Marty the zebra is celebrating his tenth birthday.  With absolutely no idea just how good he has it, Marty gets it in his head that he’d like to go out into the wild.  Marty can’t simply walk out so he’ll have to enlist the help of his friends from the Zoo.  With the help of Alex the lion, Melman the giraffe, Gloria the hippo, and some crafty and somewhat crazy penguins, Marty gets his birthday wish. 


Our story starts off in the New York Zoo where the ensemble cast is revealed.  Very quickly the group is swept across the ocean to the land of Madagascar where they will embark on the biggest adventure of their lives.  They will meet a band of party-animal Lemurs, find out a little bit about themselves, and even square off against Madagascar’s most dangerous creatures – the Foosa.


 

Madagascar the game is based on the upcoming Dreamworks movie by the same name.  The recently-acquired studio Toys For Bob did a great job ensuring the stylized look of the movie translated to the console game.  For the most part, the game holds a steady framerate with only slight aliasing. 


As you progress through the game you’ll break free of the concrete-jungle areas of New York and move into the lush jungles of Madagascar.  The jungles are filled with the flora you’d expect as well as jungle life including lemurs, spiders, birds, and crabs.   The game’s graphics hold up nicely against the look of the movies and should please the target audience.


 

Movie to game translations are always difficult – it would be easy to exhaust your budget picking up the original voice talent for your game.  You can also break the immersion and ambiance of your game by picking bad voice actors.  Activision has a knack for picking great sound-alikes as they have demonstrated with the likes of Shrek and again with Madagascar.  While Chris Rock and Ben Stiller didn’t jump onboard to do the voiceovers, the one-off actors do a pretty decent job and help keep the story linked to the movie. 


The sounds in Madagascar are comical.  For instance, when Melman swings around like a spastic helicopter, flinging legs in every direction, you get a great sound effect you might expect to hear on classic Saturday morning cartoons.  When you fish a hat off of a passerby’s head you get a great *zip!* sound for your efforts.  Great care was taken to make sure the sounds in the game match the style of the movies and it sounds like they have succeeded.

The controls and camera are the heart of any platformer.  When your game is aimed at a younger audience, it becomes even more critical to prevent frustration. 


The left analog controls the direction for moving your character, the right analog controls the 360 degree rotation of the camera.  A quick flick of the right trigger resets the camera to the behind the back view.  A handles your jump (or double-jump for Alex), B is for use or talk, X is for attack although it is certainly not the focus of the game, and Y unleashes the character-specific special attacks such as Alex’s claw attack or Marty’s back-kick.


The controls are simplified enough where you can pick the game up and play immediately.  The camera is well behaved and does a good job of staying behind the characters, there were very few instances where the camera would swing behind a solid object and a quick tap of the trigger reminded it of where it should be.  Its nice to see the level of attention paid to the camera for a non-mainstream title.

Madagascar kicks off (pun intended) with Marty the Zebra hanging out in his pen. Marty has a bit of an identity crisis – he isn’t sure if he is a white zebra with black stripes or a black zebra with white stripes. He decides its time to figure that out for himself with a little help from his friends. As you move forward Marty will teach you the basics of movement and how to collect the cards that will give you powers including the power to pull of a quick rear leg kick. Shortly after Marty gives you a tour of his pen we get to meet another member of the ensemble, Alex the Lion. Marty will give a quick pep-talk to Alex and then you’ll take control of him for a short while.


Alex gains the power to double-jump in the air which you’ll use to give Alex a quick workout and rebuild his confidence that he is indeed the King of the Jungle…the concrete Jungle of the Central Park Zoo.


Once Alex completes his King of the Jungle pose, you’ll jump back to Marty who continues the tour. You’ll meet Melman the Germaphobic Giraffe, Gloria the Hippo and the most bizarre collection of Para-militant penguins and oppressive ostriches. The story plays out over 11 levels and it squarely aimed at the young-at-heart crowd. This becomes apparent not only from the comedic slant of the voice-overs but more simply just looking at the way the characters behave. For instance, your first interaction with Melman the Germaphobic Giraffe has you helping him clean his cage as his ‘sanitation team’ is running late. You’ll clear the area by spinning him around like a spastic helicopter, his legs flailing about in all directions. Similarly, the penguins use their militaristic powers to fish for hats, stuffed animals, and buckets from the people passing by. These are just a sampling of the powers you’ll get in the game, each one more hilarious than the last. You can enjoy this game at any age and its as fun to watch as it is to play.


As you move through the game you pick up coins of various denominations that you can later use to purchase items from the Zoo Souvenir shop. These coins help you unlock other mini-games including races and a few collectible items for each character. Parallel to the movie, the group is accidentally crated up and shipped off to Africa, an environment quite foreign and frightening to the likes of Melman the Giraffe. The penguins choose to seize the opportunity and attempt to commandeer the boat to redirect it to the South Pole. As usual, things don’t go quite right and the group ends up marooned on the beach of Madagascar.


Once you get into the game you find that Madagascar is a fairly standard platformer.  Each character has special abilities that they will have to use to keep the story moving.  You’ll use kicks, double-jumps, stealth, roars, and chili-peppers to run through the game.  The levels are variations of the standard platforming formula and it works.  The only issue I encountered was that some of the later puzzles may serve to frustrate younger audiences in their difficulty.  Overall, it’s a fun ride and a great tie-in to the movie set to be released this weekend.

The game is squarely aimed at the younger audience sporting an E10+ rating.  Keep that in mind, but don’t miss out if you are just a kid at heart.  The game is fun and has enough going for it to keep the game alive until the end. 


There are 11 levels in the game and each one contains a bunch of hidden items and unlockables.  As you complete the levels you unlock character-specific bonuses as well as cheats.  Make sure you don’t miss out on the old-school arcade game in the New York Zoo – I must have played this Atari Combat clone for at least an hour!  If you are a kid or a kid at heart, this game shouldn’t disappoint. 

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