Does any genre strike terror into the hearts of gamers quite like the movie tie-in? For every Goldeneye or Lego Star Wars there is the likes of an Iron Man or a (shudder) Street Fighter: The Movie game lurking in the shadows. With connotations of rushed release and bad design haunting this type of game, it is understandable that many may treat D3 published game Madagascar 3: Europe’s Most Wanted with no small degree of trepidation. But is it justified? After all, everyone likes lemurs, right?
Based very loosely around the plot of the Dreamworks movie, the game revolves around a ragtag group of animals trying to find their way back to the Big Apple (and their beloved Central Park Zoo) by way of joining a travelling circus. Or at least this is how the box art bills the story – in actuality the game for the most part revolves around a series of missions given to the player by a gaggle of militant penguins.
Each of these quests is extremely similar and, to be frank, mind-meltingly repetitive. With a formula that never really changes (clear a series of obstacles to find an item then retrieve and return said item), gamers should prepare themselves for some Big Top sized boredom. Not only this, unbelievably frustrating level design leads to an excruciatingly difficult experience in places and is sure to enrage even the most serene gamers.
Despite a GTA style mini-map it is rarely clear where the next location lies and woe betide you if you happen to miss your very vague penguin-delivered instructions as there is no way to check the current objective. Forget Manhunt - if the tabloids want to blame games for violent behaviour in children then Madagascar 3 should be Public Enemy #1.
Thankfully a small degree of variety is provided by the array of characters available including Alex the lion, Melman the giraffe and Gloria the hippo to name but a few. The player will spend most of their time alternating between one of a pre-selected duo of these anthropomorphised animals in order to complete their tasks, each having a certain skill which will be needed to access areas of the environment. For instance, Gloria is an expert tightrope walker (a fact that injects some level of pathos into proceedings) while Marty the zebra has a fierce kick which can be used to move handily placed blocks around. The actors from the film declined to reprise their roles for the game, so get ready to hear a Chris Rock impersonator squeal, “I get a kick out of that!” a lot. And when I say ‘a lot’, I mean ‘get ready to hear it in your nightmares’.
While the system of switching back and forth between characters adds some variation to the gameplay it soon wears thin. Having to continually run back and forth not only doubles the length of time it takes to complete a level but is reminiscent of playing chequers with oneself. Much more fun is derived from playing story mode with a second player (locally only, no online here) as this ups the pace significantly, although it cannot distract from the pointlessness of the tasks.
In a thematic nod to the film, the player must avoid Animal Control officers as they go about their business (lest they be forced to restart the level). This is largely done by simply staying out of their way, their locations displayed on the mini-map. However they can also be alerted by the public who unsurprisingly can get a little spooked by a giant pink hippopotamus charging through the streets and slamming its arse into various objects. While this adds little to the gameplay there are some cheap laughs to be had by charging at pedestrians and watching them cower in fear. At least, I thought it was funny.
Away from the main story, Madagascar 3: Europe’s Most Wanted picks up slightly in Circus Mode. This collection of six mini-games set in five locations across the globe is a welcome break from the aforementioned tedium and offers some fast-paced QTE based fun. Although playable against the CPU, these competitive games are again much more enjoyable with a second player. Some fall a little flat (including a very dull tightrope walk during which various objects must be collected or dodged) but others such as ‘snack toss’ and ‘ticket sales’ are quite playable, involving some fast paced finger gymnastics in order to dole out bananas and ticket stubs respectively.
Elsewhere there are a few immature laughs to be had at the name of the cooperative ‘fiery ring’ stage, which sees the gamer either playing the part of a tiger jumping through the titular ring or a lemur accompanying him by rattling on a snare drum. The latter is achieved through some good ol’ Daley Thompson’s Decathlon style button hammering.
While these events offer some distraction from the pitiful story mode, it is unfortunately fleeting. The five (very similar) stages don’t detract from the fact that there are only six of these mini-games and even the best of them wear thin rather quickly. For a full price release there really is staggeringly little on offer here, even for a movie tie-in game. The visuals although brightly coloured (which should admittedly engage younger players) are brutally ugly and the soundtrack doesn’t fare much better either. It’s a bad sign when the highlight is a euro-house remix of “Entrance of the Gladiators”.
Madagascar 3: Europe’s Most Wanted will appeal only to the youngest of players or the most fervent fans of the film at best, and even then I doubt the fun will last long. Roll up, roll up? Roll on.