The Penguins from the smash CG hit Madagascar were so popular they received their own film in the form of Penguins of Madagascar, so it was inevitable that the four feathered friends would also receive their own video game adaption. Publisher Little Orbit - which is certainly no stranger to adaptations of movies -was charged with the task of p..p..picking up the penguins, and creating a worthy video game rendition.
Taking control of the jocular band of penguins, your mission is to infiltrate the high security compound, Fort Knox. However, these flightless birds have no desire for gold, and instead seek out Knox's supply of Cheezy Dibbles as their reward. Whilst undertaking this mission of petty theft they stumble upon a diabolical scheme, contrived by the evil cephalopod, Dr. Octavius Brine. The mission at hand then becomes much formidable, with the foursome setting out to thwart the evil Doctor's plans.
Penguins of Madagascar 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 sighted by the scores of Octopi guards on patrol and numerous security cameras dotted throughout the stages. Unfortunately, for anyone hoping for Kojima-esque levels of difficulty, the enemy AI is so forgiving you can practically run right past them and suffer no consequences; while understandable in a game for kids, it still offers little genuine challenge. The field of vision of the guards is particularly bad, and you can often stand in plain view without being detected; this is sure to offend Octopi everywhere given their characteristically keen eyesight (ask a marine biologist).
The stealth aspect does have a nice feature with its detection gauge. Unlike some more frustrating stealth moments in games (we're talking about you - Hyrule Courtyard from Ocarina of Time), being spotted doesn't instantly mean game over. Instead, the longer you remain in the enemy's gaze, the bar gradually fills, causing a game over upon it reaching maximum capacity. This is quite easy to avoid, and simply scurrying away from the enemy relatively quickly will leave you safe. Don't expect any "Alert" statuses here.
As well as sneaking around, remaining undetected, the four penguins can utilise unique skills in order to proceed through the buildings. 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 (which are also coloured blue). Carrying out the necessary function is very menial and will leave more hardy gamers scoffing 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. Retro indeed.
The gameplay can sometimes become rather confusing. 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. There is no map, so instead your memory and "spot the difference" skills may be necessary in order to discern one area from another. Frustratingly, progress is often made only to find a dead end filled with a stash of cheesy potato snacks. Collecting these will fill up some of the optional bonus requirements that can be viewed from the start menu (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 is perfectly acceptable from a visual perspective. The cartoony format is appealing enough on the Wii U system and, although the graphics won't blow anyone away, they certainly don't look poor. Disappointingly, much like Little Orbit's other recent movie adaptation - Disney Planes: Fire & Rescue - there is a distinct lack of cutscenes. It is shocking that games based on the popular CGI movies of Pixar and Dreamworks feature no real cutscenes and no dialogue, 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 and 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.
The stages themselves lack any visual pizazz, instead consisting of bland, generic, repetitive environments. Once you've seen one high security office building, you've seen them all. Assets such as wooden crates, security cameras and red and green buttons appear regularly throughout, with stages sometimes lacking a little imagination.
In many aspects this game shows great promise, and every so often players may find themselves actually having a bit of fun with Penguins of Madagascar. However, for every positive aspect of the game, there's a negative. Laughable enemy A.I., dull and repetitive locations, and a lack of cutscenes all make the game feel a tad rushed. What could have been a really enjoyable adaptation of the Penguins of Madagascar franchise instead becomes rather okay. Those playing will certainly find some decent moments, especially those of a younger persuasion - that is, if they can maintain their attention through all of those dialogue boxes.