For some, the Washington political scene can be as wild as the Amazon. Conniving snakes slither through the grass, looking to sidle up with equally loathsome lobbyists. Blowhard senator swine curry favor among their constituency while wallowing in the mud with the special interests. And when poor, defenseless votes are spotted in the great, wide open – all manner of predators crawl forth, attacking their opponents from the shadows (or in pack formation) in a bid to rip their teeth into every last dangling chad and claim the carrion for themselves. Yup, the world of politics is a jungle – a fact that the developers at Wideload Games hopes to exploit in their election year release, Hail to the Chimp.
In addition to its timeliness, Hail to the Chimp represents one of the few pure party games on the Xbox 360. Developed by Wideload and published by Gamecock, an independent consortium of some long-time game developers, Chimp aims to give a sardonic spin to the party genre with its tongue-in-cheek take on the Beltway scene.
Essentially, Hail to the Chimp provides players with a set of 16 mini-games which play similarly to multiplayer battlers like the Dreamcast classic Powerstone. In the solo campaign, the player is tasked with working through a set of levels with a predetermined avatar selected from the various animal candidates who are making a bid for the Animal Kingdom Presidency when their fearless leader, the Lion, steps down.
Players are not able to choose one proponent and then work through the “campaign”. Instead, the player will work through various stops along the “campaign trail” and will be given control of a contender in that arena. Early in the game, you’ll assume the role of Ptolamy, a hip-hop hippo and work to gather as many votes for him as possible through success in a series of mini-games. Once that round is completed, the player will move on to the next setting and take control of another pre-determined candidate – eventually guiding a vast menagerie of critters including squids, tigers and bears. Oh my.
During game play, the player is presented with some variation on a similar theme, specifically battling their opponent in an arena in a bid to collect ‘clams’ (or votes). Variety is introduced through different parameters which change up the overall goal – meaning one stage may require the player to be the first to post 75 clams into a ballot box while the next may require you to hold on to the most clams for the longest amount of time (to a set time limit – i.e. first to reach 2 minutes). Clams will appear throughout the maps sporadically and players will find themselves in a race to get to the newly arrived clams as well as fending off offensive attacks from the other players looking to grab the clams for themselves. In addition, clams will also add to your health meter meaning the more you gather, the longer you’ll survive.
Along with the game types listed above, some of the other notable variations include Political Minefield, which forces players to hunt down clams in order to build up their health reserves against a volley of mines that fall from the sky. This becomes a true elimination contest. In Hack the Vote, voting machines rain down from the heavens, forcing players to race to them and attempt to destroy them with offensive attacks. Yard Signs puts players in a busy neighborhood where they battle to pull a trigger and append their own political advertisement to a yard sign before their opponents can do the same.
Throughout the campaign, players will stop to stump for clams in a variety of locations including a bustling dockyard, the foot of a raging waterfall, as well as the virtual interior of the ‘Political Machine.’ While the goal is to rampage through these levels and gather the most clams in order to propel your candidate to victory, players will find that the optional ‘team-up’ power-up, which allows you to take one of your opponents on as a running mate for a short period of time, can provide a strategic advantage in terms of collecting clams quicker. That said, you need to balance the strategy of when to employ this – usually when you are much further behind the opposition.
As mentioned, the major focus of the game is on multiplayer – and the multiplayer campaign plays similarly to the solo game, with the obvious addition of live opponents. Other than that, the various game modes and objective remains the same. Chimp also offers full online support, with up to 4 player battles playable through Xbox Live.
Wrapping up the package is a satirical take on the various news networks we’re so accustomed to – with Chimp’s GRR playing the part of Fox News and CNN equally. Through the GRR interface, players can listen in as various commentators (including anchorman Woodchuck Chumley) provide commentary on the battles, offer up spoof news reports and engage in fluff interviews of the various candidates. Progress through the game will allow players to unlock a host of comedic videos including fake campaign attack ads, news features and parody commercials – all of which are available from a YouTube-like video interface and can be viewed at any time from the main menu.
There’s no doubt that this animal attraction possesses real personality. The big question is, does it deserve your vote?
This Chimp’s greatest attribute is its fairly decent looks. The cartoonish presentation serves the property well, with the characters featuring a level of cel-shading that is evocative of the Sly Cooper series. In fact, many of the animals on display here look like they could have migrated from Sly’s life of crime to this more legitimate line of larceny. The actual game play sessions are played on vibrant maps that boast a number of dynamic scenery effects – including bubbling lava pits, raging waterfalls and other hazards. Everything is drawn in crisp Crayola strokes which makes for a visually appealing game. In fact, the bright scenery somewhat distracts from the tasks at hand – beating your opponent down within an inch of their life to prove that you alone are the best to serve the common trust. The wraparound GRR news program segments are appealing as well. They’re not all knee-slappers but the animation is fun to watch.
Where Chimp climbs to lofty heights on its visual presentation, it drops to the jungle canopy just when it starts swinging. The problem is the game is just too repetitive. Despite boasting 16 minigames, most of them play as subtle variations on a similar theme – most of the time adding up to just collecting more clams than your opponent and quicker. While the AI puts up a good fight, better challenge can be found against live opponents. The inclusion of full four-player support via Xbox Live is welcome and former Powerstone fans may find this game scratches that nostalgic itch in its similar brand of frenetic brawling, but it’s certainly not as addictive as that classic.
I found this Chimp controlled as tightly as a banana peel. The play controls are just too imprecise and slippery. With tight arenas featuring a variety of environmental hazards that work against you in tandem with the live opposition, the spotty controls conspire to place the player in a real bind. Too often, I would arrive at my ballot box with a fist full of clams and realize I had overshot it by a few inches, leaving me wide open for a tag-team attack from the opposition, who would abscond with my votes. Now I know how Al Gore feels.
The in-game music features a nice medley of jaunty tunes that grow nicely frenetic when the battle for votes begins to rage. It will also change tune dynamically when some of the more potent environment hazards rear up, meaning you have to keep your ears open to stay in tune with the flow of the game. The various parody interviews and commercials that you can open all feature some nice satirical songs that play off of those real-world attack ads were sure to be inundated with soon.
Chimp’s sound design is about on par with what you would expect in the brawling segments – with the various attacks registering a series of satisfying whacks and thuds. The voice direction during the various cut-scenes is very well done, with a number of hilarious voice-overs applied to the usual rogue’s gallery of animal anchors and reporters.
This is a true party game and as such is made to be played with a crowd. Running through the solo campaign, the cheap tactics employed by the AI grows annoying quickly. Coupled with the spotty controls, players will find themselves on the losing end of getting to clams or hammered by cheap enemy attacks over and over. Also, the AI will join forces for tag-team attacks on an alarming basis which just adds to the frustration factor. The game seems developed to force players to strategize but too often you find yourself simply fending off cheap attacks from the opposition. Just like real life.
Chimp’s difficulty is directly tied to the solo campaign. All of the various game modes and objectives are easy to grasp, but the cheap tactics employed by the AI add up to a very frustrating single player experience. With one player battling 3 computer opponents (all of whom seem to have eyes on you), the game just feels unfairly stacked against the solo types – almost as if it is forcing you into the multiplayer arena. This is the battler’s version of rubber band AI, no matter how many clams you accumulate, the AI will always catch up and rob you of those well-deserved votes.
Along with the unique presentation, Chimp shines in the multiplayer arena. This is a true party game, best played with a room full of people where the flow of trash talk is equivalent to the flashy battles on screen. The full Xbox Live support is well implemented and I found it very easy to get into a game and get battling – even if I did run into some issues with lack of players out there. That said, the style and presentation of the title is similar to some of the quirky independent releases we’ve seen on the XBLA service, so there’s always the chance that this could grow an audience and curry favor with more constituents.
Wideload attempted to apply an irreverent spin to the Political Machine and while they hit their milestone with their presentation, their platform lacks –growing tiring and repetitive too quickly. With the same minigame offered up with slight variants, it feels like we’ve heard these messages before. It’s admirable that they chose to add some style to the tired party game genre, but the content just doesn’t bring anything new or compelling to the table. As they say, this is just politics as usual.