Developer: Toys for Bob
Release Date: May 24, 2005
Thinking back about Madagascar, I realize that all the moments I remember as my favorite about the game didn't actually take place while I was playing the main game itself. The best parts of this game were the cut scenes and the amusing little voice clips that played during the action, which were very true to the movie and nicely done. Alternately, the best interactive parts of this game were the three mini-games, which were unlockable as you play through. In comparison, I remember the actual levels - the parts where I was controlling the main characters of the movie as they slogged through 3D platformer stages - as being just something to do so I could earn coins to unlock new outfits for Lemur Mini-golf.
That says a certain something about the quality of this game.
The plot draws, of course, from the recently released animated movie of the same name. Marty the zebra is sick of hanging around the enclosed pens of the zoo. Luckily, the local paramilitary penguins have been planning an escape for some time and agree to bring him with them. Three of his friends - Alex the lion, Gloria the hippo, and Melman the giraffe - promptly set out to rescue him from himself and return him to the safety of the world behind bars. One chase through the New York City streets later, the whole gang is captured and boxed up for ship transit to a more secure zoo. The penguins again have other plans, hijacking the ship and accidentally setting the boxes adrift. When the foursome wakes up from their overboard adventure, they've washed up on the beach of...
...Well, you saw the title.
As tends to be the case with these ensemble platformers, you get a couple of levels to get used to using each character, and then you can toggle between them pretty much at will. Find a totem pole in each level, and that's your base station to change between characters. This is important because each character has a few talents they can draw upon.
Alex has a powerful roar that just kind of knocks enemies flying and can jump through hoops. It's not really explained why jumping through hoops is useful, or even why there are brightly colored hoops out in the middle of the untamed jungles, but gosh darn it, when he sees hoops he can jump through them. Melman has long spindly legs, so he gets the bulk of the levels where you might need to helicopter around. It's amusing to watch him splay out all fours and spin violently.
Gloria can munch down on hot peppers, which adds to her running speed for some reason. I'm not going to sit here and question it, because her unstoppable hot pepper-fueled tackles can plow through anything from a city bus to a rock wall. Finally, Marty gets the stealth missions and the like, with his ability to duck and crawl through tight spaces and his incredible kicking powers. In a few levels, you also get to play as the penguins, and they're like ninjas full of karate chops and improvised weapons. Their sparse levels, by far, are the highlights of the main game.
Aside from that, you'll be roaring at swarms of bad guys, throwing fruit at deadly insects, playing hide-and-seek with predatory beasts and generally running and jumping through Madagascar's various pretty areas. This isn't a bad looking game, even if it is kind of grainy and heavily polygonal. This look works mostly thanks to the fact that the character designs in the original movie were angular and sharp as well. Textures are kind of blurry and indistinct, and generally, the game looks like it could do with a good scrubbing wash to clean it up a little. The audio in the game is a little mixed. I didn't think much of the music in the levels, but the voice acting was top-notch all around. None of the voice actors from the movie show up, but their substitutes do well enough for my tastes.
In fact, that's one of the highlights of Madagascar. The characters tend to carry on running conversations with themselves, and throughout each level, they maintain coherency. My personal favorite running gag comes when Alex finds himself on the beach next to the jungle and decides it's probably just another zoo. His commentary as he leaps up waterfalls and crawls through trees infested with killer spiders quickly goes from, "Well, at least the place is clean!" to "They really need to work on keeping the animals separated," to "Uh, does anyone even work here? Medical services? Anybody?" Finally, as I was making a tricky sequence of jumps from log to log over a canopy of jungle trees while being pursued by bees, he blurted out "Okay, you know what? I've decided. This place just sucks."
Startled, I broke out laughing. Then I fell off the tree branch and had to start over. It was still funny.
Of course, then he said it about 30 more times through the rest of that level. Madagascar still suffers from the same problems that most games of this type suffer from: As the characters recite their jokes and canned lines, they repeat themselves a lot. They repeat themselves a whole lot. They almost repeat themselves more times than is bearable many times inside a very short time span. Did I mention the repetition?
Okay, I'll consider the point made.
To get back on track, I've got to admit that even with all the repetition (Ahem. Sorry.), I'm still impressed that they bothered to record a bunch of incidental lines and comments. All of Madagascar's best features are buried in the fine details and the sidetracks. There are plenty of optional cut scenes, things you don't need to see but are there because either they were in the movie or because they were a logical extension of the situation. During the levels that take place in the zoo areas, you can stop and play some of the stand-up arcade machines, with appropriate retro '80s-styled arcade games to play on them. There are tons of coins scattered around the levels to buy unlockable content, and that content includes everything from extra outfits to entire additional mini-games.
The mini-games themselves are certainly good for as much playtime as the main game. Lemur Mini-golf is hosted by the world's cutest lemur and is one of the best 3D miniature golf games I've poked at. There's also a wacky shuffleboard game with interesting physics and interesting ways to modify those physics, as well as a jungle rave Dance Dance Revolution game played entirely with the four face buttons, which isn't going to challenge anyone (at all, ever) but does provide a distraction, as well as more lemurs. Gosh, those are cute little things. All of these games are multiplayer-capable, and I could picture a casual family of gamers teaming up for a run through the cutesy mini-golf course a couple of times.
Madagascar as a platformer game is honestly kind of dull. You can just plow straight through it if you have ever played a game of this style before, and I suspect even those in its target age group aren't going to get a whole lot out of it. The real goodness of this title comes from how close it is in feel and tone to the movie, and the cute little details Toys for Bob sprinkled through the levels. I marked this game higher than I usually would mark a mediocre platformer because it made me laugh and want to see the film. I suspect it'll remind young gamers of their favorite movie moments, and that's enough to earn Madagascar a somewhat decent rating on my scale.
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