Madagascar: Operation Penguin
Reviewed by Michelle Thurlow
Review Date Platform Genre Rating Production
2006-02-20 GBA Party E (Everyone) Activision / Vicarious Visions

There appears to be a consensus among fans of DreamWorks' computer-animated blockbuster Madagascar that the scene-stealing militaristic penguins Skipper, Kowalski, Private, and the dynamite-loving Rico were in fact the true stars of the show. Clearly even Madagascar's producers eventually came to this realization, as the DVD version of the film not only includes a ten-minute animated short starring the monochromatic quartet, but also features a "Penguin Chat" option allowing viewers to listen in on the penguins' cheeky commentary on selected scenes from the movie.

In typical fashion, DreamWorks has sought to capitalize on the popularity of these avian warriors by publishing an adventure game starring the elusive warmongers themselves on the Game Boy Advance. In Operation Penguin, you control sweet but dimwitted Private Penguin who, along with his three comrades, plot to escape the Central Park Zoo by digging a hole to inhospitable Antarctica. Piece of cake, right? Stand down, recruit: this mission is far less facile than it sounds.

Unfortunately, that tunnel to Antarctica won't exactly dig itself, so several of Private's assignments will include procuring supplies like shovels (that suspiciously resemble plastic sundae spoons) as well as rummaging through trash receptacles for parachutes (i.e. hamburger wrappers). Additionally, discarded soda containers around the zoo contain the fizzy fuel the absurdly ground-bound penguins need to reach the upper platforms on certain of the game's levels. It's enough to make a soldier shake his head at the wastefulness of these humans who toss away perfectly good military equipment with such breezy disregard. "Higher mammals," indeed.

Of course, what sets Operation Penguin apart from the plethora of side-scrolling adventure offerings currently available on the GBA is its humorous mocking of the overly-serious penguins' ridiculous undertaking to escape to Antarctica. The irony, for example, of the MacArthur-esque Skipper training his fellow penguin to sniper crawl in full view of zoo patrons who press their noses against cage glass or take pictures is pretty hilarious. The pretentious James Bond-themed espionage background music further parodies the birds' pathetic martial objective.

Fortunately, character control in this game is, as Marty the zebra would exclaim, crack-a-lackin'. It's reasonably effortless to pilot Private as he toboggans around on his oily belly or climbs across pipes of various sorts using the candy canes dispensed to him by weapons expert Kowalski. Even better, it's as painless to control your tuxedoed torpedo underwater as it is to steer Private around on land. Most aquatic levels in video games make players feel as if either an anchor on one extreme or two empty plastic juice containers on the other were tied to their on-screen character's ankle.

Though clearly intended to be an offering designed to charm the sensibilities of the small fry, Operation Penguin will appeal equally to adult gamers looking for more of a laugh than a challenge. This is a game with enough personality to entertain any side-scrolling platformer enthusiast, though admirers of the movie Madagascar especially will find playing this title a blast. That's right, Rico - kaboom!