Activision's video game version of DreamWorks' latest computer animated comedy, Madagascar, is one of those rare movie-to-game translations that manage to be good even if you've never seen the film. Unsurprisingly, the game is a kid-friendly platformer that retells much of the film's story--throwing in some more adventure-centric sequences for the purposes of gameplay--replaces all of the film's star talent with soundalike voice actors, and generally doesn't take too much thinking or time to complete. What is somewhat surprising is that the gameplay is pretty solid for a game aimed squarely at kids, the voice actors do a good job of capturing the inflections of the film's characters, and the game features a nice boon of unlockable content to make up for the short quest. By no means is Madagascar the next big thing in platforming, but as far as kid-friendly fare is concerned, it does the job.
Madagascar tells the story of a group of eccentric animals living in the New York City zoo. Marty the zebra isn't content with his city life, finding himself in search of a way out of the zoo. His friends include Alex the lion, a self-assured, somewhat prissy creature that fancies himself the "King of New York"; Melman the giraffe, a perpetually paranoid and hypochondriacally ineffectual fellow; and Gloria the hippo, an oafish, yet somehow dignified lady beast. The three of them are quite content with their life in the zoo, but when Marty hooks up with a group of penguins running a covert escape operation, the four find themselves on a journey that takes them away from the comforts they've known their whole lives and into the wild and unfamiliar jungles of Madagascar. This is pretty much the plot of the film to the letter, and the game does a good job of taking the same kind of goofy humor from the movie and translating it into a coherent and periodically amusing game plot. It's unlikely to have you rolling in your seat or anything, but for a younger audience, it's well suited.
The game is a by-the-numbers platformer, in which you can take control of Marty, Alex, Melman, Gloria, and one of the penguins during different levels. The basic controls for each character are the same, though each has his or her own unique attacks and special abilities, which can be earned by collecting special power cards scattered about each level. Melman, for instance, can perform something of a helicopter spin that works as both an attack and a way to float through the air a bit longer after jumping. Alex, on the other hand, relies on an intimidating roar to knock enemies out of the way, and he can double jump. It's all customary platformer stuff, but what's interesting about Madagascar is that it provides a pretty good variety of stuff for you to do. There's plenty of jumping around and item collecting, of course, but there are also some decent combat sequences and a couple of supereasy but fun stealth sections. The game even provides some unlockable minigames you can buy in a special shop, including shuffleboard, minigolf, and a rhythm-based game in the style of Dance Dance Revolution. Though they're simple in execution and not long on lasting value, they're fun for a while.
More-seasoned players, however, aren't going to get much out of Madagascar. The gameplay, while solid, isn't built with an experienced player in mind, so the action does tend to get repetitive and is supereasy across the board. The whole game shouldn't take any platformer fan more than five hours to beat, which, while reasonably lengthy for a kids' game, isn't long for the average game. It also doesn't help that the controls are a little on the clunky side. Character movement is sometimes problematic, because the movement control doesn't seem as responsive as it ought to be, and the camera has its moments of stupidity. These are issues that younger players are not likely to get up in arms about, so for the kids, the gameplay is more than satisfactory.
Unlike most movie-to-game translations of the last couple of years, Madagascar doesn't feature much footage from the film during the game. Almost all of the scenes were done in-engine, which is certainly beneficial from a storyline standpoint (since the developers could just rework whatever they needed to make the game flow better), but it's not as good from a visual standpoint. The graphical engine employed in Madagascar is merely OK. Character models maintain the cute, goofy look of their film counterparts, but the environments are generally not as pleasing to look at. The textures are mostly flat and unpleasant, and a lot of the environmental designs repeat over and over again, to the point where it seems like you're running through the same level more than once. The audio fares better, largely due to the solid voice acting. Ben Stiller, Chris Rock, Jada Pinkett Smith, and David Schwimmer did the voices for the movie, but they didn't do the voices for the game. The soundalikes were all up to the task, however, and apart from the guy trying to do Chris Rock (who sounds more like Jimmy Fallon channeling Chris Rock), they all turned in solid performances.
It probably doesn't shock you that Madagascar would be squarely aimed at the younger set, but the fact that the developers have done a good job of making a game out of the film's storyline, rather than creating a cheap cash-in on the film's license, is pleasantly surprising. It's a short but endearing adventure that will be immediately appealing to the adolescent gamers in your household, whether or not they've seen the movie. And if they have, all the better.