When you first see the box art featuring a big-eared primate with a goofy smile jumping over a cartoon White House, it's clear that Hail to the Chimp, "The Presidential Party Game," is all about satire. What's not clear is exactly what sort of game you can expect, and this disparity is a good metaphor for the game itself. Hail to the Chimp is so keenly focused on delivering humor that it seems quite unconcerned with offering entertaining gameplay. After a few hours with the game, you'll wonder if they should have just nixed the playable parts entirely.
The humor that was so clearly the focus of developer Wideload's efforts is Hail to the Chimp's only redeeming feature. The title screen is a "live" broadcast of GRR news, the animal kingdom's version of CNN, complete with scrolling headlines and hosted by the jaded, Cronkite-esque Woodchuck Chumley. The stories and occasional advertisements that "air" on GRR skewer a wide range of American institutions, including the government, the press, and all facets of pop culture. The breadth of topics is impressive, despite the ostensible focus on politics, and jokes run the gamut from barely groanworthy to incisively witty, though the scales definitely tip toward the former. GRR delivers Hail to the Chimp's humor in a polished, varied way, and hearing headlines like "The Internet: What is it and how is it ruining your children's lives?" and watching ads sponsored by The Plankton Council is quite entertaining, at least until the content starts to repeat.
Actual gameplay is far less entertaining, because it's light on humor and heavy on button-mashing. Whether you choose single- or multiplayer, the game is the same. Four characters run around a wacky arena grabbing clams, whacking opponents, and trying to accomplish whatever the particular game mode demands. Clams represent votes (take that, money-grubbing political establishment!) and function much like gold coins do in other games. Some modes require you to grab clams then deposit them somewhere, while others demand you grab clams in a certain order. Whatever the mode, the game quickly devolves into a chaotic clam-snatching clobberfest, which sounds fun but feels like nothing so much as a subdued game of Hungry Hungry Hippos. Winning requires a bit of skill, a good deal of luck, and a whole lot of patience, so victory is never very satisfying. Playing the single-player mode will unlock more multiplayer arenas and On Demand GRR segments, but since these segments come up in the title-screen rotation anyway, you're better off sparing yourself and your thumbs and just setting the controller down. Playing with a few lively opponents can be fun, but the gameplay is so lackluster that the fun doesn't last long.
Hail to the Chimp's unique cartoon look is another bright spot, albeit a small one. The stages do tend to be busy with hazards, moving parts, clams, and power-ups, and keeping track of where you are--and whether or not you're alive--is initially taxing. However, you'll likely get the hang of it once you've got a few sessions under your belt, thanks to the bright, distinct player colors and vivid character designs.
It's a shame that the gameplay doesn't live up to the respectable standards set by the humor and visual appeal. Hail to the Chimp has some great chuckleworthy moments, but any enjoyment you get from them will be sapped away as you play challenges that somehow manage to be frantic and dull at the same time.