When Microsoft originally announced its impressive Kinect technology, it was predominantly marketed towards the family market. Due to that reason, we’ve seen quite a few family friendly applications for the device. Some have been pretty good, while others have failed to use the technology well, lacking polish and precision. Thankfully, The Penguins of Madagascar: Dr. Blowhole Returns – Again falls into the former camp. The recently-released motion video game based on the popular Nickelodeon television series of the same name is a pretty good piece of entertainment for children and their parents. It waddles relatively well, though there are some rocks in the road.
Those familiar with the television show or its parent animated Madagascar films will know exactly what to expect from this set of talking penguins: mischief. It seems like they’re planning a new scheme almost every single day, waiting for their New York Zoo enclosure to shut down for the night.
With the humans away, the animals will play. That’s exactly the basis of the game, as the birds get themselves in all sorts of trouble, as per usual. Once again, their arch enemy, Dr. Blowhole (voiced by the hilarious Neil Patrick Harris), is at the forefront of it all with a plan for world destruction. He spends his time tricking our unlikely heroes, who must clean up the mess and save their home.
This comical outing in a colourful world is split up into three different story acts. Popular characters from the show appear in each one, including the hilarious King Julien – a lemur who thinks of the other animals in the zoo as his minions. He’s constantly using the birds to do his bidding, or attempting to thwart their plans with comical results. His request for a hidden treasure begins the campaign, with Dr. Blowhole jumping in to ruin the day as he usually does.
The latter two story arcs focus on the group finding a way to stop the evil dolphin, creating plans to get out of the zoo without being noticed, including the use of robotic penguins. There are twelve stages in total, which last between two and a half to three hours combined, with all cutscenes accounted for. Replay value is added through level selection and hidden items.
The Penguins of Madagascar: Dr. Blowhole Returns – Again is a Kinect only traversal game. What this means is that players must use their bodies to lead the group of waddling tuxedo birds through different environments, causing hilarious problems while trying to put an end to their enemy’s devious plan. The birds traverse an on-rails route through different environments, only stopping to answer a quiz question, complete a hacking maze or work on a matching game. The player in control must guide these birds along the best paths possible, by using their body. Each member of the group is playable throughout, though they do a good job of making kids feel like a part of the team by naming them “Fresh Meat.”
The game’s controls are simple enough for a child to pick up, with prompts appearing on-screen throughout its entirety. Simply leaning left or right will make the group change their course. This can be used to avoid obstacles, pick up collectibles or waddle towards secret areas. Being a game for children, the physical activity doesn’t stop there.
In order to jump over obstacles, players actually have to jump off of the ground, with an aerial flying motion used to clear extra tough lane blockers. Other motion controls factor into the mix during the campaign mode, including throwing actions, ducking to induce slides and some balance board sections. There’s a decent amount of variety to be found at the beginning, but the actions become a bit repetitive near the game’s end.
What I liked about this game was how creative it tried to be. Sure, things got a bit repetitive, but the development team didn’t just focus on one set of motion controls. Although this creativity is commendable, the core mechanics didn’t work as well as I had hoped.
A lot of the motion prompts were easy enough to complete with good scores, though there were intermittent times where one or two different movements stopped registering properly. I’d go to jump or fly and the game wouldn’t notice my two or three attempts, sending the characters running into a wall instead. This happened more later on in the game for some reason. Although these issues tarnished the experience, they did not ruin it.
Think of The Penguins of Madagascar: Dr. Blowhole Returns – Again as a kids’ first video game. It’s not very complex, requiring a lot of prior gaming knowledge in order to be enjoyed. In fact, this is one of the more simplistic video games I’ve played. Kids can have fun moving their penguin avatar around the few different environments supplied, which repeat over the course of the three campaign acts. Progression is never halted, though scores are affected by failure to complete certain actions.
These moves appear through on-screen prompts with green area of effect sections. If something is completed quickly, then a perfect score is awarded with a flawless animation. Though, if time goes by before something is done, the animation will show the birds struggling to get past with a lower rank given.
Although there’s really no way to lose at this game, the more competitive players in the bunch will want to try to pick up every single special item. These include candy, snow cones and chameleons. Yes, chameleons. It seems like they’ve escaped from the enclosure. Twelve appear during each story act, with three showing up in various locations in each stage. Finding all of those will unlock achievements, while the aforementioned types of candy will add to the player’s score alongside action awards. At the end of each waddle, scores are tallied and metallic chocolate bars are given out.
The core experience can become repetitive due to a lack of variety. The required actions and occasional minigames add an infusion of creativity, but not enough. I wish there was a bit more attention paid to creating stages which would change things up a bit. Perhaps a vehicular guidance level or some extra multiplayer challenge game missions could have broken things up a bit, adding some extra depth and length as well as variety.
The short burst games found within the campaign are pretty good, but there isn’t enough of them. They appear as video clips spread throughout each stage, using a system which could have been improved. It breaks up the gameplay quite often, which may annoy some kids due to an abundance of downtime.
I was glad to see that the development team at Griptonite Games added in a couple of extra modes. Though they’re only short burst options, their inclusion is appreciated. Each one is headed by King Julien himself, as he guides children through a couple types of dance routines and then takes time out of his busy schedule to joke about pictures taken using the Kinect sensor.
The latter is fun for a bit, but the dancing mode is much more impressive and realized. It gets players off of the couch, performing any sort of interesting dance routine they would like in its red light, green light mode. That one works as you’d expect with scores being given for as many actions completed as possible before the red light turns on. Its additional option involves matching positions shown in an on-screen prompt during one of three songs. I had some motion-detecting issues with this mode, but nothing too major.
Presentation-wise, Griptonite‘s latest offering is a bit of a mixed bag. It looks okay and does a decent job of representing the colourful animated stylings of its cartoon inspiration, though the utilized character models are quite rigid. However, there are some notable visual glitches including character model and environment lighting stuttering as well as some lip-syncing issues.
While it’s not a graphical powerhouse, the game’s art design is serviceable in creating hilarious hijinks for kids to become involved in. This is further complemented by the solid voice acting presented by the show’s cast, including Neil Patrick Harris. Unfortunately, some of his lines were recorded at a much lower audio level than the other characters’, making them hard to hear.
To conclude, The Penguins of Madagascar: Dr. Blowhole Returns – Again is an above-average title for the younger gamers among us. It caters to kids well and is able to be put to good use as a great way to get young ones involved in this interactive hobby. Its control issues are occasionally cumbersome and there is a decent amount of repetition during the title’s brief campaign, but it’s enjoyable regardless.
This is an accessible and comical romp in one of the more popular cartoon worlds out there. It could’ve used some more polish, variety and refining, however. Though, these are things which young children probably won’t notice as they’ll enjoy being able to control their favourite penguins during comical capers. I personally believe that the dancing minigame will become the star attraction, however.
This review is based on a copy of the game which we received for review purposes.
The Penguins of Madagascar: Dr. Blowhole Returns - Again is a colourful romp in the popular cartoon's universe. It's inviting both to children who maybe haven't played video games before, as well as those who love the show.