Zoo Story

The antics and escapades of escaped Central Park Zoo animals, depicted in the currently showing Dreamworks movie Madagascar, come to life in this wacky and well-done piece of software.

Madagascar, a CD-ROM in English by Activision for Dreamworks, distributed by Hed Artzi Multimedia with a 34-page English-language user's manual, requires Windows 98 and up and an 800 Mhz Pentium III PC or higher, for ages three and up, NIS 179. Rating: **** 1/2 Did you ever look at zoo animals and wonder if, despite their carefree living conditions, they really wanted to escape to the wilds? Celebrating his 10th birthday, Marty the zebra finds the daily performances at New York's Central Park Zoo tiresome and craves the excitement beyond the gates, from Manhattan to the island of Madagascar. He persuades his friends Alex the lion, Melman the giraffe, Gloria the hippo and some crafty penguins to get outta there with him. Their antics and escapades, depicted in the currently showing Dreamworks movie of the same name, come to life in this wacky and well-done piece of software. Although the minimum age for players is given as three, the company meant this as a sign that it has no violence. The level of English is high and would not be comprehensible to a three-year-old English speaker, certainly not to a Hebrew speaker twice his age. Yet even without understanding the dialogue, Israeli schoolkids can play the game, which begins with a lovely animation whose stirring music comes from Joy Adamson's film Born Free. Having spent all their lives in the zoo, the four featured mammals have to learn about their true animal natures to succeed in the wild. Throughout the game, players unlock new abilities by collecting power cards to complete a set. Alex, for example, jumps, roars at pigeons, performs somersaults and throws mangoes. Marty's fort is kicking his hind legs to uncover Monkey Money for buying mini-games and extras at the Zoovenir Shop. The roly-poly Gloria charges, tumbles and bounces on her well-padded butt, while Melman, a hypochondriac, spins like helicopter blades to clean his stall of any litter. Attempts to break out of the zoo are repeatedly thwarted by guards, which requires starting the segment all over again. All four friends are finally reunited on the island of Madagascar, crashing a lemur party on a giant baobab tree. It is there that they learn about the Foosa the most dangerous creatures on the island. Each of the game's 11 levels offers some excitement: Alex is so driven mad by hunger that he bites Marty on his bottom; later he wanders to the Foosa's side of the island and, realizing his own predatory nature, has to fight these fierce creatures. The graphics engine is a bit clunky, but despite this shortcoming, the game is full of the unexpected. On my next visit to Jerusalem's Biblical Zoo, I am definitely going to watch the animals' moves more carefully.