Movie based games have been around almost as long as video games have been made. The earliest example I can think of is E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial for the Atari 2600. It’s kind of ironic how a game based on a movie can also be credited to causing the infamous video game crash of 1983. (Insert your own New Mexico landfill joke here.) You might think that game companies would reconsider making tie-in games. Instead, they get cranked out to the unsuspecting public masses.
Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa is another one of those games packaged to come out with the movie. Since this is the sequel, the developers should have been able to use some of their assets from the previous games and use it for this game. This should mean that they could actually concentrate on the actual game, right? Well, we’ll see…
I saw the first Madagascar and noticed how the characters had a unique look of intentionally being blocky with some hairs and other details to give the characters personality. It actually looked a lot better than what I would have expected. The characters look very similar in the video game, though not as furry as Conker.
The animations of the different characters look great. Watching Melman the Giraffe move his legs around as he runs on a sphere or spins his body around, or Marty the Zebra running around or kicking objects is really smooth. The game really looks very close to the actual movie, which is no small achievement.
The backgrounds look a little sparse. There isn’t much as far as detail on the ground. The areas look blocky as well. Textures are added to the backgrounds to try to smooth the graphics out. They do help, but they can’t hide how low-polygon the backgrounds are.
The theme of the main game is that you are in Africa. Because of that, the background music is reminiscent of some tribal beat you’d expect to find in that region. The drums drive the beat, with very little other instrumentation. It’s so typical that if you haven’t heard it but imagine some kind of tribal music, you probably know what it sounds like.
The sound effects again do their job. When Marty moves it sounds like clopping, while Alex the Lion has a more muted sound since he has paws. When Gloria the Hippo does her Butt Bounce, it sounds like a smash from a Saturday morning cartoon. A similar sound happens when Melman does a Head Bash. It fits because it is a cartoon.
The voice acting isn’t done by the original cast, but the voices do sound fairly close to the original voices. This voice cast has a lot of experience in the video game and animation world. If you look at the IMDB records of Stephen Stanton, Crispin Freeman, Phil LaMarr, and Bettina Bush, you see that these people have a lot of experience. There isn’t much emotion to these people though, and the lines come off as uninspired.
The controls in the game are simple enough most of the time. Movement is handled with the left analog stick, the right analog stick moves the camera, and X jumps. The Square and Triangle buttons perform moves specific to the character, and the Circle button is left alone.
The biggest problem with the controls is that there are several minigames that require timed button presses. You hit the X button and then release it with the correct amount of power. I always felt like there was a split second after I released the button that the game registered the release. This isn’t good when some moves require precision. It’s not that bad most of the time, but there were times when the timing really messed up how quickly I could finish a portion of the game.
The plot of Madagascar 2 follows Alex the Lion, Marty the Zebra, Melman the Giraffe, and Gloria the Hippo as they try to make their way back to New York from Madagascar. However, their plane has trouble and the Penguins crash land the plane in Africa. Of course you need to go back in time and help Mort the Lemur reconstruct the plane and make it fly.
You start out by being introduced to the characters one at a time. You find out what their abilities are as well. As you play through the section, you collect coins which are used as money in the game. You are also lucky enough to watch cutscenes throughout the game between missions. Here is where the game starts to suffer from MGSS, or Metal Gear Solid Syndrome. Ever feel like you are watching the movies in the game more than actually playing the game, kind of like the Metal Gear Solid series? Then you’ll know this feeling as you play through Madagascar 2. The cutscenes are long and dry. I often was wondering when I’d be able to play the next area because the cutscene was still playing. I should have read a book in the time I spent watching the cutscenes.
Then I started playing the game. I realize that this game is geared at kids, but the game is easy. That’s not to say that there won’t be some frustrating areas in the levels, but the game is so easy that little Timmy shouldn’t have an issue with most of the levels on the first time.
Each member has specific abilities, and each of the activities are geared for that character’s abilities. Marty has strong kicking legs, so he can kick items. He can also race against other animals. Melman has the ability to glide through the air because of the way his legs can spin in a helicopter motion, so sometimes he’ll be tasked to glide through the air to reach objects in the air. He also has a head bash move or a spinning attack. Sometimes mini-games occur that are unrelated to the character’s abilities, such as taking pictures of the African Safari with specific animals. As you work through these games you unlock new areas.
The biggest issue with these mini-games is that they just feel pointless. The developers seem like they created a bunch of mini-games to loosely link the paths of these animals. They really don’t feel like they progress the story at all. While the developers could have just created some platforming game where the characters gather parts for the airplane to fix it.The system they did use provides a bit more variety, it feels like the developers didn’t know what direction to take the game and included everything they could think of, making the game feel like one disjointed mess.
I will admit that the game lasted longer than I had expected. In fact, the game includes twelve levels, and each level has several different objectives to complete. Unfortunately I was hoping, begging, pleading that I would be finished with each level. Instead it would keep on going, and going, and going. Breaking up the levels would have probably been a better choice, especially with the target audience this game is aimed at.
As you play and gather coins, you can go to the Duty Free Shop to buy levels for the mini-games. The Africa Arcade holds the mini-games, which include Mini-Golf, Monkey Match, a basic Trauma Center clone named Melman’s Clinic, a rhythm game called Volcano Rave, Musical Chairs, Soccer, Diving, and a Stratego clone named Jungle Chess. These games don’t contain much of anything interesting, and are only a distraction for a short time.