System: Xbox 360
Developer: Wideload Games
Release Date: 06/24/2008
In an era where most games about politicians are flash games where two candidates are boxing, with the exception of a game like The Political Machine, Hail to the Chimp wraps up political satire in a party game. Does the developer Wideload Games have what it takes to make this game worth your fundraiser money, or is it just another game trying to cash in on the current political fever that grips our country around election time? Surely the developers of Stubbs the Zombie couldn’t make a bad game…..right?
Let’s get one thing out of the way. Hail to the Chimp is a party game. It is a budget party game by modern standards with an MSRP of $40. Since I’m reviewing the 360 version of the game Hail to the Chimp has to live up to the standards set by other 360 party games, like Viva Pinata: Party Animals, or Fusion Frenzy 2. I’m a party game kind of guy, and personally I am a big fan of the Mario Party series, no matter what the flaws of those games are. There is one major flaw in all of these games however, by definition being a party game it’s meant for multiple players.
So let’s start by going over one of the weakest parts of the game: the single player mode. The story of the game is that the Lion, the King of the jungle, has gone missing. The jungle seems ready to switch from a monarchy to a democracy easily enough, the only problem is that multiple candidates throw their hats in the ring to become the new leader. The setting is mostly just an excuse to define the various characters within the game, which instead of mocking specific politicians are mostly just mocking general political stereotypes. This works pretty well actually, I mean if you are a fan of something like The Daily Show you’ll probably enjoy the little segments that are unlocked through the game that follow the different candidates, and the fact that other than some exaggeration and the fact that these are cartoon animals it’s not even that far off from the way real world politicians act.
This game is one of those titles where my expectation for the storyline interfered with what the final product delivered. I sort of hoped that you could lead one of the candidates to presidential victory, but that’s not what you do in the single player portion in this game. Instead you play as each of the candidates who are trying to get a nomination, and after playing for a while I can understand why the team went in this direction. This way while you are playing you get to see all of the different mock political videos that they have created, and have apparently spent a lot of time on. I’ve seen some complaints about this direction, but this way you get to view all of the campaign videos instead of having to play the campaign several times over. The same people complaining about this direction would’ve complained about repetitiveness had they chose the other direction.
Besides it works. Part of the reason to continue playing through the campaign mode is to unlock these videos, plus the additional commercial videos and other content, like pieces of flair. Essentially much like other multiplayer focused games, the campaign mode is a tutorial for the multiplayer mode. In it you get to try out the different maps and game types while learning what the best strategies are and what the rules are for the different modes. This is no different than the other game I recently reviewed, Unreal Tournament 3.
If you are comparing Hail to the Chimp to other single player focused games, then you are sort of missing the point of what this game is about. In comparison to other party game titles and Hail to the Chimp has an edge in the fact that playing through the single player game you unlock further clips of character videos and different pieces of flair that you can decorate your character with. In this aspect Hail to the Chimp actually gives you more incentive to play through the single player modes than something like Viva Pinata: Party Animal or Fusion Frenzy 2.
But at the same time if you don’t plan on playing the game with other people than Hail to the Chimp is not going to be a game you want to pick up over other titles. Even if you normally play by yourself but play with random people online then this still isn’t going to be a title that you might be interested in. You see the online portion of the game has some major flaws. The first problem is the fact that there isn’t much of a online community for this title. If you look at the leaderboards almost half of the leaderboards are the development team. While it’s great to see they enjoy their title so much that they play often, is disheartening to see that very few other people play this game. Even if thousands of other players are playing the game, the online portion is implemented pretty poorly. You select a versus match and go through the online options (Ranked/Player match, etc) and then the game searches for opponents. During the multiple attempts to find opponents I never found anyone, no matter how many times I changed the versus match options. What’s annoying is that the online mode doesn’t even let you look at a list of other people who are seeking opponents, so I can’t just join someone else who is playing. For a game that is so heavy on the multiplayer aspect, it’s sad that this wasn’t as fully utilized as it could’ve been.
As far as the actual game modes go there is at least a good selection of different types of games to choose from. The best comparison I can think of for the actual gameplay is that it is like Powerstone as a party game with animals vying for votes and power ups instead of characters racing for weapons. For those that have never played Powerstone that means that the game is shown from camera perspective above the field while four characters fight against each other. While this is a simplification of the actual gameplay, there are a bunch of different game modes that can significantly alter how you approach the game. Almost all of the games revolve around the collection of clams, which are like votes in this game, though there are a several different variations to this theme. Some will just have you collecting the most clams, and if you are worried about how many the other character has, well you can beat the clams out of them. The other types of this gameplay are one games where the goal will be to give another player the most clams, or to have the most clams king-of-the-hill style for the longest amount of time. All of these have political themes that work well within the game. There are 16 different game modes in all with names like Flip-Floppers, or Hack The Vote.
To wrap this part of the review up, it’s a party game. There are multiple modes to play around with, but if you are alone or play with strangers online, then you might not be getting the most enjoyment from these modes.
The graphics are done in a unique sort of 3D cell shaded style the kind that you might see in some games like Cell Damage for the original Xbox, only you know, it does not suck in this game. The characters, item effects, levels and the different CGI clips are all well animated and done in a style that is both kid and adult friendly. The sound is well done also. While the music and sound effects aren’t particularly good or bad, it all works but it is nothing to really write home about, it is the voice acting where the game excels. Everything from the opening menu where the animal equivalent to a news anchor, Beaver Chumley, to the different promotional and attack ads for the different characters are just very well voice acted. When it comes down to it, I honestly think that the developers had more fun making these video clips than anything else since the kind of care devoted to making these clips is just short of amazing for this type of game. Since when is a party game known for it’s amusing video clips?
When I say the clips seemed to have received the most attention, I mean it. Some of the gameplay feels rough in a lot of places. The main gameplay of four people fighting it out in different modes over clams is great for when you have 3 other people over to play. All of the modes function well enough, and the maps are all different from each other and generally have interactive areas in each map. If you are looking for a Powerstone-light type of game to play with four friends with more modes than either Powerstone title, than this is right up your alley. Some of the maps are great, with my personal favorite being the Ring of Fire and the Watergates maps. These are just well designed maps. A few of the maps aren’t as fun as these two, though none of them are bad enough to really ruin the experience. The problems stem from when you aren’t playing 4 players.
The AI is just all over the place.
This varies from each game mode as well. In some game modes the AI is sharp and unless you are doing your best to get to the Fat Cats first or stuff a ballot box then you have a chance of losing to the computer. On other modes, like one where you grab a bad clam and use it to spread rumors about the other opponents to newsstands or the king of the hill variant, well the AI isn’t much competition. Especially in the King of the Hill type game, the computer opponents lost by so much it felt like cheating. There’s no real difficulty setting either, which seems odd. When you first start it is easy to assume that the AI is just plain dumb, but as you continue playing you realize it’s just in certain game modes. But when the AI decides to be a pushover, it doesn’t hold back, it’ll get stuck in the environment, or just wander around ignoring the game objective.
As mentioned earlier and which will be theme throughout this review, it’s just more fun with 3 other people. The game controls just fine for this type of game, with one button for jumping, one for attacking, one for context sensitive actions, and another for teaming up. This is one of the more fun parts of the game, if you are losing you have the option to call out to team up, or join someone who is looking for a teammate. With the right combo of characters you can cause a lot of devastation and turn the tide to your favor. Of course it means that the odds are turning both in the favor of both you and your teammate so that hastily made alliances often means that you’ll turn on each other as soon as the team up period is over. This is great though with multiple people since if you are in the same room as the other players you can forge temporary allegiances across the living room and watch as truces pop up and dissolve in the course of seconds. This is probably the coolest idea Hail to the Chief has in the game. The game also features power-ups and anti power-ups in the form of curses, these are done well enough that they do not affect the overall balance of the game while still adding an extra challenge.
One of the other issues with this game aside from sporadic AI and an online mode that makes it hard to find games, is the fact that even though most modes revolve around the goal of collecting clams you never know how many clams you have on you. When you reach certain milestones, like 5, 10, 15 clams you’ll see the number pop up above your character. Except if another character punches you right after you’ll lose an unknown number of clams. While this doesn’t cripple the gameplay at all, it does add some unnecessary frustration to the game.
I do find it funny that a developer tried to create a semi-original party game with a different approach and are mostly berated by the video game press about it. Honestly considering Microsoft’s recent E3 conference and their current and future direction, this is the type of game that the 360 needs. Hail to the Chimp is the kind of title that is easy to pick up and that’s enjoyable with multiple people and can be played by kids or adults. While I love GTA4, Halo, Dead Rising, Mass Effect, etc, these games limit the systems appeal to a general audience, and especially a younger audience. Games like Viva Pinata: Party Animals and Hail to the Chimp fill a void in games that can be marketed to all audiences. I’m surprised Microsoft hasn’t backed Hail to the Chimp since it seems like one of those titles you can see being packaged with a system at a later date (since you know, packing an M-Rated game with a system isn’t exactly consumer friendly).
Story/Modes: Above Average
Replayability: Above Average
Appeal: Above Average
Final Score: Above Average Game
Short Attention Span Summary:
Hail to the Chimp is one of those love it or hate it kind of games. If you enjoy fun political satire mixed up with a game that’s good when you have friends over, then you will probably like it. If you have no one else to play the game with or like your political satire to be more specific in it’s targets, then Hail to the Chimp might not be for you. Hail to the Chimp however is a fun time with friends, and much like Stubbs the Zombie it has a lot of appeal in just the humor in the game. If you’re looking for game that’s fun with friends and family where you aren’t shooting at each other, than Hail to the Chimp is a great addition to your collection.