Latching onto the coat tail of every big movie release hangs its videogame companion, generally a multi-platform title whose developer hopes will make them a quick buck from those naive enough to think that a game, which has been bumbled together quicker than you can say “money-grabbing leech,” will live up to the name of its big-screen counterpart. Inevitably they don’t, but the latest effort based on DreamWorks Animation’s latest film, Madagascar 2: Escape to Africa, certainly tries more than most to buck that trend by offering a diverse gameplay experience which kids and fans of the movie should appreciate.
With its madcap menagerie of wisecracking animals, including Alex the Lion, Marty the Zebra, Melman the Giraffe and Gloria the Hippo, Madagscar 2 follows the crew on its journey to save the African Savannah. Throughout its 12 distinctive levels there are some very simple platform elements that generally rely on you collecting coins or leaping and jumping your way from ‘A’ to ‘B,’ but the majority of the action consists of mini-games that you play in the guise of 10 characters from the film, all of whom have specific skills that you need to master in order to complete their individual tasks.
The constant interruption of mini-game after mini-game, introduced by cut-scenes that we assume are taken from the movie, means that exploration around the tropical island of Madagascar or the crocodile-infested creeks of The Savannah is restricted, which is a real shame considering that they look so colorfully inviting. Nevertheless, the variation in gameplay ensures that the action never gets repetitive, whilst the way that the developer has been creative with its range of quirky mini-games guarantees that there’s always an element of surprise as you switch focus from such surreal activities as playing soccer with a Zebra, high-diving with a Hippo or flying a monkey-powered helicopter.
As you explore the various regions across Africa you find yourself at regular intervals jumping from one character to the next and using their unique ability to complete a range of mini-games. Though you’ll have probably seen many examples of the types of mini-games on offer here in other titles, there’s still a nice variation of tasks that are made refreshingly different due to the injection of humor from its cast and the bizarre situations you find yourself in – playing pinball with a lemur, for example. Among the abilities available include Alex the Lion’s roar, which can be used amongst other things for chasing away birds who attempt to steal eggs, or his mango tossing ability, which can be used for playing dodgeball; Marty the Zebra’s kicking and running ability, which allow you to play soccer or competitively race around a circuit against another creature; Melman the Giraffee’s amusing helicoptering ability (he spins his legs to fly) and head bashing skills, ideal for flying off the top of cliffs and killing moles; or Moto Moto’s dancing skills, which comes into play when you stumble upon the feet-stomping Volcano Rave.
Though you could accuse the developer of simply throwing together a collection of mini-games without really thinking outside of the conventional box, Madagascar 2’s pick-up-and-play style, easy to learn controls and sheer variety of gameplay ensures that there’s always something different to do around every corner and with a range of games that incorporate driving, racing, swimming, diving and butt-bashing; ball rolling, head-bashing, rhythm, fishing and sliding, there’s enough entertainment value to appeal to audience that it’s actually aimed at. The main problem for us though, despite this wealth of choice, is the severe lack of any challenge. The simple control system means that you hardly ever have to press more than one button at a time or a combination of buttons to complete a challenge and the tasks themselves only require below-average hand-to-eye coordination. This meant that we whizzed through the single player mode in 5 hours straight. While this means that it will be instantly accessible to some kids and those that are new to videogames, younger children may still be able to breeze through the 12 levels without feeling any real sense of accomplishment.
Nevertheless, Madagascar 2 is still an enjoyable adventure while it lasts and if you are seeking a real challenge then there’s always the local multiplayer component, which allows friends and family to compete against each other in a variety of tasks. The 10 multiplayer tournament games are all taken from the main adventure, so expect the likes of Jungle Chess, musical chairs, a diving event, soccer and mini-golf, all of which are very basic mini-games but do give the game some added replay value.
Despite not having the official actors from the movie to lend their voices to the cast of characters, the stand-ins in Madagascar 2 do a good job at capturing the humor of the likes of Ben Stiller as Alex the Lion and David Schwimmer as Melman the Giraffe and the unique personalities of its animal cast come across on-screen very well. If you can forgive a remarkably bad impersonation of Chris Rock as Marty the Zebra, then their silly antics coupled with some excellent animated cut-scenes do a good job at keeping you amused and impressively help to recreate the frivolous and tongue-in-cheek humor that you see in the Madagascar films.
We’ve been surprised by Madagascar 2. We expected to hate it, but we actually had a pretty good time playing it. So much so that we were quite happy to see it right through to its very conclusion. There’s not really too much to complain about either. You could argue that a few camera issues threaten on very few occasions to hamper the gameplay and that there could have been much more depth to the control scheme and more challenge offered through its mini-games, but this is a children’s game after all and its aim is to appeal to those who are fans of the movie. To that extent, Madgascar 2: Escape to Africa achieves its goal far better than most. If you fit into either of those two categories you’ll find something enjoyable about this wacky set of mini-games and its colorful characters.