Penguins of Madagascar

By Jorge Figueiredo - January 9th, 2015


‎I remember watching commercials for Dreamworks’ Madagascar films. In fact, I actually saw the third movie first, and then watched the first two, having really enjoyed that second sequel out of order. By far, my favourite part of all of those films Are those four crazy penguins (Skipper, Kowalski, Ringo, and Private) – in fact, they are among my favourite animated characters of all time. Given how highly I regard these characters, it should come as no surprise that I would have very lofty expectations for any game based on or around them. And so, Little Orbit’s Penguins of Madagascar was ultimately disappointing – which is a shame, as it has so much more potential to be a great game with a few changes and additions.

‎Penguins of Madagascar places you in charge of the fabulous flippered four. In the midst of a mission that is little more than a Cheezy Dibble run, out slick South-Polers (Polars?) uncover a devious plot concocted by Dr. Octavius Brine (also known as “Dave”) that has far-reaching implications. Thus, in true meddling style and in the interest of all (and the plot, of course), the penguins move to stop Dave and his evil plans. All of this hard spy-like work is done by the player as they take the four penguins around world, visiting various locales and infiltrating various locations.

Players are only able to control one of the four penguins at a time, but they can swap between them with the press of a button. Each penguin has a special ability that applies to unique types of situations, giving game-play some variation. Skipper, for instance, is a martial arts expert that can stun opponents; Rico can speed dash; Private can hide thanks to his odd disguise ability; and finally, Kowalski can “fly” briefly by flapping his flippers rapidly (it’s more of a hover move). The environment also holds various character-specific surprises, giving the penguins some extra “ammunition” in the way of level traversal and puzzling. For instance, some computer terminals can be hacked by Kowalski whereas some walls can be blown up by Rico and his penchant for explosive stuff – both of these activities involve mini-games to successfully complete the actions.

These security guards are pretty clueless…

‎I’m not exactly sure how I would classify this title. Sure, the literature indicates that it’s a stealth platformer, which makes a lot of sense given the involvement of the Penguins. And yes, it’s definitely a platforming game – but upon further inspection I would say that the game’s grip on “stealth” is tenuous at best. Sure, you are supposed to sneak around levels, being sure to stay out of the field of view of your enemies; but doing this is so easy that there might as well not be any enemies at all. When they do spot you (which involves a “watched” meter filling up the longer you stay in view), dealing with them is not really a challenge (or you can just run away, which causes the meter to drop). Of course, this game is not necessarily targeted at hardcore gaming adults, so that could be a major reason for this design decision.

From a control perspective, the game is not difficult to master at all. Outside of directing some of the special powers, this title is actually pretty intuitive. I wouldn’t hesitate to let Smallest Thumbs (age 7) take the reins and drive for a while. especially with such a friendly tutorial level. The overall goals for each stage do not involve guesswork – though navigating the levels can be a bit challenging, as there are quite a few dead ends. Still, one of your secondary goals is to collect Cheezy Dibbles, and they practically litter the whole game, making filling up your bonus requirements a bit easier (if you’re into that sort of thing).

Visually, Little Orbit has done a pretty good job of both capturing the mood and the quality of the Dreamworks films. While not exactly at the same level, the graphics are great, and the animations are very smooth. Each penguin is imbued with the movement quirks of their film versions. Sound effects and music are also both very good. The soundtrack is hip and sounds like something that would be playing in the films, while the sound effects border on slapstick cartoons (which is perfect). All of the aesthetic elements listed here are solidly-designed – which makes the lack of voice work all the more disappointing.

There’s always time for bouncy castles.

It is a shame that this game is very, very text-intense. The lack of voice work is very puzzling; in my opinion, the best part about the film version of the penguins are their distinctive voices. Sure, the text-based dialogue is well-written, and very much in the spirit of the characters; however, Smallest Thumbs and I love the way the penguins sound and how they interact with each other (it’s hard to impart timing to text boxes that you have to click through). Also, given that this game is designed with kids in mind, one would think that too many text bubbles are not really the greatest idea. Without cut-scenes or spoken dialogue, I bet a lot of kids will not enjoy this game as much as they would have if these things were included.

My mind is at odds with this game. I really want to like it a lot more than I do, especially considering that the graphics are decent, as is the music and sound effects, and the overall game-play is kid-friendly. However, the lack of dialogue and the simplistic “stealth” mechanics make it a boring prospect for adults (and some kids may not be as entertained without the voices). If you can find it for a good price, picking it up is not a bad idea for a boring, rainy day. However, if you’re looking for the magic that makes the penguins truly awesome, this title won’t satisfy that craving.

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