It would be easy to dismiss Madagascar 3: Europe's Most Wanted as yet another hastily produced movie tie-in, but we have to be mindful that adults are not the target audience here. So, with this in mind we cast our low expectations aside and attempted to revisit our childhood and view the game through younger, less jaded eyes.
The story picks up where the previous movie left off: with the four main characters trying to find their way back to New York from halfway across the globe without attracting unwanted attention. And what better way to do this than to join a travelling circus? Talk about hiding in plain sight! Throughout the game we are introduced to other characters from the recent movie, which should appeal to those who have seen it.
There are several modes of play on offer and it's pretty standard fare, with story mode being the main focus. For the most part this is a platform adventure, with occasional timed challenges thrown in to inject a little pace. Following a mission briefing from the penguins, two of the movie's stars set off to find and retrieve all manner of objects, as per instructions. The 3D maps are large enough that there are plenty of nooks and crannies to explore - at street level and above or below it, without being so big that you get lost.
Of course, one does not simply roam the streets of Europe's most famous cities when one is a large zoo animal. It tends to cause fear and hysteria amongst the local populace. Amazing how donning a pair of shades can fool the citizens into thinking you are one of them. Unfortunately, this approach doesn't wash with the patrolling animal control officers, led by the utterly nasty Captain DuBois. These guys must be avoided or evaded at all cost, since getting captured means an annoying level restart. For the achievement hunters, there are many of them to be earned, and once you have completed a city you can revisit the missions within at any time.
The game can be played solo, but this requires frequent switching between characters to access their unique abilities, such as Gloria's hip bump or Melman's sneeze. The AI controlled character often acts unpredictably and illogically, wandering aimlessly or walking off rooftops for no apparent reason. It's a smoother, more engaging experience with two players on a split screen, and this also means you can cover more ground in less time. Much of story mode is spent in co-op play, but there are occasions when your competitive spirit is allowed free rein.
The mini games also encourage a bit of friendly competition, with a mixed bag of circus themed activities ranging from delightfully wacky to downright frustrating. One or two stood out as favourites, and we probably spent more time on these than was necessary; what's not to like about using your button mashing skills to splatter your opponent with ripe fruit?
Controls are not what we'd describe as intuitive; if you're unaccustomed to the inverted camera you'll either have to switch it off via the options menu, or just grit your teeth and ride out the learning curve. The camera seemed to have a life of its own at times, but from past experience that's par for the course with this type of game.
Visually, the playable characters are of a fairly high standard, looking and moving much like their big screen counterparts. However, the same can't be said for the 'living scenery'; while the citizens of Europe's famous cities do come in a variety of shapes and sizes, there's a certain two dimensional sameness about them that smacks of cut corners. It doesn't help that their range of dialogue is limited and extremely repetitive (same applies to the background music).
Cutscenes are well animated, featuring a healthy dose of the movie's trademark humour - possibly the game's best feature. Environments are vibrant and colourful, with some nice lighting effects and textures; however some areas have a sterile, almost unfinished feel to them. Granted, the main characters are meant to take centre stage, but attention to - or lack of - detail is something discerning gamers tend to notice - especially when they've paid good money to be entertained.
Madagascar 3: Europe's Most Wanted is definitely more engaging as a team effort, and we're not ashamed to admit that a couple of the mini games had us giggling with childish glee. Those within the 7-11 age bracket will probably get more out of it than younger players, since a fair amount of manual dexterity and patience is required.
If you have a whole tribe of kids in need of holiday entertainment, the game might deliver a similar amount of minute-for-minute entertainment as a couple of movies (complete with popcorn and frozen coke), but for the same price you could just as easily invest in several budget titles instead... or take them to see the movie and bide your time till this one hits the bargain bin.