Activision’s Madagascar is a game based on the movie, following the story of four New York animals as they escape from the confines of their Zoo in their bid for the freedom of the wild. Movie conversions are normally disasters, but this time, the developer, Toys for Bob, have managed to pull off a fairly impressive game.
The story follows the film’s storyline, so you start out in the New York Zoo, and make your way through the city, across the ocean, then to the island of Madagascar. Gameplay is split up into a series of sub-games, all of different styles, but connected very smoothly - you hardly even realise the game style has changed, as it’s always in 3rd person (animal?) 3D. It begins with a fairly short and painless tutorial level in which you play each of the four main characters, as well as their side-kicks to learn how they work and move. Marty the wise-cracking Zebra learns to kick, Alex the Lion learns double-jumping, there’s a racing section for Gloria the Hippo, the Penguins go fishing, and Melman the hypochondriac Giraffe has to spin the rubbish out of his cage.
The escape sequence, while short in the movie, takes the form of a stealth game, where you have to traverse different sections of the zoo at night, avoiding the short-sighted guards flashlights and collecting keys to other areas. Other sections involve collecting various items, saving things, leading characters to something, avoiding traffic and police, and clearing the decks of a ship so that your penguin buddies can pilot you to Antarctica (if only they knew how to control the boat). The levels are well designed and offer a lot of diverse, entertaining gameplay - but the camera angles can get annoying.
One of the more innovative aspects of the game was the cusomisation you could perform on your character. There’s a “Zouvenir” shop at the zoo, and if you collect enough coins during the levels, you can visit the shop and purchase gloves, hats and other apparel that you character will wear in the game, as well as unlocking new levels, buying extra lives, and more.
Because the game seemed to be aimed at a younger audience, I decided to let my 12 year old daughter Maddi play it. I did have to help her through some of the trickier levels, but that was mostly due to the lack of support for the directional buttons in favour of the analogue stick, which she wasn’t used to, making it more difficult (for her at least) for the first few levels. Despite the control problems, she found it challenging, and no matter what level she was on, she had a great time, and the corny jokes made her laugh.
The graphics were brilliant - bright and colourful, and although the characters weren’t as polished as the movie, they were good enough, and animated well. The backgrounds were varied, and occasionally there were some great effects. Most of the game was based on the island, and while slightly repetitive, you could normally tell where you were.
The voices in the game were appropriate and fitted well to the characters, even though they weren’t played by the same actors - Maddi was listening out for David Schwimmer, and was disappointed. She thought the sound quality was excellent - the Music wasn’t overpowering and noises were good ol’ fashioned over the top.
In the end, we both really enjoyed Madagascar. I liked the stealth level, and Maddi’s favourite bit was in Penguin Mutiny, where you got to pick up crew members with a crane and drop them over the side into the water. It works for kids of all ages on some level or other.