Hail to the Chimp Review
The presidential election is right around the corner, so perhaps it makes perfect sense to have a zany spoof video game designed to entice multiple players in the never-ending quest to secure “clams” for ultimate victory. It’s called Hail to the Chimp, and it may remind you of titles like Super Smash Brothers Melee; the major difference revolving around the goal: while you certainly battle your opponents, you must collect and/or hold as many clams as you can, which means the other characters are closer to deterrents than actual foes. It’s an interesting concept, and Wideload Games goes all out in its effort to produce a cartoon-y simulated news environment that features broadcasts, speeches, and even interviews with the candidates. The idea is a solid one, but the end result suffers from a lack of depth (there isn’t a whole lot of motivation for one player to keep playing), occasional confusion regarding the object of the stage, iffy control, and a camera view that doesn’t fully embrace the action. Well, at least it’s funny.
The graphical presentation is somewhat strange, as it’s both colorful and vibrant, but what appears to be a cel-shaded palette drops in quality due to clarity issues during gameplay. The developers attempt to jam a great number of objects into a relatively small area, and because the camera must sit far enough away to show the entire stage, we often had difficulty getting our bearings. Sure, we know where our ballot box is, but exactly how high and how far can we jump? We’d sit there, squinting at the screen, just trying to figure out what a certain object is, and we’d even lose track of our character now and again. But at the very least, there’s a great deal of consistency in the different stages, and there’s also a good amount of innovation and imagination that went into the construction of those levels. It’s too bad that you continue to play on the same one throughout the course of one candidate’s story section, but on the other hand, this lets you understand the stage that much better. The rest is fine; it definitely fits the game’s formula and style, but there’s nothing too impressive about it.
The sound is helped along by some competent and comical voice acting throughout your hectic adventure, but the soundtrack could’ve used some work. There’s far too much repetition, and while the bouncy, upbeat tunes are fitting, they can get very tiresome after only an hour of play. The effects are average; each character’s special move sounds clear and prominent, for example, but one doesn’t hear a whole lot of “impact” behind a single punch or strike when running around the stage. Chances are, you’ll want to change the music and sound effects sliders when you first start, just so you can hear the effects better. Basically, much like the graphics, the sound is appropriate for the setting found in Hail to the Chimp, but there’s very little to get excited about. A lack of balance sits at the core, but perhaps that’s only a minor issue simply because you can make the necessary adjustments…this doesn’t stop the repetitiveness of the soundtrack and the generic nature of the gameplay effects, though.
Like we said earlier, this may be best described as a Party game due to its similarity to titles like SSBM. Four candidates will try to battle their way to victory in each stage, but the purpose of each stage differs depending on the situation. While you can certainly go hand-to-hand with your opponents, your goal typically centers on the clams that will continually appear all over the stage. For instance, your first goal will be to gather up 75 clams and deposit them into your ballot box faster than any of the other three competitors. However, the next part of the stage may have you holding on to the most number of clams for two minutes, or it may ask you to simply avoid land mines longer than any other candidate. Obviously, the structure of the stage will play a large role in your success or failure, as will your character selection. Each stage has traps and obstacles, while each character has a special move or two that can give you the upper hand during crucial moments of the stage. The only problem is, it can be tough to know exactly how to use these moves effectively…
For the most part, the control is fine. It’s responsive and accessible, but at the same time, due to the camera view and the sometimes bizarre layout of each stage, the gameplay can get awfully frustrating. The good news is that because it’s not necessarily a fighting game at heart, there is some strategy involved: do you focus on the other candidates and knock the stuffing out of them to keep their clam harvesting down? Or do you ignore them and just try to grab as many clams as you can while avoiding contact? Now, while the sound balance leaves something to be desired, the balance in this particular area is good. In order to complete each stage and score the votes required for election, there’s no one strategy that will work every time, and you must adapt to the situation. If a competitor has pulled ahead early, maybe you should target him for a while as you creep back into the mix. If you’re way ahead, maybe it’s best to stay away from potentially devastating attacks and just nab the last few clams you need without inciting aggression.
But despite the differing goals and the variety of characters, you will be doing much the same thing all the time. Furthermore, the difficulty seems to be quite erratic in the single-player campaign, as certain stages with certain characters prove to be far more challenging than others. This would make sense if the stage progression saw an ever-increasing difficulty level, but that’s not really what happens; the second stage was way tougher than the third, in our experience. This leads to a distinct lack of cohesiveness and fluidity in the campaign, despite the storyline sequences offering a fair amount of comic relief during the in-between portions. And again, erraticism is an issue. You’ll often find yourself romping around, doing what you normally do, only to find that one character is going nuts and hording all the clams in sight. Then, two seconds later, you’ll find yourself caught in a trap that you really never saw, which confuses and frustrates you no end. And as we said before, the control is fine, but we really wish we could’ve moved a good deal faster.
It’s easy to run around, jump with the X button, attack with the Square button, interact with objects (like your ballot box) with the Triangle button, and execute your special “Team Up” move with the Circle button. For the most part, you can have plenty of fun in the first hour or two of play, but it won’t be long before you get bored of the single-player campaign. The multiplayer is where it’s at…well, kinda. There are better party games out there, of course, but four players can have a blast for a little while on a rainy day. On top of which, the game sports a lower-than-usual price tag of $39.99, and that’s significant, because at the full $60, it’s not even worth considering. But all things considered, forty bucks might not be too bad if you have several bored buddies who love the SSBM games and have a penchant for over-the-top political humor. There are some genuinely funny parts in the single-player campaign; it’s just too bad the gameplay, despite having a somewhat solid foundation, is mostly bland and uninteresting.
Hail to the Chimp has a good heart and really tries to build on the aforementioned foundation, but there’s just too much “meh” going on. ‘yawn’
7/28/2008 Ben Dutka