March of the Penguins
Reviewed by Brandy Shaul
Review Date Platform Genre Rating Production
2006-12-18 GBA Mini-games E (Everyone) Jack of All Games / DSI Games

Penguins are one of the world's most beloved creatures. This statement became blatantly apparent last year when March of the Penguins was released in theaters and went on to not only become one of the most family friendly movies in years, but also win the Oscar for Best Documentary. Not to be left out of the "game based on a movie" trend, DSI Games has given us all the fun of the movie in a small (yet short) take-along package.

Split into twelve chapters, March of the Penguins for the GBA follows the most popular penguin species, the Emperors, as they make their way through an average breeding season filled with obstacles and enemies. Level types vary, but there are essentially four basic templates of gameplay.

The easiest of the chapters are the swimming levels, where you guide an Emperor penguin through the ocean depths in search of food. Enemies are present, but I found the damage to be basically nonexistent, allowing players to concentrate on the air bar, found in the top left corner of the screen. As penguins need air to breathe, you can't keep them underwater for too long, and must keep a watchful eye on their oxygen, resurfacing when necessary.

The next two level types are fairly similar in that they both take place on the ice caps as you guide an emperor to their mate, safe spot, etc. One template has you walking through a maze of penguins, while the other has you sliding on icy portions, following a path of snowflakes to your mate. The overhead camera angle in these levels adds a bit of difficulty since you can't really see where you're going, but along with the added challenge comes the possibility for frustration.

The fourth and most abundant chapter type places you in control of the landscape while twelve Emperors march across the screen at a very slow pace. Gaps and ice cubes block the way and it's up to you to place various objects in the penguins' path to help them safely reach the other side. Tents serve as trampolines, snowballs as cushions, and fish as lures to change the penguins' marching direction. You also have a selection of ramps, stairs and slides at your disposal, and you'll need every tool in your arsenal in almost every chapter of this type.

While the idea of complex routes and planning ahead does add a great deal of strategy to an otherwise simple premise, the backgrounds and environments blend so well together (being that everything is covered in white snow or ice) that figuring out which item to place where can become confusing. This is especially true when you factor in the background ice blocks, some of which can and can't be interacted with. Consequently, you'll often find yourself sending the Emperors off a cliff to their doom.

This wouldn't be such a bad thing, since the penguins regenerate at the beginning of the level, but what does mar the situation is that every level is timed. While ten or more minutes may seem like plenty of time to guide your group of penguins from one end of the level to the other, when you factor in their suicidal tendencies, a limited supply of tools and somewhat disorienting backgrounds, it's not an unusual situation to find yourself running out of time.

Fortunately, these chapters are not the entirety of the game, and the other level types are easy enough to make up for any irritation that the former levels might cause.

While the gameplay itself may be a little too complex to throw into the hands of a younger child, the overall message is not. Sponsored by National Geographic, March of the Penguins is edutainment at its finest. Before and after every level, you are not only given the password to allow you to come back to where you were (there is no save system), but are also given trivia facts about the penguins like "When searching for food, Emperors can travel hundreds of miles in a single foraging trip."

After reading some of the trivia, you begin to understand the severity and danger of the lifestyle the Emperor penguins lead, which makes the final push to complete the game even more worthwhile in the end.

But getting back to the actual look of the game, the graphics are surprisingly decent. The penguins have individual movements and waddle to their own beat. The gameplay is fairly black and white, which is obvious considering the environment and the main characters, but there is enough detail, especially on the ice cap levels, to keep children happy.

The same can be said about the music and sound departments. There is something so cute about the honking sounds penguins make, and I'm happy to say the in-game call is just as satisfying. Being that the game takes place in the middle of the blistering cold, there aren't many other sounds available except for the occasional sloshing of ice water and flutter of the wind. Adding to the almost quiet nature of the game is the background music, which is very calm and almost soothing even though it tends to be repetitive.

So while the gameplay might be a bit redundant and perhaps even boring to the older generations, it is simple enough in most aspects to make it a decent children's title, or a worthwhile addition to any penguin fan's collection. Where most titles released today are considered too violent for younger children to play, March of the Penguins is definitely not frozen in that mold, and will easily provide a few hours of enjoyable and educational gameplay for those who do decide to pick it up.

Special thanks to Alison Kain and DSI Games for providing a copy of this title.