Hail to the Chimp: Impressions of a Political Party Game

The party game is a curious genre. Most other game genres describe some inherent characteristic of the game. Adventure games take you adventuring, shooters let you shoot aliens and/or Nazis, and sandbox games are usually full of bugs, just like a real sandbox.

But if you want to play a party game, it is best to have a party handy. By this measure, Wii owners must be virtual Paris Hiltons, luxuriating in a vast wealth of brief social interactions punctuated by furious bouts of waggling. Meanwhile, Xbox 360 and PS3 owners lie staring at the ceiling while Dark Side of the Moon repeats a fourth time.

Into this bleak emotional void marches Hail To The Chimp: A Presidential Party Game. The politically-themed title will be sworn in June 24 on Xbox 360 and PS3; it is published by GameCock and developed by Stubbs The Zombie creators Wideload Games. To celebrate the release of their party game, Chicago-based Wideload held a (wait for it…) party. Impressions after the jump.

In Hail to the Chimp, you play as one of ten animal candidates vying for the recently vacated position of King of the Jungle. This is an elected kingship, however. The key to winning is the crucial clam vote, which you secure by grabbing more clams than your rivals. You can attack your opponents to steal their clams, or team up with them for special attacks that vary depending on the character alliance. Up to four can play locally or online.

The unique twist is Hail to the Chimp’s presentation. Everything, from menus to between-game scenes to commercials, spoofs cable news election coverage. Wideload President Thomas Kang said that to get the look right, Wideload hired the same design company that provides graphics for a major cable news channel. The format allows Wideload to stretch their comedic legs a bit, and add adult-level humor to the slapstick. Fans of political satire should take special note.

So how did it play? Take the camera from Super Smash Bros., add a dash of Gauntlet, and you are getting close. Each playable character had different attributes; the lumbering hippo seemed more powerful than the nimble chimp. The action was fast and chaotic, as a good party game should be. New players could pull off the occasional win by sheer button-mashing, but more seasoned players were able to use strategy to their advantage.

Sadly, I did not play long enough to devise a winning strategy. To control my character, I only needed to use the left analog stick and three face buttons: jump, attack, and team up. At times I got lost in the action, falling off the stage and earning a “veto.” The in-game announcers were probably mocking me, but I could not hear them over the live band at the party reliving the 80s on stage.

Comedic touches littered the game, such as smashing open ballot boxes to get the votes inside, or commercials between levels advertising microwaveable “Prey Poppers” for the busy mom/predator. Just heat and serve!

Each stage had a different objective that mirrored familiar game modes like “Capture the Flag” or “King of the Hill.” The stages were interactive and rendered in a scribbly toon-shaded style. My favorite (below) allowed me to taunt a giant squid lurking below the board, who proceeded to thrash my opponents with a blindly flailing tentacle. The fixed isometric perspective gave little indication that this game was built using Unreal Engine 3. The only clue was the consistently smooth framerate, even with a lot happening on-screen. 

Wideload is gambling that the Pixar formula — one level of humor for children, another for adults — will work for them. Designer Allen Turner hopes the game will connect with ex-gamers who have cut back on videogames as work and family take priority. Yet, as Hail to the Chimp prepares to enter a market almost devoid of party games for the PS3 and Xbox 360, it may turn out that one of the best ways to make a splash is to jump into a pool with nobody in it.