Madagascar 3: The Video Game
Platform: PS3 / Xbox 360 / Wii / 3DS / DS
Reviewed on: PS3
One thing that kept going through my head while playing Madagascar 3: The Video Game was that kids are a lot smarter than we give them credit for. Condescending to them is the worst thing you can do as an adult - it belittles you both. I've also decided never to review a game that's been specifically made for kids again - I'm not the market the developers are aiming for. However, that's not to say that there aren't some great games out there that are suitable for kids. Madagascar 3 just happens to be suitable, but not great - mainly because it's tried to second-guess its audience.
The basic plot of the game mirrors the movie, in that the main playable characters (Alex the lion, Marty the zebra, Gloria the hippo and Melman the giraffe) are hiding in a travelling circus touring Europe. You start off in a European city, there's a brief cut scene where Mason the Chimp and King Julien the ring tailed Lemur set the scene, and then you're dropped into the first of many fetch quests set by Skipper the penguin.
The game is designed for offline two player co-op play, but if you can't find anyone to play with (everyone I knew was at work. Well, they said they were at work), then the AI will take over, and you can switch between two characters at will. Each character has a specific skill - for example, Alex can double jump, and Gloria the hippo can (sigh) break crates with her booty bump. Throughout each level, there are obstacles between you and your objective (sometimes it's a wheel of parmesan, other times it can be a stack of pizzas. Once it was a cactus.), and it's up to you to work out how to make it from the level's starting point, to whatever arbitrary object Skipper and King Julien have decided they need. It varies from level to level, city to city, but one thing remains constant - it's repetitive and lacks any real challenge.
The levels are fairly open, but there is always a single path that has to be negotiated to reach the main objective. The rest of the level is filled with collectables, but they're fairly easy to pick up along the way. In the case of King Julien's sub-missions (that run concurrently with the main objective) you'll often find yourself picking up well over the amount needed to progress to the next level.
There are a few NPC citizens and Animal Control Officers dotted around each level, but these are far too easily avoided. The game's tutorial advises walking around in disguise, which slows your character to a slow walk - it's a fairly clumsy stealth mode in which the player will be unable to interact with objects, jump, or do anything other than walk at a snails pace without breaking their cover. If you are spotted, the Animal Control Officers spring into action and try and snare you. If you're captured, you have to mash a button until you escape; otherwise you have to start again from the last checkpoint. There's not really much point in using your disguise, as it's ludicrously easy to outsmart the ACO once they're on alert (by jumping on top of buildings out of their reach, posing as a statue on a nearby pedestal, or just running) and they soon lose interest. As NPC's go, they're pretty stupid.
In between missions, there are a couple of mini-games, some of which involve running from Captain Chantel Dubois, the head of Animal Control, or a time attack where you have to collect as many circus supplies as you can before the timer runs out. You can boost your time by picking up clocks. There's also a particularly frustrating mini-game where you have to put up posters wherever the psychotic (and, let's face it more than borderline racist) Lemur, King Julien, has thrown his mangoes. Mango juice is apparently quite the adhesive.
Once you've fetched everything Skipper and King Julien need, it's time to decorate the town with balloons, banners, fireworks etc before you negotiate an obstacle course. It's all very platformy, but if you mess anything up the checkpoints are numerous, and you won't find yourself getting too frustrated.
Then it's time to put on the circus show. This is represented by a series of mini games, which involve being shot out of a cannon and steering yourself through hoops and point-targets to rack up your score, button matching puzzles to print out circus tickets or deliver snacks, more jumping through hoops (but this time it tests your timing), a trapeze game and a tightrope race. As you progress to new cities, the final circus mini-games become more challenging (or less easy, which is probably more the case).
There are very few things to like about this game. The graphics are pretty sub-par, even for a movie/game tie in (King Kong set the bar pretty high, and that was on the PS2), and watching the playable characters stumble around the scenery is a pretty soul destroying experience - the worst of these is Melman the giraffe. He possesses possibly the ugliest walking animation I've ever had the displeasure to see. Your character will often find themselves standing on invisible blocks, getting hit by obstacles that look to be at least a foot or two away, or stuck on scenery.
The thing I most dislike about the game is its complete lack of challenge - and I am aware that it's not designed for a hardcore gaming audience, but that's not the point. Consider Super Mario Bros. on the NES. It's not designed for kids, but most if not all of us were kids when we first played it. I would still have trouble completing that in one playthrough in its original format (luckily, the SNES and Wii versions have a save function). Or, lets go further and consider Aladdin for the Mega Drive (as opposed to its inferior SNES cousin) - a great example of a game tie-in for a kid's movie done right. Somewhere along the way, some developers have decided that kids aren't smart enough to handle decently made, challenging games. Which is a real shame.
It's hard coming up with a rating knowing that kids all over the country are going to be badgering their parents to pick up a copy - it is Madagascar, after all. Hell, some of them will probably enjoy it. But I have to ask myself - would I be happy if my (currently hypothetical) kid asked me to buy a copy for them? The honest answer is no. Video games are a great marketing tool for up and coming movies (for kids, or otherwise) and, when done well, you can almost forgive them that. In this case, I'd probably be happier putting up with the inevitable temper tantrum, and try and steer them towards something a bit more substantial.