A video did the rounds the other day. It was a scene in a zoo in which a girl in a seal-shaped hat totters up to the polar bear enclosure to get a closer look at the giant, sprawling, soft-pawed teddy inside. After a moment, the bear sees the girl, freezes, takes a careful breath, and then hurls itself snarling across the enclosure, exploding water and clattering claws against the glass. Bad teddy.
Most animals want to kill you. To do that, they need their freedom and so the object in Madagascar is to liberate several of them from Central Park Zoo in New York, and to then deliver them to the game's titular island state.
Madagascar closely follows the plot of Dreamworks's 2005 film, in which Alex the Lion, Marty the Zebra, Melman the Giraffe, and Gloria the Hippo – along with two chimps and a platoon of penguins – manage to make their way from America to Madagascar through the various interventions of Alex, the animal rights lobby, and the militaristic penguins.
However, it's a stripped-down production. Enclosed in an isometric 3D world, it's your job to steer Alex through levels based at the zoo, the subway, the ship, and Madagascar itself, freeing his friends and then negotiating the complex outer world by pressing buttons and using '5' to drag boxes across the ground, both of which lead to the opening of doors.
Two things make this more difficult than it sounds. First, the levels are large and unmapped, so the search for buttons and their associated doors can be frustratingly circuitous. Second, each level is patrolled by identical humans who, although harmless in appearance, divest you of a unit of life every time you come into contact with them.
If one of these men sees you, he gives chase, and the only way to shake him off is to hide by flattening yourself against a shaded wall, or to frighten him into temporary submission by pressing '*' and releasing an ostentatious Broadway roar.
Actually, there is a third way to shake these villains off: snag them on a piece of scenery. They literally walk in a straight line towards you, so if you manage to put an obstacle between you and them, you're safe.
The primitiveness of the AI is remarkable. However, while the human enemies are disappointingly monotonous, linear, and cretinous in their movement, the animal characters are much more charismatic. The animation as Alex lets out a roar is slick and amusing, as are flourishes like the beetling movement of his eyes as he skulks in the shadows.
As you make progress, you need to enlist the help of your friends and co-absconders, although their contributions are automatic aside from the period you get in control of the penguins on the ship. This refrain is charming, and demonstrates a measure of imagination on the part of developer Eurofun, but it doesn't break the game's essential monotony: find a switch, open a door, find a switch, open a door, find a...
Like the film then, Madagascar is a shallow but bright and fairly charismatic affair. It won't change your life, but we doubt it intends to, and it's a perfectly serviceable title that trades more on name than quality. Like Alex himself, this game has the advantages of popularity, confidence and looks, but glancing human contact exposes it to be, at heart, pretty meek.