It's next to impossible to find political content in video games—partly because they're big-budget products with an incentive to play it safe, and partly because while rockers belong to the left, and shoot-'em-up stars vote with the right, gamers run the gamut from hawks and Paultards to paranoids and anarchists. (And those are the ones who know it's an election year.) Even bad boy Grand Theft Auto IV aims most of its jabs at American excess. So it's no surprise that contrary to its billing, Hail To The Chimp ain't a satire: The references to lawn signs, ballot-box stuffing, and flip-flopping are watered down, with no connection to real-life targets, and no sign of slyness or irony. Instead of competing with The Daily Show, it's closer to Bazooka Joe.
The election-year theme wraps a collection of mini-games that are no fun, but in a complicated way. Up to four players control cartoon animals who run around a series of maps, replaying a handful of games that entail grabbing or swapping the game-currency clams. Each board has its own tricks, but even after you learn them, the opportunities to score points are too random to invite serious strategies. The combat never gets past sloppy button-mashing, and in certain modes, you can't even get critical status information, like the number of clams you're holding. And these are just some of the interface problems that make the game annoying even as the competition gets intense.
Beyond the game: Arguably, the political-primary season made for such great entertainment that pop culture couldn't even keep up; Bob Lefsetz had a point when he suggested that Grammy winner Barack Obama was cooler than our biggest pop stars. Too bad Chimp feels more like the general election—tired, repetitive, and full of weak compromises.
Worth playing for: The artificial intelligence puts up a good fight—which is handy, since you'll be waiting a while to find anyone to play online.
Frustration sets in when: From your zoomed-out view, the characters get lost in the obnoxiously busy backdrops, making it hard to follow your latest fistfight, or even to tell if you've fallen off the board altogether.
Final judgment: Not even the Howard Dean For Iowa game of 2008.