Developer: Toys for Bob
Release Date: November 4, 2008
We gamers sure do take pleasure in tearing apart games based upon Hollywood's latest hits. At one time or other, we've all turned up our noses at their lack of the high-end design evidenced by titles that have not been released alongside a film. However, I'm of the mind that the harsh criticism usually thrown at licensed games should be taken down a notch when that license happens to be one aimed at children, just like Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa. Sure, they may not be eligible for any awards, but remember that the intended audience is probably more concerned with enjoying the magic of talking animals. Unfortunately, no matter how much one tries to think of the children, it's still pretty difficult to see past the shortage of compelling gameplay Madagascar 2 is stricken with, even for kids. While there is certainly some family-friendly entertainment to be found in the mix of platforming and party games, Madagascar 2 doesn't quite offer a winning combination of the two to justify a purchase after seeing the film it accompanies.
The game follows the events of its big-screen brother featuring the main characters of the original "Madagascar" movie, including Alex the lion, Gloria the hippo, Marty the Zebra, and finally Melman the giraffe. The crew has decided to return to New York City in a shaky-looking plane, but on the way, things go wrong and our friends find themselves in the wilds of Africa, contending with members of their own species as well as the presence of some troublesome Homo sapiens. Although it's not plot-heavy, the game packs a decent presentation through the many cut scenes and dialogue, effectively preserving the quirky humor that young fans of the films enjoy. One issue that does hold it back is the lack of any voice talent from the actual film. Jada Pinkett, Chris Rock and Ben Stiller (just to name a few) are all strangely absent, which is unfortunate, given the increase in authenticity that the original actors can provide.
A portion of Madagascar 2 supplies some basic, easily controlled platforming segments that vary depending on which character is currently being used. If assuming the role of Alex, players will be able to unleash his ferocious roar to frighten enemies, and the same goes for Marty's speed run or Gloria's body slam. At first, the activities are pretty constrictive, but once the crew lands in Africa, the game opens up a bit with a small free-roaming area called the Watering Hole, where players may choose the activity they wish to pursue next and swap characters at totem poles. While wandering around, tokens can be collected to unlock bonuses in the Duty Free Shop, ranging from apparel for characters, cut scenes and even a few extra mini-game items.
Once you make your way to an objective site marked by flags, a simple mini-game usually ensues. Now, there's nothing wrong with simpler mini-games, but Madagascar 2 tones things down a little too much, even for kids. Many of the challenges feature the same tasks, such as trying to throw objects at a target, but even more tend to be very short, menial tasks that even the children of this generation might call lame.
I'm talking about musical chairs, bowling, hot potato, whack-a-mole, and other types of activities you generally don't need a video game to play. Of course we shouldn't be asking for too much from a kid's game, but many of the mini-games are generic even by non-gaming standards and fail to capture the fun of the films. Heck, it would have been more acceptable if the designers had lifted a few concepts from similar games and given them a Madagascar spin, rather than bringing in extremely basic activities that most kids already know well.
The overall design of Madagascar 2's combination of platforming and party games is a bit confusing as well. There are some enjoyable moments, like Alex scaling walls and riding down zip-lines while trying to prove himself to his pride, but much of this aspect is spent carrying out mundane fetch quests that have the player backtracking through previously explored environments. If endlessly searching for 20 hidden monkeys made a grown man impatient, I can't imagine what it would do to a kid. Madagascar 2 didn't have to try to be an open-world platformer and could have remained a party game to be a decent family title. In that case, why bother giving people platforming segments that seem to do nothing more than lengthen playing time and act as a vehicle to the mini-game activities?
After the main campaign is completed, all 10 mini-games can be revisited with up to four players in the Africa Arcade. All of the events from the single-player portion are present, including a few extras like Jungle Chess and Mini-Golf, all of which can either be played separately or within a tournament. Some of the activities from the single-player transfer over pretty well, especially Juicy-Juicy, where up to four players carry carts and attempt to grab the most fruit. That may not sound exciting, but toss in power-ups and the ability to bash someone else's cart and send their loot flying, and you have the gateway to some intense competition. The tamer games are more enjoyable to play with another person, but when looking at the entire multiplayer package, it's obvious that there are better party games on the market.
Madagascar 2 only runs into more trouble with a number of graphical shortcomings. The characters are animated well and behave like their movie counterparts, except for the faulty lip-synching that drags down the immersion factor. The environments are really hurting with scarcely any detail, giving the title a little too much resemblance to its original Xbox predecessor. Glitches are also abundant through persistent collision problems, including the camera sometimes passing through a wall and out of the level. By no means did Madagascar 2 need amazing graphics to succeed, but it did deserve working ones.
Having experienced every facet of Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa, it becomes readily apparent that its essence as a platformer has been haphazardly mashed together with a party game. In order to win over the younger audience for which it was meant, the title could have easily done one or the other, rather than serve up a meager portion of both. The platforming element is given very little opportunity to shine, and the majority of mini-games carry no lasting appeal. There's certainly nothing wrong with simplicity in games, which this generation of consoles has proven can still be fun, but every title still needs some imagination, and Madagascar 2 has little of that. Families with kids currently enamored with the film series are prime candidates as far as a rental goes, since everything here works (minus the graphics), but there are plenty of superior party games out there that provide more value.
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