Some may say that this is an unfair contest; pitting a movie title for a children’s game against the likes of the triple-A elite is like introducing a rabbit to a jackal, in a steel cage. The expectation for Dreamwork’s Madagascar 3: Europe’s Most Wanted is for it to at least do well in the box office and sell some copies of the game. That’s what a franchise does and there’s no harm in expanding an already successful product vehicle. But look at it this way. If you want to give your film franchise a lasting legacy, at least make the game somewhat enjoyable to play. Madagascar 3: Europe’s Most Wanted however, is likely to make young children cry in anguish.
Let’s begin with a concept that died along with the 90s. The game pretty much spoils the film in terms of the over-arching plot, but somehow makes the whole thing infinitely duller as a result. The animals are still trying to get back to New York zoo, when they end up joining the circus. Together with a travelling troupe, they visit major cities in Europe, setting up performances while avoiding DuBois and her Animal Control lackeys. Occasionally you will hear banter between playable characters that hints at story-telling, but that’s all you get.
Each of the four cities you will visit is split into many tedious fetch-quests, occasional chase sequences and circus performances. Skipper (one of the penguins) will basically tell you to collect some pointless object on the map and bring it back to him for the most part, but will also ask you to pick up wood scattered around. He will also make you to pick up “supplies” (read: balloons) left lying around town. King Julien, not willing to let his vassals do just the dirty work of the penguins, will also pretty much force you to collect more pointless themed objects. As if that wasn’t enough, each character has 195 collectable objects scattered throughout the city and Mort, another one of the lemurs, will also be hiding in one area of each city. If I wanted outdated MMORPG mechanics to be the basis of an entire game, I’d have brain surgery with a rusty spoon first.
Wandering around the cities is a lesson in patience… and how to lose it within five minutes! Characters move slower than a tortoise with superglue on its feet and the clipping between jumps is just horrible. Many times I would think I’ve either made or missed a jump, only for the exact opposite to happen. Standing still could lead you to your character walking off the edge, as they seem to be on auto-pilot (even the characters don’t want to live!). Then there’s the “stealth” mechanic, otherwise known as put on some glasses and nobody will recognise you. Clark Kent could get away with that because he is human-looking and therefore looks different with glasses. The same can’t be said for Alex (a lion), Marty (a zebra), Melman (a giraffe), nor Gloria (a hippototamus); so to have the civilians not recognise them as animals when they’re just wearing glasses is just plain ridiculous. Any child would see through that as flimsy. When you are being chased by the Animal Control lackeys, all you need to do is get to higher ground, or run far enough for them to lose sight of you. This may be the only thing that makes the story mode feel like a fully-fledged game, but it quickly becomes tedious.
When you are not mentally striking your head with a hammer, the game offers mini-games in the form of circus performances. Each one consists of the same six events: Ticket Selling, Snack Vending, Animal Cannonball, Ring-Jumping, Tight-rope Walking, and Trapeze. All of these happen in that order and for each circus the difficulty ramps slowly. Some may add more buttons, but that’s as far as the variation goes. Thankfully these are over within minutes. You will also occasionally have a chase segment, which reminds me of a crude take on the chase levels in Crash Bandicoot, only a heavily butchered version.
Perhaps the game itself will cater for the little ones in terms of the presentation? Of course not. The characters look crude in comparison to the movie counterparts, with the overall visual presentation akin to graphics from games that shovel-ware developers of the time developed for the PlayStation 2. Cities look lifeless and experience parts where locations are cloned from map to map. The civilians also look the same, despite geographical differences. As for sound, the music constantly loops and the voice-acting is beyond terrible. The final nail in the coffin is that the game will definitely stutter and eventually stop entirely. Perhaps this was my Xbox 360 pleading with me to remove this abomination from its disc tray. Thank goodness I didn’t engrave the hard-drive with the install option.
I can only ever attempt to warn the masses of parents that may be gullible enough to buy this for their beloved children, so I’ll be frank: At full retail price, Madagascar 3: Europe’s Most Wanted is an utterly shameful, pitiful excuse of a game. What little gameplay there is consists solely of collecting useless objects and short mini-games that have tons of bugs, clipping issues and are so slow! Ugly textures and grating audio round off a diabolically awful stuttering mess that no children should ever be subjected to; not even as punishment.