Madagascar 3: The Video Game Review (PS3)

Kids’ games are always tough to review, as getting in the mindset of the demographic that a film/game like Madagascar 3: Europe’s Most Wanted is aimed at is notoriously... well, impossible. Just look at all the CGI box office flops for evidence of that.

This is the third big screen instalment, but something around the eighth game to carry the anthropomorphic franchise, and that raises problems all of its own. This official game-of-the-movie casts the regular characters Alex (lion), Gloria (hippo), Marty (zebra) and Melman (giraffe) as trying to work their way back home from Europe in a travelling circus, and it walks alongside the film plot reasonably closely by requiring you to not only perform in the circus show, but to ensure it’s a commercial success.

Two player action is definitely where the game’s sparse charms are found.

Effectively this is achieved through a collection of mini-games, but they’re not as dislocated as we often find with similar quick-play compendiums. It begins by getting out onto the streets promoting the upcoming show and selling tickets, and includes quick vignettes as you try to get the waiting crowd to empty its pockets by purchasing snacks. As expected with a collection of mini-games, there are plenty of quick time events, but they’re actually camouflaged rather nicely here, and while they’re not massively challenging, they’re certainly not irritating either – the real danger of co-ordinated button pressing gameplay.

There's also quite a lot of exploration and item collection in between, that often feels to be padding out the game to up its play time, which is rather cheap. But at least it tallies with the plot, having you collect supplies for the circus and so forth, with different tasks requiring different characters so you get used to their controls and abilities.

Then it’s on to the big event, as the main characters each perform their own circus-top specialty. These games are more of a dexterous challenge, as you attempt to jump through flaming hoops, fly the trapeze, bounce on the trampoline to collect balloons and perform other tasks related to the show. It’s all reasonably entertaining, and the pervading sense of vertigo that most games are imbued with keep the excitement levels elevated. Fail to complete your show, or fail to make it entertaining, and you’re pushed to repeat it until you eventually get it right. Okay, so it probably won’t take you – or a half experienced child – many goes to get through any of them, but the fact that you can progress through sheer repetition dulls Madagascar 3’s edge somewhat.

That edge is recovered by drafting in another player, however. Indeed, it’s true to say that this should be considered a two-player game only. The entertainment level shoots through the roof when you’re joined by a real player (rather than the CPU) on your co-operative big ton adventures, to the point at which you'll likely never bother to play it alone again. Is this a plus point or a criticism, though? Hard to say, though actively invoking the co-operation of siblings, friends and parents is no bad thing in a kids’ game. So long as this essential second player is available.

Exploration and missions (including the penguins, thankfully) fill out the action between mini-games.

Visually we’re looking at a game that mimics the cartoony 3D style of the big screen inspiration, and that’s about all anyone can want or hope for. The animation, voice acting and cut scenes are all fully up to scratch, and while there are obviously far better looking games out there, reproducing the high-res CGI of the cinema in an interactive environment is undoubtedly thrilling for young fans of the franchise, and is very much in Madagascar 3’s favour.

Personally I find it appealing that the big-name stars who lend their throats to the film aren’t really present here, as it stops me from getting distracted as I try to put a face to the voice. The game actors do an equal – if not better – job of the Hollywood A-list anyway, and add some believable dialogue, shouts, screams and jokes to the action that keep it bobbing along at a decent pace. The game is everything it probably should be, but it’s hard to find anything about it that really stands out.

Anyone who’s an avid collector of this prolific gaming series will probably buy it anyway, but they’re also the ones who are likely to be the most disappointed. With nothing especially noteworthy, any gameplay has probably been seen before using exactly the same characters. Total newcomers, however, have some quirky gameplay mechanics to look forward to, and a great introduction to the benefits of co-op play.

Hard not to enjoy shooting zebras out of cannons, innit?

It’s generally considered reasonable to judge a film like this on its ability to appeal to both kids and their parents alike, hence the ongoing success of franchises like Shrek. But is that a notion that translates to gaming? Should parents be able to find as much to enjoy here as their young ‘uns? Or should they just be satisfied at the anaemic levels of violence being used to keep the kids entertained?

Honestly, if I was 12 years old, I’d probably play this game for about an hour. But then again, at that age my favourite film was the newly-released Day of the Dead. If you and your offspring favour the lighter side of entertainment, it would be fair to add a point to the score. If you’re likely to be playing without kids, you’re not going to be hooked by this loosely connected mini-game compendium and should deduct a point.

Top Gaming Moment: Alex the lion's platform hopping through an obstacle course.

Platform Played: Xbox 360

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