Everybody loves penguins, right? Well, judging by the success of the Madagascar movie spin-off Penguins of Madagascar it would seem so. The success of a family CGI movie almost certainly results in two things - more movies in the same vein, and a video game adaption for the franchise. Penguins of Madagascar is certainly no exception, and the task of turning the four feathered friends into video game heroes fell to publisher Little Orbit, which is no stranger to movie-inspired video games. Much like the recently reviewed Disney Planes: Fire and Rescue for Wii U and 3DS (also from Little Orbit), the handheld iteration of Penguins of Madagascar is identical to the console counterpart, with no varying attributes between the two.
Taking control of Kowalski, Skipper, Rico and Private, you are tasked with infiltrating the stronghold of Fort Knox. However, these flightless birds have no desire for gold, and instead are on a mission to steal Fort Knox's supply of Cheezy Dibbles as their reward. Whilst unlawfully gathering their stash of potato snacks they stumble upon a diabolical scheme, contrived by the evil cephalopod, Dr. Octavius Brine. The band of penguins must then work to overcome the plan and thwart the evil Doctor.
If this sounds familiar then, as highlighted in our introduction, that's because it is - our review of the Wii U version says much the same thing. Once again this is a "stealth" platformer in the very loosest sense of the word. Whilst infiltrating the various locations, Kowalski, Skipper, Rico and Private must avoid being caught by the droves of Octopi guards on patrol and numerous security cameras dotted throughout the stages. The enemy AI particularly forgiving, though, so you can practically run right past them and suffer no consequences; while understandable considering the target audience, it still offers little genuine challenge. The field of vision of the guards is particularly laughable, and you can often stand in plain view without being detected; sure to offend Octopi everywhere given their characteristically keen eyesight (ask a marine biologist).
Penguins of Madasgar does have the odd interesting feature or two, such as the detection gauge. Unlike some more frustrating stealth moments that we see in games, being spotted doesn't instantly result in a game over. Instead, the longer you remain in the enemy's field of view the more the detection bar gradually fills, causing a game over upon it reaching maximum capacity. Interesting as this feature may be, maxing out the detection guage is easy to avoid, and simply sprinting away from the enemy will leave you safe and unpursued; Metal Gear this 'ain't.
During the mission, each of the four penguins can carry out unique abilities in order to proceed through the stages. Rico who can do a speed dash, Private can disguise himself as objects such as plant pots, Skipper can stun slap enemies and Kowalski can perform a hover for a few seconds, that we like to refer to as "fart propulsion". It is up to the player to determine how and when to use each character's skill sets, although certain functions specifically require a set penguin for secondary abilities that each possesses. These are colour coded to make the process even easier. For example, Kowalski (who is assigned the blue colour) can hack into computer terminals (helpfully coloured blue). These special actions offer varying forms of gameplay, however, anyone beyond the age of five may scoff at the simplicity. For example, hacking computer terminals requires you to connect the glowing sides of hexagons, whilst blowing open doors with explosives requires a short game of Simon Says before detonation. Espionage has never been easier, but considering the material that's arguably the right approach.
The gameplay can sometimes become rather confusing, however. For an experience that is - on the face of it - relatively easy, wandering around a labyrinth of rooms and offices over a number of floors can become quite disorienting. With no map available, your memory and "spot the difference" skills are paramount in order to discern one area from another. Frustratingly, one often takes a new path only to find a dead end filled with a rather unsatisfying stash of cheesy potato snacks. Collecting these will fill up some of the optional bonus requirements that can be viewed on the bottom screen (times detected, completion under a certain time etc.), but in the grand scheme of things are rather pointless, despite the initial plot of the game.
Penguins of Madagascar on the 3DS is acceptable from a visual perspective, but unsurprisingly lacks the sheen of the Wii U equivalent. Unfortunately, like Little Orbit's other recent movie adaptation - Disney Planes: Fire & Rescue - there is a distinct absence of cutscenes. It is baffling that games based on the colourful, comical CGI movies of Pixar and Dreamworks lack the traits which make the movies so popular, especially when one considers the appeal that the Penguins' goofy antics and voices have over their audience. Instead, the story is provided with moving footage of the characters impassive dialogue presenting with boxed text. The choice to be quite so text heavy, given that Penguins of Madagascar is a title which is undoubtedly aimed at the younger audience, is certainly an odd one; gamers may find themselves mashing the buttons in a blasé fashion simply to get back to the gameplay. With the lack of voices, gameplay is instead accompanied by the odd grunt, slapstick sound effect and rather generic "Mission Impossible"-style espionage music. Considering the subject matter, Penguins of Madagascar lacks the charm of the movies it's based on and all of the potential comedy that one would expect is missing.
Whilst by no means a poor game, Penguins of Madagascar will give those playing a very mediocre experience. The title has faint glimpses of being a fun, amusing stealth platformer, but one cannot overlook the many missing aspects that could and should have made this a top title. Laughable enemy A.I., dull and repetitive environments and the shocking lack of cutscenes and voice acting all contribute in making this seem a rather rushed movie tie-in - likely to only appease the children.