Hail to the Chimp Review

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Hail to the Chimp Publisher: Wideload Games
Developer: Gamecock Media Group

Platforms: Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3
Reviewed on Xbox 360

The King of the Animals, a lion, has been deposed, thanks to an unspecified but shocking scandal. In response, the animal kingdom has decided to abandon the monarchy and pursue a democratic leader chosen by popular election. Unfortunately, the animals haven't quite gotten the hang of a reasonable election process, and the primaries have turned out to be all about capturing the most numerous registered voters in the animal kingdom: clams. To win, animal candidates will attack, ally with and betray their opponents while collecting clams in a series of party-style brawling primaries.

Kyle Ackerman

It's easy to see where Hail to the Chimp went wrong. The game offers a slick version of the typical party-style brawler that usually appeals to kids, particularly with characters like Shrek, Mario or any cartoon character. But it couples that play style with political satire suited to a far older, more politically savvy audience. Kids who want to spend two to five minutes (per round) mashing the attack button in a simplistic brawler don't know the on-screen woodchuck is an apt poke at Walter Cronkite, and people who appreciate Cronkite satire and mock-political attack ads typically don't enjoy such chaotic brawl games.

To be frank, the vast archive of pre-recorded animated content (most of which has to be unlocked) is more often a disturbing damnation of the current state of American politics than it is funny, though it can be entertaining, too. But the audience for this content is more limited than it should be. Without the ingratiating humor and timeliness of cable news shows like The Daily Show and Colbert Report, only a smattering of the in-game coverage on the GRR News Network (Get it? "Grrrrrr"?) is something I could probably enjoy with a few political wonk friends and a lot of booze, but as I've already mentioned, they wouldn't enjoy the style of play.

When it comes to the actual play, whether you try the game's campaign mode or play matches ("primaries") with any combination of players and CPU-controlled candidates that makes for a four-way match, the game always feels the same despite an incredible variety of play modes. There are 10 maps and something like 16 types of primaries, but every single one ends up with four players running around in a tightly-constrained and confused melee, collecting clams that appear on the map, and hitting the other players. Sometimes you have to dodge mines, place the clams in a ballot box, bust ballot machines, or just try to hold onto the clams, but despite the many types of primaries, they all felt the same to me.

What distinguishes Hail to the Chimp from other four-way melee games is its team-up mechanic. Pairs of candidates can temporarily ally with one another to perform devastating attacks that depend in style and effect on the two candidates who ally. This happens when one candidate approaches another and hits a button to make the offer of an alliance, then the other player can press the same button to accept. At that point, they become a nearly-unstoppable team. This process is interesting, but the game is so chaotic that it's hard to use this strategically. Instead, it becomes just another aspect of the button mashing mess.

It's almost impossible to find anyone to compete against online, so either bring a party of friends into the fray, or prepare to play against three dim CPU-controlled opponents. Hail to the Chimp does have a single-player campaign mode, but that's hardly different from the multiplayer ad-hoc play. Each of the 10 maps is linked to a specific candidate, so the campaign mode just involves battling through a series of primaries starting on that candidate's home turf until he or she wins the election. Things start with Ptolemy the hippo in his home hollow, and winning that election unlocks more. The different primaries in the campaign mode explore a lot of different game modes. But having played far too many matches, I can vouch for the fact that a single map in the campaign is more than enough.

It may be a timely and surprisingly insightful jab at the broken American political process, but that doesn't transform Hail to the Chimp into a game with an audience. Despite solid graphical style and occasionally clever cut-scene commentary, Hail to the Chimp is hard to recommend to anyone. I can only suggest that the game's developers adapt the technology to a property more accessible to younger gamers, and make the play arenas less chaotic. As the GRR News disclaimer within the game notes: "If you have not been sufficiently entertained, tell someone who cares." So, I hope you care enough to read this before playing.

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This page contains a single entry by Editor published on August 19, 2008 11:38 PM.

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