Madagascar 3: The Video Game
Wii | D3Publisher / Monkey Bar Games | 1-2 Players (co-operative play) | Out Now (North America)
The adventure stars the fearsome four animals who have braved their way through jungle-infested territories (among other localized threats) to now find themselves joining up with a team of circus animals, making their way across such destinations as France and Pisa to find their way back home to New York City. Just as a stage director recognizes the limitations and strengths of each member of the supporting cast, players must use the combined abilities of Marty, Gloria, Alex, and Melman to navigate their way through streets and onto higher ground when the need calls for it. To outline some of these unique abilities now, Gloria is the only one who can explore bodies of water; Marty can use cannons and ramps to dash across long distances and heights; Alex can jump on top of and swing from poles; and both Melman and Gloria can cross tightropes.
How all these actions are all performed varies depending on the circumstance, but generally-speaking, the B Button serves as your main action button. Some interaction points, like in the case of crates and cranes, will have you then pressing the A Button to stop a needle on a strength test meter. Gold sparkles are used to indicate when you can interact with a part of the environment, but these will appear in blue if the character you're currently controlling cannot perform the action. To switch between the two characters, all you have to do is press the 1 or 2 Button. As you go about your affairs, you must contend with Animal Control units who are out to get you. Early on, the game indicates that you can press the C Button to trigger a disguise that will help you avoid detection. Don't go expecting them to whip out a circus costume or some sort of prop; apparently, wearing sunglasses is an infinitely superior method of blending in. Hardly what I'd call a disguise if you ask me, especially when this never works. Even better, you can jump on stone podiums in the area and pretend you're a statute, and even though they may be two feet away from you, it will instantly send them into a state of confusion.
At any rate, the control systems implemented here are fairly user-friendly, though they are not without nuances. For example, when using Gloria, players are unable to just jump out of the water whenever they want, but must get themselves over to a ramp to get back to land. Additionally, regardless of what character you use, movement in this game is on the slow side -- a decision I was unable to see valid reasons for. You'd think that when you're being told to run away from Animal Control, you'd be able to pick up the pace. But even in these situations, you're confined to a slow pace. So while the controls are usually fine, they lack solid definition in some respects.
In a few words, your experience with this game will amount to completing task after task. In each world you visit, Skipper and/or King Julien will always present missions one at a time. In amongst these fetch quests are shorter activities or mini-games that have you gathering materials for the upcoming circus performance that you will eventually by putting on in the location you're in. How you go about accomplishing this will often involve chase sequences where you're running from Captain DuBois, or races against your partner to put up posters or collect the most supplies. After going through this process of mission-mission-activity for a while, you will then engage in a publicity stunt to generate interest in the arrival of the traveling circus. Essentially teaching kids to be event planners, this will first involve decorating stations with the supplies you've collected beforehand, followed by a bit of platforming to make their way over to a higher point for the lowering of a skyscraper banner. Once that's all good to go, you'll be off to do the actual performance.
Starting out with appetizers, there are two mini-games that always precede the acts themselves. These will involve selling tickets and distributing snacks by way of entering button combinations, with more button inputs being added as you go along. The main attractions generally boil down to short obstacle courses. Marty and Stefano will fly through hoops in their cannonball act; Vitaly will also jump through his own set of hoops with King Julien on drums; Gloria and Melman will follow up with a straight tightrope routine; and Alex and Gia close off the show with a trapeze act. As you can see, it's not terribly deep, but that's okay since almost all the activities serve a purpose and aside from one or two of these dragging on, the overall final performance in each world can be fun for kids to work together on. However, where this whole setup goes wrong is the fact that it turns into cycle with little-to-no changes to be had. Sad to say, when the finer details are exposed to the player to be the repetitious bore that they are, the whole system is revealed to be in dire need of a cleanse. It would be fitting, then, to discuss those finer components now.
As you make your way to the main event by the progressive accomplishing of tasks, you'll notice the game makes no mistake of incorporating elements into its level design so as to give the circus theme relevance across the board. How players go about completing missions in this game often focuses on co-operation where, as was mentioned, each character uses their unique skills to cross gaps and solve small puzzles. Kids will enjoy jumping on rooftops and heading into back streets with upper entrances as examples of an exploration focus. However, it's the process of getting to these points that is not likable, even off-putting.
First and foremost, the game has a way of not making things clear for players, and this is despite the fact that there is a radar in the corner of the screen that can be referred to at any time. Admittedly, the map can be a bit hard for younger players to read, in which case the presence of floating balloon animals to indicate what characters are needed and where can only be a good thing. That would normally be true, but since even these need to be first found before players can react accordingly, the root problem still remains. With that said, perhaps some better advice would be to follow the sparkles whenever there's a lack of direction? Well, no, that's not entirely true either. You see, even if these are all followed, younger players will still find themselves at a loss for how to get to the item they need to retrieve. The map may indicate where the item is, but if it's behind a gate locked from the inside or across a significant gap where not even a double jump can assist, then you obviously need to figure something out.
Under such circumstances, players will naturally want to take a look around the area for clues on how to get where they need to go, but therein lies a distinction worth making clear. This isn't the kind of searching where players are curious to see what surprises await them. More accurately, the thinking process is, "We're lost, so we might as well keep going straight until we see someone." This sort of exploration breeds boredom, and the design is most definitely to blame for this.
Having to find the right ledge or car to jump on just to make progress is more tedious than it sounds, and it is for this reason that it is absolutely discouraging when players accidentally lose progress after having struggled to find the right area they needed to go to. If that path you traveled down had interaction points that were activated, you can no longer rely on the sight of sparkles to guide you as you are basically sent back to square one trying to remember where it is you had to go. There were missions where I found myself having to figure out a different strategy than the one the game was leading me towards because the design was not serving a clear, functional purpose as far as accomplishing the assigned task. What this does within the co-operative structure is it tends to break up the unity players may have going on as a team, thinking that maybe they'll find something of interest if they split up. Leading players to find things by mere fluke, it is for all these reasons that I found the game's design to be tiresome.
Adding to the issues revolving around the methodology of completing missions are the mission objectives themselves. As each mission often contains two objectives to complete, it's important to note that what I'm about to specifically point out relates less to the principle goals of retrieving a single item (say, a garden hose) and more to the secondary goals of collecting multiple items scattered about in each stage. Then, too, you have character-specific souvenir items also to be found and collected. The game has a habit of sending you on tasks that feel like they're designed for the sole purpose of distracting the player so that things in the background -- prep work pertaining to the main circus performance -- can get done in your absence. You'll be collecting everything from food items to footwear, all for what purpose? To keep Skipper and King Julien happy. And these guys have a long list of errands to get through, often with the same items appearing on the overall checklist as you move to new locations, meaning that there are no attempts to disguise the large volume of repetition that enters into the field. The redundancy is one thing, but both the context and its associated irony really drive home this game's lack of variety, as well as the extended feeling of tedium.
The characters in the game constantly make comments that are a perfect reflection of how this aspect to the game's design is notably haphazard; comments like "This stuff is everywhere!", "How much of this stuff do we need?" and "Did a lumber yard explode around here?" They will tell you all about as if the developers want you to build a case against the game. In-game characters bursting out and directly attacking the game's setup? What more perfect affirmation could one need!
When you look at the overall difficulty of the experience, there's even more irony to be seen within the structure. The game fails to understand the importance of achieving balance with collectibles and bonus tasks, and instead gives you the whole nine yards as far as making way more collectibles available than is needed. I can understand wanting to make it easier for young players to progress through the experience, but this is not the solution. Absolutely taking all the fun out of it, players are left with an imbalanced process of completing missions where, ironically, you can't possibly miss these secondary items, but you can easily overlook the path necessary to achieve the principle objective. Between slightly poor attempts to vary the pitch and missions that are sorely lacking in fun factor and direction, not even the circus acts can add the life that the game really needed to be a success.
In terms of presentation, Madagascar 3: The Video Game has pretty decent graphics with not a whole lot to complain about visually, with the exception of some really plain-looking textures. The camera in this game, while not problematic, does present issues now and again, which can interfere with your ability to judge where you are, the distance of a spot you'd like to jump to, and so forth. Also worth noting is that I encountered a handful of glitches in my experience with the game, including instances where I got stuck in between platforms or on areas of a roof. At one point, I even seemed to be walking on an invisible fence. I did like that the game's voice acting actually served a purpose beyond telling a story or offering small talk that relates to how the characters interact with one another. During gameplay, voice clips will offer a heads-up that you need your teammate to get to the next point in the path, which is something I'm sure younger players will appreciate. Wish I could say the same about the actual experience.
Players can take comfort in knowing that after completing the Story Mode, every inch of it will be made available for continued enjoyment in Mission Mode and Circus Mode. Not only are you given the ability to replay those thrilling missions you fell in love with (was it the fifth time that did the trick?), but a Free Roam is also provided where you can have all characters present in an environment simultaneously. Some party favor this turns out to be, though. You have to control each character one at a time. Although there are things for young players to amuse themselves with after the story, there's no getting around the dull nature of everything therein.
Even in a family sitting, I can't say Madagascar 3: The Video Game has much to offer players besides boredom. With a strict adherence to a rinse and repeat model that isn't even fun to begin with, there are significant flaws to be had with the game's design, pace, direction, and overall structure that trim the worth of this experience down to its knees. Young or old, this is a performance you should decline an invitation to.
15/30 - Below Average
Gameplay 4/10 - Decent co-op aspects, tiresome design, problems with direction and exploration, issues with the structure, oversights in multiple areas
Presentation 6/10 - Graphics are pretty decent with one or two exceptions, good use of voice clips to lead players along, camera annoyances, glitches
Enjoyment 2/5 - Sorely lacking in fun factor, structure is to blame for the experience being so very boring, design takes all the fun out of exploring
Extra Content 3/5 - Can get through it in a few hours, some activities to get involved in after Story Mode, repetition turns you off to the idea of continuing
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