IGN Review of Madagascar Kartz
By now, teasing a company for relegating a popular license into the videogame cliche of a kart racer is cliche itself, so let's not take Madagascar Kartz down that road. Instead, let's look at the game for what it is: a quick kart racing cash-in that's, unsurprisingly, not as good as Mario Kart. There are some good elements here and it's definitely not a poor effort, but the terrible balance of weapons and their effect on the race nearly wreck an otherwise enjoyable – if formulaic – drive through memorable locations in the Dreamworks' franchise.
Madagascar Kartz is exactly what it sounds like: a Mario Kart clone with the characters from the two Madagascar films. The last movie hit theaters and DVD more than a year ago so, other than the Penguins cartoon running on Nickelodeon now, there's no real timely tie in here, but Activision's extending its Dreamworks contract and it's at least keeping the characters fresh in the minds of youngsters.
The character line-up's a little weak since Madagascar didn't have a huge arsenal of characters. You get the key players: Alex the lion, Marty the zebra, Melman the giraffe, Gloria the hippo…you get the penguins and the chimps, and then the irritatingly vain King Julien. But to pump up the roster, there are other Dreamworks characters including Shrek the ogre and Bob from Monsters vs. Aliens, and while that would seem like a spoiler reveal, they're driving around the courses right from the start (and their silhouettes are completely obvious in the "Choose your character" screen).
The game's design doesn't really try to do anything different or unique. Instead, it plays it safe by offering a "Status Quo" kart racer that lifts elements from previous successful character kart racers like Mario Kart and Crash Team Racing. Each character has his or her own strengths and weaknesses, from speed to acceleration, so just because you like Melvin doesn't mean he's a great character to use as a starting driver. Powersliding through turns (holding the shoulder button while steering hard around a corner) will build up your turbo boost, as will successfully landing tricks while airborne (hitting one of four directions on your D-pad).
Negotiating the turns successfully is only about 50 percent of the game – the rest is in picking up the powerups and using them to slow down your opponent, but it's here where a solid effort starts to tank into the "obnoxiously irritating" department. There are very, very few power-ups that alert the victim when it is incoming, so there's absolutely no way to avoid an incoming shot. They just happen. You'll be driving along when suddenly, "WHAM!!!" you're taken out by a stray projectile, or infected with an obnoxious dance jig that sends your car steering out of your power. It's entirely unfair because there's no heads-up when an attack is incoming, and there's really no defense against power-ups other than a specific power-up that shields you from the projectiles. Even then you'll never know when to use it so you'll just have to activate it arbitrarily.
If the weapon balance was leaning more in favor of the victim I think there'd be little to complain about in Madagascar Kartz. It's nothing special, of course, but for systems that lack in good kart racers like the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 it wouldn't have been a bad choice. But those weapons are damn infuriating and almost kill the enjoyment. Almost.
The designers throw in a few interesting elements to keep players coming back, like the ability to unlock artwork by collecting mangoes and an achievement system that even carries over to the Wii edition (even if it's not connected to a universal account).
The one big problem: there's no online component. At all. This is a multi-console game for the 360, PS3, and Wii, but it feels like the design worked its way up from the Wii. All versions look and sound perfectly adequate for the platform they've been made for – the SD 3D engine on Wii is pretty solid, as is the HD visuals on the 360, and for multiplayer the split-screen works across all three console editions without a hurt framerate. But since the Wii doesn't really have a huge online audience it's no surprise that a budget title like Madagascar Kartz left that out of the final product – and that decision apparently affects the other editions. No online for PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360, and that feature is certainly missed on those consoles.
The game for Wii comes in two flavors: one with a green steering wheel and one without. If you already have a Mario Kart steering wheel or two you're all set, and even if you don't the game controls just fine without it. If you don't want to play with Remote tilt, then you can still take advantage of analog stick steering with the nunchuk, but there's no support for the Classic Controller or GameCube controllers for the purist kart racers. The bundled wheel, believe it or not, feels a little better than the wheel bundled with Mario Kart Wii, and that's attributed to a spring loaded B trigger button to provide a little more feedback to the powersliding. I wouldn't be surprised if the wheel bundled with this game is the "new" wheel standard, but without any sort of branding on the controller, it's hard to tell if it's a Nintendo design or a third-party creation that looks near identical to the first-party one.
The Nintendo DS version of Madagascar Kartz is done by a completely different team, but it's a very similar design. As far as Mario Kart clones go this one, too, isn't terrible but it's not quite as tight as the console rendition. You still earn turbo power for powersliding around corners, but the lack of buttons on the DS in comparison to the console games means that the trick system (not exactly a very elaborate feature to begin with) had to be left out of the portable edition. Multiplayer still offers four racers through wireless connectivity, but you'll need a copy of the game per system in the network, which severely limits the competitive feature on the Nintendo DS.
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