Dreamworks Animation scored a big hit with Madagascar, the beautifully animated and funny movie about animals busting out of a zoo only to find themselves stranded on the island of Madagascar off the coast of Africa. Activision's video game for the GBA, meanwhile, is neither beautiful nor funny--even by GBA standards. It's also just another uninspired, cookie-cutter platformer targeted toward the very young players who will no doubt beg their parents to buy it for them once they notice it sitting on store shelves.
The game, like the movie, focuses on the tribulations of a quintet of animals. There's Alex, a lion that can double-jump and knock out enemies with his bad breath; Marty, a zebra that can run fast, crawl, hide in crates, and kick short enemies; Melman, a giraffe that can dig and bury his head in the ground while enemies walk by; Skipper, a penguin that can also crawl and hide inside of crates; and Gloria, a pig that can squash enemies and spikes, and also the only member of the crew that can swim. All of the game's 13 levels are of the typical run-and-jump sort, with the added twist of players swapping between characters on the fly in order to get past obstacles using their specific abilities.
This isn't a difficult game by any stretch. The cookie-cutter rats, birds, crabs, and guards, which make up the major share of the game's enemies, move in set back-and-forth patterns and won't actively pursue the heroes. Players have five health points to get through each level, and there are numerous healing items, in the form of flowers, scattered all over the place. That's plenty, unless you accidentally fall into the water with any character other than Gloria. Regardless, when you run out of health, you'll just reappear at the beginning of the level in which you're currently playing. Young players might enjoy being able to get through the game without any limit placed on lives or continues, but anybody that has outgrown elementary school will find Madagascar for the GBA easy and boring.
Even though the game only contains 13 levels, they're all made up of multiple lengthy segments. The levels do a decent job of providing players with opportunities to make use of each character's unique skills, especially Marty and Skipper's sneaking abilities, which are often the focus of entire levels. Unfortunately, the level designs, on the whole, aren't very interesting, and the character-swap gimmick gets tiresome after the umpteenth time of toggling to Melman or Gloria just to make brief use of their digging and swimming skills.
Most of all, the graphics and audio are really, really bad. The GBA has had its fair share of cookie-cutter platformers churned out to capitalize on popular movies and TV shows, but in the majority of those cases the games at least lived up to what some would call an average baseline--sharp graphics, sampled sound effects, and so on. The backgrounds and character graphics in Madagascar are plain, devoid of color, often distorted, and they totally look like a throwback to the 8-bit days. Enemies frequently blend into the background, since they're usually colored purple or gray, just like the backgrounds are. As for the audio, the sound effects, few that there are, consist of a handful of garbled animal cries sampled at a low bit rate, and the music is a selection of tropical elevator music that's stereotypically packed with bongo hits.
Ultimately, Madagascar for the GBA is a mediocre platformer made much worse by its horrible graphics and lackluster audio.