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Score: 60%
ESRB: Everyone
Publisher: Activision
Developer: Vicarious Visions
Media: Cartridge/1
Players: 1
Genre: Platformer (2D)

Graphics & Sound:

Based on their E3 showings, it seems like more and more companies are starting to embrace Nintendo's vision of the DS as their "third pillar". On the other hand, some still haven't seen the vision and still insist on GBA ports with forced, near-useless touch screen features. Madagascar is the latest in this crop of games and though it does offer a decent platformer, it does nothing to sell itself as a true DS game.

For a GBA game, Madagascar looks great; it hits all of the major points you'd want a movie-based, kid-focused game to hit. Characters are big and look just like their movie counterparts. But this isn’t a GBA game, it’s for the DS, a much more powerful system than the GBA, so it’s not much of a stretch to want, or really expect, a little more from the game.

Visually, Madagascar definitely goes for the Donkey Kong Country-styled 3D rendered characters rather than more traditional flat 2D sprites. The overall look is good and actually captures the movie's look rather well -- or, as well as can be on a handheld system. Still, the presentation is still good and should appeal to most gamers in the game's target range.

One thing the DS version adds to the game over the GBA version is better, and more varied, voice clips from the characters. Though the quality isn't the best I've heard in a handheld, they're easy to understand and sound like the movie characters, which should delight some kids. Background music fits the game's look, though it's nothing you'll find yourself humming in the shower.


Madagascar's core gameplay is rather simple; travel from point A to point B. However, it's what's between point A and B that makes the game what it is.

As you play through the movie's plot, you'll control the movie's four main characters: Alex the Lion, Melman the Giraffe, Gloria the Hippo and Marty the Zebra. Each character has their own abilities that will make navigating between points that much easier. Alex can double jump and reach high up areas, while Marty can crouch down and slip into tight spaces, and so on. For each of the foursome's strengths they also have weaknesses, so you'll have to constantly swap between the four characters in order to overcome obstacles and collect all of the tokens scattered in each level that unlock special levels.

The mechanic of swapping between animals lends a unique twist to the game's core platforming play-style. At the same time, this takes away from some of the freedom of puzzle solving, giving the game a "scripted" feel. When you come to an obstacle, there is always one specific way to solve it; it's just a matter of choosing the right character. There's no room for favorites here; you play as whoever the developers decided that you would play as at a specific point in time. As a result, this strips away part of the fun and unpredictability. Offering multiple ways around an obstacle and allowing more leeway in who you play as would have really helped make the game stronger than it turned out.

In addition to playing as the game's four main characters, you'll also spend some time playing the penguins, adding a completely new mechanic to the game -- stealth gameplay. While playing as the penguins, you'll have to slowly make your way through a level and try not to get caught by humans by hiding in boxes and running for cover when a human's back is turned. When matched up against the platforming that encompasses the rest of the game, the stealth areas add a little something extra to spark some life into it. The only downside is that after two or three levels where you're in a faster-paced, and slightly more careless mindset, its difficult to transition into a style that requires slow, careful movements.


The overall level design of Madagascar is very linear and not much of a challenge. Once you recognize the situations where each animal is useful, you can breeze through the game with little trouble. It may take a little longer for younger gamers to pick up on some of the more "refined" areas that require on-the-fly switches, but the games does such a good job of explaining things -- sometimes more than once -- that there's little left to figure out.

Instead, a few spotty technical issues add challenge to the game. Take, for example, Melman's sneeze attack, which requires that he be a certain distance away from an enemy to hurt them due to his long neck. Very little leeway is given for attacks, so if it's not dead on the money, it doesn't work and you usually end up taking a cheap hit. This wouldn't be so bad if there weren't areas where you have to use Melman to attack since other characters attack can't reach the target.

Game Mechanics:

Use of the DS's touch-screen is where Madagascar becomes a huge disappointment. The touch screen is used primarily as a way to switch between characters, something that can already be done with the shoulder buttons. In fact, I actually found myself using the shoulder buttons more than the touch screen since it feels a little more natural. The quicker character selection does come in handy during those aforementioned “on-the-fly” character change moments.

To their credit, the developers at least tried to throw in a few short mini-games that use the touch screen in better ways. One example is a dancing game where you have to match dance moves with drum hits, but these moments are so fleeting that it's hard to coax much enjoyment out of them.

In the end, Madagascar is an enjoyable platformer that most younger gamers should like. It’s not too hard, so they’ll spend more time playing than complaining about how hard it is. Meanwhile, it doesn’t offer enough challenge to warrant the purchase for anyone over age ten (unless they are really a fan of the movie). As was the case with last month’s Revenge of the Sith, the decision on whether to purchase the DS or GBA version is strictly up to you. If the ability to quickly select characters and a few short mini-games is worth the extra money, go for the DS version. If not, you’ll get the same experience with the GBA.

-Starscream, GameVortex Communications
AKA Ricky Tucker

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