This licensed game does a fine job of mimicking the look of the film, but doesn’t know how to balance fun with tedious tasks.
Since the early nineties, there have been a number of classic video games based on the animated works of the Walt Disney Company. Games like Castle of Illusion Starring Mickey Mouse (Genesis), DuckTales (NES), and Kingdom Hearts (Playstation 2) are fondly remembered not only for their great gameplay, but also for staying true to their source material. While there have been some enjoyable games based on the films of Dreamworks Animation, there has yet to be a great game among them. Unfortunately, Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa does not break this trend, and will be quickly forgotten by the gaming masses if it hasn’t been already.
The story very loosely follows the film’s plot. The anthropomorphic animals crash land their airplane in Africa and end up having some crazy encounters with tourists and the local wildlife. Most levels begin with a cut scene that uses a mix of the in-game engine and stills from the movie. Every line of dialogue is voice acted, and once in a while the characters say something that is humorous.
At its core, Escape 2 Africa is your standard 3D platform game. Unlike the free-roaming worlds of Super Mario 64 DS, Madagascar's levels are very linear and are over once a character has walked forward a short distance. Each of the platform levels are designed to be completed by one of the film's stars including Alex the lion, Marty the zebra, Melman the giraffe, and Gloria the hippo. You maneuver each character with the D-pad and jump by hitting the B button. The Y button triggers a basic attack, such as a punch or a head butt, while the A button performs a charge attack. There are also unique special moves for each character; for example, Marty has a triple jump, while Melman has a flutter jump much like Yoshi.
The touch screen controls are lackluster. Each level is filled with optional mini-games that utilize the touch screen. Some of the games are as simple as clicking on a set of arrows, while others require you to drag shapes and match them. Players can also use the stylus to flick fruit at enemies. This works okay, but it ends up being easier to throw projectiles with a simple button press. The DS microphone can also be used to initiate Marty's spin attack, which often results in your character unintentionally spinning if there is any background noise (such as having the radio on). Overall, these mini-games are boring because they lack challenge and variety.
On the other hand, the game does a great job of ramping up the difficulty as you progress through its sixteen platform stages. Your jumping skills will need to be top notch if you don't want to fall into a river in the later levels. On the other hand, the game's enemies, which consist mostly of tourists, hawks, and lizards, never become a problem to defeat even when playing on the hardest difficulty. Being easy to defeat doesn't make the frequent swarms of wacky tourists any less annoying. Progress in the game is constantly hampered by wooden fences that magically appear in front of you, accompanied by a bunch of new bad guys. Having to repeatedly defeat brainless enemies is very unsatisfying.
In addition to the regular 3D platform levels, there are a small number of side-scrolling stages that star the film’s comical penguins. These levels are wonderfully reminiscent of Blizzard’s The Lost Vikings series. To succeed in these levels, players must switch between the four penguins, and use each one's unique ability at the appropriate time. These levels are very cerebral, and it is rewarding to get the penguins to their destination. It is sad that there are only four of these levels because they are ultimately the best part of the game.
The visuals in Madagascar hold up pretty well. All the characters look like their big screen counterparts, and there are some nice graphical flourishes like the occasional waterfall and ash emanating from lava. While the levels are successfully differentiated by their graphics, you’ll get a strong feeling of déjà vu as you play the game. The level layouts are extremely similar to one another, usually consisting of often-repeated platform and brawler sections.
Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa is filled with a lot of unnecessary elements - like touch screen mini-games - that attempt to extend the life of a short game. It is perfectly suited to children who enjoyed the movies and can overlook the game's more glaring flaws. Most everyone else should skip what is simply a mediocre platformer that brings nothing new to the genre.