Like many of the past CG animated film-to-videogame ports, Madagascar
on the Nintendo DS and Game Boy Advance have been handled by Vicarious Visions, a studio that's had its hand in other Pixar and Dreamworks' GBA recreations such as Shrek 2
, Shark Tale
, and Finding Nemo
. The team's latest is clearly a "best of" style of game design, taking all the handheld technology and level ideas that the studio created in the past, and built a new game around the film's unique characters. Madagascar
doesn't do anything extraordinary, but it's at least fun, challenging, and certainly appealing to those who've been enjoying the movie.
This game features five different playable characters, and in several levels players will have to switch between the core four: Alex the lion, Marty the zebra, Melman the giraffe, and Gloria the voluptuous hippo. Each of the characters has his or her own strengths and capabilities, like Alex's double jump or Marty's ability to crawl in tight spaces. Most levels require this constant swapping of characters in order to make it through as unscathed as possible. A batch of levels pull from Vicarious Visions' past Bruce Lee and Wolverine's Revenge GBA games in stealth missions that utilize a slick camera "pull-back" effect, but these only focus on a single character. Along with the cool scale-back special effects, the game features a stunning amount of animation frames that really fit the Dreamworks' style, and shows just how much the development studio's visual team has advanced on the handheld platform.
The character swapping mechanic is certainly not a usual element of platforming, and it definitely makes Madagascar feel like its own style of game. But eventually it feels a little forced since some characters have clearly been artificially limited in order to give other characters specific playtime. Take, for example, Alex. He has an offensive "roar" attack that only covers an area above him. This has clearly been done to force players to switch to Marty for specific enemies, since his attack is much more frontal. Well into the game Alex earns his frontal attack ability, but not before some obnoxious enemy encounters because players weren't quick enough to switch over, or simply thought that Alex could attack an enemy that he just couldn't reach.
But the main problem is a familiar one to anyone who's owned a Nintendo DS since the beginning: both handheld versions are virtually identical. Because the DS system shares hardware resources with its older handheld sibling, publishers use that opportunity to commission two versions of the same game out of their development teams. It's rather obvious right from the start that Madagascar was made with the GBA's abilities and limitations in mind, and this is why the DS version feels like a GBA game instead of something special.
That's not to say the development studio didn't take advantage of the unique DS platform. Along with the extra screen real estate thanks to the added resolution of the larger LCD displays, there are a handful of levels that are exclusive to the dual-screen portable. Nothing of the batch is all that remarkable; most of them are simple mini-challenges that put the touch-screen to use in different ways, like tapping the screen to attack enemies in a specific direction, or sliding the finger around to move a penguin on a floating iceberg. There's also a basic single cartridge two-player competition that isn't all that fun to begin with. Of course, there's the added function of changing characters on the fly in the main adventure by touching their lower-screen representative.
The touch-screen character selection of the Nintendo DS version is completely unnecessary due to the system's use of the shoulder buttons to do the same thing, but the "tap the specific character" mechanic does streamline the task a bit better than cycling through the available creatures. It's something that comes in handy when making those obnoxious "leaps of faith" into unseen territory, since it's most safe to switch to the hippo, specifically, since she's the only character that can survive a plummet into any puddle of water.
The somewhat frequent blind jumps are the only real hard criticism on this solid platformer, though most of the game is very by-the-book level design that focuses more on collecting and exploration over Super Mario-style platform-leaping techniques. The designers extend the game design beyond its linear presentation by putting tokens in out of reach areas, that are only obtainable by acquiring an ability later in the game. It's a little annoying to have to return to a previously completed level in order to grab uncollected booty as well as recollect previously acquired icons, but at the very least this game mechanic encourages a lot of level exploration, and its this action that rewards players with a batch of extra challenges.
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