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Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa
Score: 80%
ESRB: Everyone 10+
Publisher: Activision
Developer: Toys for Bob
Media: Blu-ray/1
Players: 1 - 4
Genre: Platformer/ Party

Graphics & Sound:
Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa is not what I expected when I first popped it into my PS3. History dictates that every holiday movie, or at least the ones aimed at kids, has some sort of movie tie-in game. Most of the time, the game is a platformer and I expected Madagascar 2 to follow suit. What's that line about a book and its cover, because was I ever wrong.

I was surprised at how well the game's visuals hold up. Getting back to that whole "history" thing, I'm pretty sure that I've been conditioned to expect the worse when it comes to movie tie-in visuals. This isn't the case with Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa. All of the characters are near pixel-perfect matches of the big screen versions. Most of the environments look great, though there are some areas that are noticeably barren and colorless. I've never been to Africa, so for all I know it could be a spot-on replication. At the same time, I've never seen a hypochondriac giraffe or talking lion, so I'm pretty sure that changes could have been made for the sake of style.

None of the voice actors from the movie reprise their roles for the game, but this isn't a bad thing, especially since it saves me from having to listen to David Schwimmer's nasally whine. The fill-in voices do a good enough job that most players probably won't be able to tell much of a difference between the movie and game. As far as the soundtrack is concerned, it fits the gameplay and has a nice catchy beat. I even found myself humming a few bars.

As I said earlier, Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa isn't what I imagined it would be. Although there are a few platformer-like elements, the game is mostly comprised of mini-games woven into the overall plot of the movie. The game begins right after the first movie ends with the zoo-crew trying to get off the island. This forms the basis of the first set of mini-games that involve the search for parts to build a plane. Once the plane is completed, however, the crew finds out that a plane built by lemurs and piloted by militant penguins probably isn't FAA approved and they find themselves trapped in Africa.

After the group's rough landing, the game follows the plot of movie, which is told through a series of cutscenes connected by short mini-games built around each character's special traits. All of Alex's sections, for instance, involve light platforming and object collection, while Marty uses his speed in racing segments. Games are rather short, but happen in quick enough succession that there usually isn't too much downtime.

Looking back, I'm tempted to rescind my assertion that Madagascar 2 is, as I first thought, a platformer, but the number and variety of play styles makes it hard to make a real decision. While it isn't good for my decision-making abilities, especially when it comes to filling out the genre box at the top of the page, it says a lot for the gameplay. I wouldn't go so far as to say that it is consistently entertaining; some games, like musical chairs, aren't that interesting to start and the level designs behind the platforming sections are bland. Still, there's enough here that the game is never repetitive or monotonous. At best it is just scattered, which should sit well with younger players who bore easily.

Each of the game sections are displayed on an overworld map. After unlocking areas, you can return to any game and replay it or pick up where you left off. You can also explore areas of the map to uncover previously undiscovered games. If the main game isn't enough, you can also enter the arcade and participate in a set of multiplayer games like Melman's Clinic, where you look at X-rays and cure various ailments or Volcano Rave, a DDR-style rhythm game. Generally, the mini-games are enjoyable, though only if you have someone to play with. None of them are something I could see myself playing more than once in a solo session, but if I had a few friends around and was a few years younger, I could definitely see myself squeezing a little more enjoyment out of the collection.

Gauging the overall difficulty level of a collection of mini-games is a tough task. Each of the featured mini-games targets a different skill set, so what I find difficult may not seem that difficult to others. What I can say, however, is that I never felt stuck in any one game. It may take a few tries to really get a handle on the basic mechanics, but even then it didn't take that many tries to get through the game. Still there are a few atypical problems that may cause minor issues for some players.

Chief among these issues is the lack of a strong structure holding everything together. The map does a good enough job, but it doesn't do that good a job of leading you to your next objective. There's nothing guiding you through the story which, at times, causes the experience to feel like an empty time-waster.

Game Mechanics:
Since Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa features such a wide-scope of gameplay styles, it is difficult to nail down one particular mechanical issue. Each controls well enough, though there are a few common issues that spring up. I had major issues with the camera; it is hard to pin down in some games and drove me nuts. Granted, poor cameras are one of my major gaming pet peeves, so it may not bother some players as much, though even if you aren't super sensitive, there are times where you'll have to fight it. Character movements are a problem as well. Each has their own particular scheme that is easy to learn, though there is a noticeable disconnect between the characters and the levels. Regardless of who you are playing as, characters lack a sense of grounding, causing them to "float" through levels.

One of the first rules of recruiting in any sport is to fill a need. This is also how I look at games like Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa. It has its issues and isn't something that everyone needs to, or should even want to play. However, that doesn't mean it is a bad game. It is simply going for an audience that a majority of the PS3's other titles don't address, so it is hard to fault the underlying design. Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa isn't for everyone, but is an enjoyable experience that should keep younger players entertained.

-Starscream, GameVortex Communications
AKA Ricky Tucker

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