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Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa

Score: 83%
ESRB: Everyone
Publisher: Activision
Developer: Toys for Bob
Media: CD/1
Players: 1 - 4
Genre: Action/ Platformer/ Platformer (3D)

Graphics & Sound:

Humor that appeals to both parents and their children is hard to manufacture. Licensed games at least have the benefit of source material, on which their success or failure usually rests. If the source is good, the game has the chance to be good. Games rarely surpass their source and unfortunately for gamers, usually fail to meet the bar. A perfect example of the latter is how poorly matched the Wall-E games were to their most excellent movie... On the opposite end of the spectrum is the example of the recent Tak and the Guardians of Gross game for Wii, which arguably surpassed its source...

We'd love to say that Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa for Wii is every bit up to the measure of quality set by its big-screen counterpart, but we're actually in the habit of shooting you straight. There are many good things about the game, and it will no doubt be a success with the kiddies this holiday season. The list of frustrations is also quite long, making this a game of (mostly) missed opportunities. There isn't nearly enough footage from the movie, but a few clips are included and can be unlocked by purchasing them for endless viewing in the game's "Duty Free Shop." Some music can also be unlocked and played as a rhythm game in Africa Arcade Mode. When the movie had some great signature songs, it was strange to not see any of them included in this portion of the game. There are some nice tunes available, but nothing as catchy as "I Like To Move It." Perhaps licensing issues resulted in the watered-down soundtrack, but a hole is a hole...

The visual backdrop to Madagascar 2 is excellent and the characters definitely come to life through their dialogue. As best we could tell, voice actors from the movie did not make it to the game, but their impersonators are very convincing. Cut scenes are done using the in-game graphics, which leave a bit to be desired but are passable. It sometimes appears that the designers spent more time on the backgrounds in each level than in the characters, at least from a detail and texture perspective. Africa comes to life, with lots of different areas to explore and a variety of characters from the movie. There are some things introduced that were never part of the movie, mostly for the purpose of building compelling Platformer gameplay. The take-away kids will have is that there is a lot of game here, and that's a great thing. While not exactly a free-roaming adventure in a huge world, Madagascar 2 goes to very creative lengths to convince players that they are traversing wide-open territory and exploring the world.


Even the title of Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa pretty much provides a spoiler, so we won't say a lot about the storyline of the game, for fear of ruining anything for those that haven't seen the movie. The basic plot of the game and movie is much like what happened the first time: The animals hit the road expecting to end up in one place and instead end up somewhere else. For a hint as to where they end up, just glance back at that title... Each of the characters largely play to the roles established for them in the first movie, but with some new and interesting twists. The game capitalizes on each of these and introduces its own little twists in order to create some fun gameplay. Obviously there isn't a lot of platforming action in the movie, but each chapter of the game plays nicely on the set pieces created for the film.

The game begins in Madagascar as the animals prepare for their journey. This chapter of Story Mode is really a big training level. You'll take control of a specific animal and have to complete some objective. Each character has a special ability, such as Alex's roar, Gloria's butt-bounce, and Melman's head-pound. It sounds like I'm describing a combat-driven platforming title, but Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa actually leans more toward solving puzzles and gathering items. In many levels it almost becomes a mini-game collection, but avoids anything quite so simple. The best way to describe the Story Mode is to say that the focus really is on story development, following the events of the movie. Unlocking each level allows you to replay it later, although the Africa Arcade mentioned earlier isn't exactly what you might expect. Many games offer an "arcade" that is really just the same levels available for replay. Here we have a series of mini-games that are often a bit less "mini" than those found in other collections. The rhythm game, Volcano Rave, involves moving controllers along with the beats. There is a modified chess game that plays more like a turn-based strategy title, including special rules that dictate how each of the characters from the movie move and engage opponents. Mini Golf, Soccer, and several other challenges offered during the Story Mode are included. Either for solo play or as a multiplayer experience, Africa Arcade Mode is excellent. Sad to say that this mode alone is more than most licensed games have offered in the past as the entire experience. Kudos for the extra content, guys!

Multiplayer is well implemented for up to four players and the extras available for purchase in the Duty Free Shop add quite a bit of content to the core experience. The issues we had while playing included a hazy save system that doesn't make it incredibly clear when progress is being saved. Restarting a game can be a bit confusing if you were browsing the Duty Free Shop, since the default view on the map is to return you to the training level. The first time this happened, it appeared that all the progress made during the last play session had been lost. Story levels can be replayed to gather additional items, but once you complete the main story, you'll spend most of your time in Africa Arcade. There's nothing broken, but it does mean that younger gamers will need help from parents or older siblings to navigate the game's menus. As a bonus, there is some promo footage of Activision's Kung-Fu Panda: Legendary Warriors game accessible from the top menu.


The issues with 3D platformers are so well known at this point, we might as well accept it as part of the territory. Like we all know that eating white frosted donuts means we'll end up with powder on our lap or shirt or both... We still flock to white frosted donuts because they're tasty, and we still play 3D platformers with the hope that they'll be fun. Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa offers some good tools for overcoming a bad camera. You can swivel the camera anywhere in the game to better line up jumps that would otherwise be frustrating. An auto-target system for moments when you have to fend off bad guys also helps adjust the difficulty appropriately to younger players. Nobody over the age of eight or ten is going to get much out of Madagascar 2 for Wii, as it is just too easy. The Africa Arcade games are good fun and could satisfy cravings for a lightweight party game, in a pinch. With 10 games to select, there are more challenging offerings like Melman's Clinic that also appear in the game, and simple treasure-hunt games like Juicy Juicy. Within the Africa Arcade you can select difficulty levels to allow for an easier experience if you have a younger player in the house. It sounds cliche to say there's "something for everybody," but that ends up being exactly how Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa feels. This comes with the obvious trade-offs in terms of the overall level of difficulty being trimmed down, but it isn't like this was going to appeal to hardcore gamers anyway...

Game Mechanics:

Motion controls are used with prudent restraint, and there are alternate button controls for any action that does use motion. This doesn't mean the motion controls are bad, by any means. In Volcano Rave, for example, you hold the Wii-mote and Nunchuk in a vertical position and rotate them like hands on a clock. The sensitivity here seemed to be right on, and the only catch is that success relies on holding each controller in the correct hand. If you're a southpaw like me and hold the Wii-mote in the left hand, you'll need to swap it out before playing Volcano Rave. It would have been nice to see an option in the game to switch control schemes rather than force players to make the switch... Each character features a slightly different set of controls and special moves, but most of the main actions are keyed to (A) or (B) buttons, keeping things simple. Alex the Lion can roar or throw objects, while Marty the Zebra either kicks or uses carrot-powered boost powers while running. Melman's moves are almost entirely about floating on air or spinning to gain altitude after jumping. His challenges typically involve various acrobatics, which is hilarious considering his timid persona and gangly appearance. Gloria the Hippo gets to do some swimming and diving, and does a great butt-bounce. There are a few other playable characters, but Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa is smart about using other characters in the game as the basis for solving puzzles. Other than bragging points, there aren't great rewards to be had throughout the game in the form of online leaderboards, or any online integration. Especially for the Africa Arcade modes, why don't we get play online, at least with friends? The absence of online play in games for the Wii is grating at this point, considering how many developers have successfully plugged this into other games.

Parents could do a lot worse than purchase Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa for their little darlings this holiday season. It remains largely true to the movie, but doesn't mirror every scene or do goofy gameplay things to match events in the film. Kids will have no trouble following along after seeing the movie and they'll mostly enjoy playing as their favorite misguided animal team, through Story Mode. Younger gamers won't make it through some of the more twitchy platforming segments, but everyone will be able to sink teeth in Africa Arcade. If you happen to have four kids that love the movie and four controllers, a copy of this game will make them very happy. Madagascar 2 is far from perfect, and the lack of online play is ridiculous, considering the content. All the same, we're happy to see licensed games that make the cut, which this outing most certainly does.

-Fridtjof, GameVortex Communications
AKA Matt Paddock

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