When a PC version of a motion picture licensed game is a lower price point than the Gameboy Advance version of the game, then I tend to think there is cause to worry. This generally tells me that this might be a game better experienced on one of the other platforms, that the PC version consists of little more than the table scraps from its console brethren by the developers, or at worst, not even remotely the same game (see Spider-man 2 for PC last year). Luckily, Madagascar seems fairly consistent with the console versions, though as I will mention later, pretty much to a fault.

A game that is definitely for the younger audience, Madagascar loosely follows the plot-line of the movie, following Alex the lion, Gloria the hippo, Melman the giraffe, Marty the zebra, and the paranoid penguins as they make their way out of the zoo and bumble their way to the island paradise of Madagascar. As with any children’s game I review, I enlisted the help of my 6 yr-old son to get the perspective of the intended audience.

The graphics in Madagascar are certainly acceptable; the main characters look and move as they do in the film and the environments are bright and colorful as you would expect for a game based on an animated movie. Unfortunately, the level of quality is fairly spotty when you start looking at anything other than the main characters, namely the bad guys and npcs, who are so poorly textured and lacking in detail that they almost look like they should be in another game entirely.

Mind you, for a budget PC console port I don’t really expect much out of the graphics, but I would hope for something at least on par with the Xbox or Gamecube. Unfortunately, it looks like we got the PS2 graphics for this one, and by that I mean the very same textures, polygon count, aliasing issues, everything. There is more evidence that this is true in the game, but I’ll get to that later.

This was actually the one area I thought this game succeeded in pulling off. While the actors from the movie didn’t lend their voices to the game, the stand-ins that Activision hired did a fairly convincing job, and had me guessing at first. The Chris Rock sound-a-like in particular did a very good job.

The soundtrack is quite enjoyable, employing upbeat jungle rhythms and never getting too repetitive or overbearing. Sound effects are suitably cartoonish, and brought a chuckle or two out of my son on several occasions.

Do yourself a favor and dust off your old game controller for this one, platformers never play as good on a PC as they do on the console. My son and I started off playing with mouse and keyboard in an attempt to keep the experience as ‘out of the box’ as possible, but soon switched to a PS2 controller via usb adaptor when the frustration and awkwardness became tedious. It was obviously a good choice as characters started prompting us to “use the circle button” or “use the X button” in tutorial missions. Yes, like I said earlier, this version is obviously a direct PS2 port, and in this case especially, a very sloppy one. If my son hadn’t picked up the controller and started having fun with the game, I may have written this game off as a loss.

When it comes to the actual game, Madagascar is pretty solid for a kid’s title. It manages to combine a wide variety of gameplay types and minigames that stays true to the heart of the film. Each level is divided up into sections, each section putting you into the role of one of the main characters, each having their own unique abilities and game types. Alex the lion has a roar attack and is a good jumper- his levels are pure platformer. Gloria the hippo steamrolls her way through ‘on rails’ style gameplay, Marty the zebra is stealthy and can kick with his hind legs, and Melman the giraffe has this jump and flail thing going for him. New abilities and upgrades are doled out by collecting ‘cards’ in threes. One of my favorite levels features the militant paranoid penguins as they try and quietly take over a boat. Of the three types of gameplay in this section alone, ‘stealth’ was the least impressive, consisting of your penguin hiding in a bowling pin box, rendering him completely invisible- even when walking straight up to and colliding with a guard. But hey, this is a kid’s game.

The game is fairly easy for the most part, with many of the standard platform game conventions. There are coins to collect, which can unlock goodies in the Zoo store, such as accessories for your little menagerie. There is rarely ever any danger to the player as health icons are plentiful as long as you hit stuff and bad guys enough. Certain levels have areas with a little minigame in the form of a coin-op machine, which is pretty cool. Additionally, there are bonus levels such as ‘Tiki Mini Golf’ and Shuffleboard bringing even more variety to the table.

While there certainly is a lot of variety to the game, and there are a decent amount of unlockables and minigames to flesh it out, I just don’t see kids retaining interest past 3-4 days at the most unless they are big fans of the movie. Of course, you could go back to each level and try to collect all the stuff if you want, buy everything in the store, etc., but there really isn’t a heck of a lot to do after you’ve beaten the game. If this were a console game, I’d say it would make a great rental. As a PC game I think $20 is worth it if your son or daughter loved the movie.