The Penguins of Madagascar is a favourite in our household with its overall silliness and unique sense of humour. The titular characters typically engage in some sort of paramilitary operation with Skipper leading the troop with his tendency to make everything into an elaborate covert operation. Helping him are Kowalski, resident weapons expert, scientist, and overthinker; Private, the naive yet grounding youngster of the group; and Rico, the crazy one who swallows and throws up key items. The show is fun and never gets too heavy, and the game follows suit.
This review is for the Kinect version of The Penguins of Madagascar: Dr. Blowhole Returns – Again!, which is a predominantly on-rails platforming game played from a third person perspective. Along the way, you try to collect items like snowcones and candy to build your score up. The plot of the game see you play over a three episode story arc that involves an old nemesis, Dr. Blowhole, a not-very-friendly dolphin voiced by the now ubiquitous Neil Patrick Harris. Blowhole is up to no good and trying to destroy the world, or something, and it’s up to the Penguins to stop him. So how does the game stack up?
The Penguins of Madagascar: Dr. Blowhole Returns – Again! for Xbox 360 Kinect is based on the popular Nickelodeon cartoon series and sees a single player play through three “episodes” over 12 levels using the body tracking capabilities of the Kinect sensor. A majority of the controls involve the player leaning left or right to steer their character with occasional other gestures such as arm-raising, jumping, ducking, punching, and other arm swings, which are indicated by on-screen prompts. There is a fair amount of physical activity required. It’s fairly repetitive, but quite easy to pick up, as many Kinect games are. While my 8-year-old son had little trouble with the controls, my 4-year-old struggled a little bit, especially with some of the non-core mechanics that required more precision. The game is fairly forgiving if you don’t hit a prompt correctly or hit an obstacle. There is very little objectionable content with the game, with the “worst” being the type of slapstick humour consistent with the show. At times the player can punch or kick at obstacles like boxes or crabs to take them out. There are also a few instances where Rico will projectile regurgitate objects at pigeons. Since only fans of the show are going to want to pick this game up, you already know what you’re getting into.
Why did you say “or something?” – Because the audio mix, especially for Blowhole, was not quite right. I at times had difficulty making out what Dr. Blowhole was saying. Given the bombastic qualities that Harris brings to his performances anymore, it certainly wasn’t for lack of volume. The Penguins themselves were for the most part easy to understand, but I’m not sure if you needed 5.1 surround sound to hear everything properly (which would be a design flaw) or the sound mix just wasn’t that good (which would be a presentation flaw). Other than this, the sound was overall good in the game, but this was too much to overlook.
Control your heroes – It’s a fun experience, and fairly easy, to control the characters. Control mostly consists of steering by leaning left or right, with other mechanisms thrown in from time to time to navigate past certain obstacles. You’ll jump over holes, duck under walls, punch or kick at obstacles (which reward you with more snowcones), raise your arms to climb over walls and other actions which will be signaled by an on-screen prompt. For the most part, it works. It is held back a touch by the typical lag you get with Kinect and the occasional frustrating non-recognition of a required action. I’d say it hits at about a 95% rate, which is pretty good for the technology. It ends up being a fairly decent variety of actions to break up the core mechanic of steering.
You’ll also encounter the odd shooting gallery with Rico puking objects at pigeons or other objects as needed. It’s fun, but the on-screen prompt doesn’t truly indicate what you need to do. We ended up figuring out our own way of shooting by aiming with one hand and signalling the regurgitation by throwing with the other hand.
It’s fun, but only if you know the show – You’re basically playing through episodes of the show that have been written for the game, and while fans should enjoy it, there’s nothing that will compel folks who haven’t seen the show before. Kids get into the activity, and there’s enough dialog and story involved to keep them engaged and provide some laughs. Sometimes the cutscenes seem almost a little too much, but if you get tired of them, they are skippable.
For the collectors, there is the challenge of trying to get as many snowcones and candies as you can, plus three hidden chameleons in each level to try and capture. Plus there’s a small element of replayability in going back and replaying levels to try and improve your score.
Dance! – If you need a break from the main game, there are a couple of small distractions also available. One is Critique, where the Kinect camera takes your picture doing a pose and King Julien gives his opinion (sometimes with help from Mort) on what he thinks of it. You won’t get a ton of mileage out of this one. There’s also a dancing mode, with your choice of either pose matching or the classic Red Light Green Light. These are fun enough, but serve best as distractions or little extras rather than feature aspects.
Tacked on elements – There are a couple of other elements included to break up the action which I didn’t really feel were necessary, and in fact take away a bit from the game. Every so often, Marlene the Otter will stop you and ask you trivia questions, mostly about characters or events from the show. The questions are typically about not-so-obvious details, like secondary characters, or even about non-show animal trivia. I’m not sure why this was included, and I wonder if the developers felt the same as Marlene really stops trying as the game goes along, and pretty much does a fourth-wall breaking “just make a noise and pretend to answer this question” move towards the end.
Another minigame included is when the monkeys ask you to match objects in two columns. First, the controls for matching are tricky, asking you to hold your arms in certain positions (like hands on a clock almost) and try to hold them there long enough to lock in your guess and see if you’re right. Young kids may have trouble with this level of precision and holding their arms long enough in one position. Second, I’ve watched the show a bit, and the matching answers didn’t even make sense half the time. A lot of times we just guessed and hoped for the best.
Finally, there are times where you have to navigate an electronic component through a maze from one side to another, with the mazes getting harder as you go. Not from a puzzle standpoint, because they’re obvious. The difficulty comes from not hitting the walls, which will result in a fail if you hit them three times. Memo to developers: right now, Kinect is not a platform that lends itself well to precision at this time. Kids will have a problem with the patience and precision required for this puzzle. Heck, it was a challenge for me at times.
Achievements like candy – Attention obsessive Gamerscore types. This game is extremely generous with Achievements. I got 345 G in less than an hour, and one playthrough of the story mode netted me over 700 G. They come at a pretty good clip consistently through the game. If this is your thing, you’ll love this game.
The GamerPops Recommendation
The Penguins of Madagascar: Dr. Blowhole Returns – Again! is a solid, if unspectacular effort that will be best enjoyed by fans of the series who’d like to experience a fairly interactive episode or three of the show. It doesn’t do a lot to stand out from other Kinect games and sticks to a fairly formulaic strategy of on-rails progression and gesture matching that is reminiscent of Quick Time Events. It’s repetitive, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing considering the audience. I would have liked to have seen some element of co-op play or some local multiplayer element so two players can get in on the action, but that was not meant to be. It’s a good use of the license, doesn’t skimp on what makes the show fun, and will provide 3-4 hours of entertainment with some replayability if you want to try and improve your scores and find those pesky chameleons. It might be more of a rental given the length of the campaign if playing multiple times isn’t your thing.
ESRB Rating Description
Content descriptors: Comic Mischief, Mild Cartoon Violence
Rating summary: This is an action platformer based on characters from the TV series The Penguins of Madagascar. As players run, jump, and slide around “cartoony” environments, they collect snow cones and must sometimes complete comical sequences to dispatch enemies (e.g., throwing boots at pigeons). In one level, players can kick oversized crabs that emit pieces of candy when hit. Some sequences also depict a penguin regurgitating various items (e.g., boots, small explosives) to clear obstacles and barriers.