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March of the Penguins Package Art
Destination Software, Inc.
Destination Software, Inc.

March of the Penguins

As far as movie-based kids' games go, there's not a whole lot that can go right. Usually they're pumped out to sell to children (or perhaps their parents), but so many don't give their demographic proper respect. Kids these days deserve more than monotonous drivel adorned with the latest set of talking animals to hit the cineplex. DSI recently hopped on the movie-game bandwagon with one major difference: these critters don't talk. We should hope so, because this DS game is based on the popular documentary March of the Penguins.


The graphics in the DS version of March of the Penguins are pretty much identical to the GBA game, which would mean sub-par for a SNES game. The main levels look enough like what a stereotype of Antarctica probably is, but nothing is drawn or animated especially well. The titular penguins waddle predictably and properly convey their puzzlement when looking down a tall cliff. Unfortunately, the mini-games in between the main levels fare even worse. Some of these sections feel like they were made with an amateur level generator, and others don't go beyond what a Flash-based game on the movie's website would be like.


At first, the music would seem a step above the graphics. It does its job filling in the gaps between stock penguin noises and the like. That is, for the first 30 seconds. After this initial half-minute, the track begins to loop, burrowing its way into the player's psyche. The once-upbeat tune begins to degrade into a series of high-pitched whines, and it shouldn't be long before the music is turned down in the options or the system is just muted altogether. Kids listen to a lot of questionable stuff these days, but they still have ears.


For half of the game, players will be assigned to complete levels that are--to put it nicely--inspired by the Lemmings series. Similar to those suicidal marsupials, several penguins will trot across the screen, one by one, until an obstacle gets in their way. These can be natural hazards of the environment or devices set into the level by the player. Several items are available, including objects to make the penguins bounce and an icy bridge for them to cross otherwise unpassable chasms. Each tool can only be used a handful of times per level, lending strategy to where and when these items can be used. Equally important to getting the waterfowl's from point A to B is the collection of snowflakes, many of which are out of reach of the penguins.

It sounds fine enough on paper, but it's in the execution that the gameplay falls apart. Even at the outset, a time limit is assigned to each level to ensure some sort of urgency. This becomes a problem when a penguin happens to hop off a cliff. Instead of dying, any misplaced penguins simply appear again at the beginning of the level, waddling at that same agonizingly slow pace. This means that one screw-up with one penguin could possibly ruin ten minutes worth of work. It's hardly forgiving for a children's title.

Not only are mistakes devastating, but they are also guaranteed. Even at the outset, players are given no tutorial beyond the instruction book and a couple of screens in the menu as to how and where the items work. Along with poor level design, this leads to a frustrating game of trial and error; it will take even a full-grown gamer at least a couple tries to perfect a run through any given level. Adding to this are the glitches that occasionally pop up. At any given time, a penguin may not react correctly to a device on the field, resulting in a lost penguin and possibly patches of hair ripped from the scalp. These instances are random, unfair and downright unacceptable.

Breaking up the Lemmings portions are two different types of mini-games. One is a simple, top-down maze, wherein players guide a penguin through a slippery path to the goal. The other seems to have used Ecco the Dolphin as its muse, with a swimming penguin collecting food and avoiding enemies. Both of these diversions are extremely simple and easily solved, and will no doubt bore children. Needless to say, alternating between cakewalks and bouts of infuriation is not conducive to a compelling gaming experience. This is even more true for the target demographic of March of the Penguins.




The selling point of this game seems to be some sort of edutainment. Yet, besides a few scant factoids in between levels, the game boasts nothing worth teaching. The Lemmings segments rely on repetition and memorization, while success in the rest of the game is determined simply by being present. These aren't sufficient learning methods in the classroom, and they most certainly do not make for a fun game for anyone of any age. Even when a game this unappealing to any demographic ends quickly, it's never soon enough.

final score 3.5/10

Staff Avatar Tristan Cooper
Staff Profile | Email
"Get out the umbrellas..."

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