, which is similar to Dance Dance Revolution.
One unlockable secret I found was the arcade machine, which is similar to an old Atari game where you are a tank and protect your building from other tanks. It's a classic game, but in this rendition, the controls are a bit sluggish and a lot harder to control than the original. Since this is a free unlockable, it's somewhat expected, but the mini-games that require tokens to unlock are clearly the better ones.
The graphics in Madagascar are the highlight, and while I felt that the application of concepts and ideas were superb and made the title perfect for the younger crowd, I had several issues with the camera angles, picture quality and picture smoothness. The frames just didn't flow all that smoothly, which made me get extremely motion sick after playing a few missions. The developers should have really taken into account that most games have abandoned the free camera due to such issues, often implementing a locked view instead. In my opinion, the camera view is the only thing that prevents Madagascar from being a massively popular hit.
The audio in Madagascar is pretty good, especially since Activision did not manage to license the original voice actors, choosing to use replacements who did a good job of imitating the original cast. It's incredibly difficult to distinguish between them, since the script accurately reflects the actors' witty senses of humor and personalities. The game also has a very pleasant soundtrack that manages to seem fresh throughout the entire experience.
Overall, Madagascar isn't bad, but it could have been superb. The game lacks difficulty so it isn't recommended to any older gamers, since it will be no challenge whatsoever. For the younger generation, the variety of moves for each character is sure to please. The biggest downfall, however, is the camera; its random movements, poor angles, and quick frame changes hinder the enjoyment of the game. If you are prone to motion sickness, stay far away from Madagascar. If there were another release that fixes the camera issue, I would recommend it in a heartbeat. If the camera quirks aren't an issue for you, then give the game a try.
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