While licensed video games have a dubious history, those targeting the younger set have been particularly uninspired. It is a pleasant surprise, then, that Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa not only makes excellent use of its license, but presents a worthwhile game experience as well. Despite using different voice actors than the movie, the cutscenes capture the essence of the characters quite well, providing a continual string of well-constructed and downright funny moments. The simple gameplay may turn off experienced players, but the sheer variety of enjoyable activities will more than satisfy those looking for a fun romp through Africa.
Alex has impeccable balance.
The story in Madagascar 2 follows the path laid out by the movie it's based on. Julien, king of not only his fellow lemurs but apparently every other species as well, thinks it is cruel to stay hidden away in Madagascar when the whole world should be lucky enough to make his acquaintance. The penguin-piloted plane carrying Julien and the rest of the animals crashes in Africa, though, far short of their New York City goal. The story is consistently goofy and the frequent cutscenes are pretty amusing. Julien is the star here, spouting jokes fueled by his kingly ego, often at the expense of his meek servant Mort. The other characters play off their own quirks, from Melman's lack of confidence to Claire's search for love, with humorous results. Some of the voice acting, most notably Melman's, feels jarring and out of place, but the new cast is generally quite good. This is a silly game, and the tone stays true throughout the adventure.
Though this is primarily a platformer, you'll be doing a lot more than jumping from one precarious platform to another. Through most of the game, you'll be quickly shuttled from activity to activity. The tasks you'll be asked to perform aren't particularly deep, but they're fun in short bursts. For instance, as Alex, you'll attempt to join a herd of wild lions. To prove you're worthy of such a prestigious title, you'll be asked to perform in a variety of seemingly random competitions. Within the span of a half hour, you'll compete in a game of musical chairs, play a variation of Hot Potato that uses the dreaded durian (a type of fruit with gooey, smelly insides), climb walls, avoid vultures, play dodgeball with mangoes, and ride on zip lines. The pacing is fast and furious--just before you tire of tossing around a durian, you'll be whisked off to another event. Because of this, the game is never boring, despite the simplicity of many of these actions.
The breakneck pacing continues throughout most of the game. As Melman, you can ride atop boulders and whack moles intent on stealing suitcases; Marty plays a mean game of soccer and tests his speed in a series of races; the penguins drive around in a truck and build a flying contraption for Julien to ride in; and, of course, there is the quest to cure a herd of giraffes from a nasty outbreak of belly fish. Despite the many twists this game takes, the controls are tight and responsive no matter which ridiculous activity you're competing in. And the punishment for failure is little more than a slap on the wrist, so younger gamers who have never experienced stealth in a game can get through the spy photography mission without worrying about unforgiving failure.