Very few games actually meet the “great” mark. In this reviewer’s opinion, for a game to truly be exceptional, it basically has to be at least pretty good in every way. Oblivion plays great, looks incredible, has solid voice acting, nice plot and you can play it forever. A great game. Obviously, the vast majority of games fall well short of this. Hail to the Chimp, a budget title ($40 USD at launch) turned super-budget title ($20 new) comes dangerously close to being a great game…kind of. While it does almost everything right, it falls terribly short in the gameplay department, which reduces it from being what could be the new Katamari to something you probably won’t enjoy.
What is Hail to the Chimp? It’s a game that satirizes politics, with a slew of different animals all desperately pandering for votes so that they can be declared the head of the Animal Kingdom (the irony of a democratically-elected king is pointed out, by the way). With this, it sets up for one of the single best satirical works you’ll ever see in video games, blending in actual lines from recent campaigns and always begging the question of which character is supposed to be what real-life politician. The cast is fairly large, and includes the likes of Ptolemy the Hippo, Daisy the Platypus, Crackers the Monkey, Toshiro the Squid and so on and so forth. Each have a unique political image, joined with funny stereotypes associated with them and topped with silly little issues that they focus in on. Daisy is supposed to be the young, trendy political pick that the press loves. Moxie the Ox is the self-made woman who supports animal rights (that is, the rights of animals who get eaten). Ptolemy is…well…a pimp. The details of the race are spelled out by the incredibly well-done Woodchuck Chumley, the news anchor for GRR News, who gives in-depth news about the race between cutscenes. The lovable cast of characters is accompanied by quality presentation, including campaign commercials, interviews, news commentary and debates, done in different graphical styles.
This is all great. But is a game worth buying if it isn’t fun? I don’t think so. And Hail to the Chimp isn’t fun. You take other games that have mediocre gameplay, but stellar presentation such as the .hack// series, and at least you have something somewhat rewarding after you pound through a bunch of uninspired dungeons. But in Hail to the Chimp, the entirety of the gameplay is precisely one mini-game. That’s it. The ENTIRE GAME IS JUST ONE MINI-GAME WHERE YOU COLLECT CLAMS. Sure, sometimes you have to just collect the clams, and sometimes you have to collect the clams and put them into a treasure chest…but it’s still COLLECTING CLAMS OVER AND OVER AND OVER. It’s not bad for a while, but it quickly becomes a great, big “why bother?” of a game. I don’t know if they were trying to make it into a Mario Party-like game, but got chopped down for budgetary reasons or if they just didn’t think it through, but it’s just not fun to play.
That said, the game might still be worth checking out. It’s currently selling for a humble $20 USD new, and there’s a whole lot to love outside the gameplay that, to its credit, isn’t smitten with glitches, freezing, frame rate issues, or many of the other issues that can result in a game being completely unplayable. But this doesn’t make the game anything but tedious to play, but fun to watch. Cautiously buy the game for pure laugh value. Don’t get it expecting a fun gameplay experience.