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Wild Earth: African Safari

Score: 78%
ESRB: Everyone
Publisher: Majesco
Developer: Super X Studios
Media: DVD/1
Players: 1 - 4
Genre: Simulation/ Edutainment

Graphics & Sound:

The first time I saw a Wild Earth game was its submission into the Independent Game's Festival (IGF) Student Showcase at GDC 2003. Upon seeing it, I immediately thought "Pokemon Snap, but with real animals" and while that early version had a few hiccups, it has become a much more refined experience in Wild Earth: African Safari for the Wii.

Visually, African Safari isn't too stunning. You will find plenty of other Wii titles with smoother lines and less blocky landscapes, but the graphics are far above "good enough" and get the job done. While it looks like a game from the GameCube, it still shows the animals in true enough form to make it work.

While graphics aren't one of the game's strong suits, audio is where it shines. The background music is low key and soothing, and quite frankly perfect for this game (which itself is generally low key and soothing). Animal sounds feel right, and the game's dialogue consists of the two journalists you are accompanying on this safari. One character, the male, is obviously well learned about pretty much any of the animals you will come across, while the other, the woman, is curious and always asking questions. Consequently, while running around the levels, you will hear a ton of interesting facts about more than 30 animals, and the best part is, it doesn't feel like learning, so kids out there might actually pick up on some facts.


Gameplay:

Wild Earth: African Safari isn't necessarily a game in the standard sense. There is no scoring of pictures, no items to pick up, no upgrades to purchase; it's all about getting enough pictures for your article. While the pictures themselves might not be scored, you will be told upon taking the snapshot if you need to zoom in/out some or reposition yourself so you actually get the shot. So while you won't be told your score, there is obviously some scoring going on - you just aren't given a hard number on it.

The levels are vast, and the only real way to make your way to each objective point is to use the Objective Finder which basically gives you a direction to go for your next required objective. The objectives themselves range from required ones like pictures of elephant cows and their calves to optional ones like warthogs wallowing in mud. While not all of the optional objectives are required to finish the level, you have a certain number of pictures that you have to save off in order to consider the assignment complete, so you will have to keep your eyes open and look around, especially at the list of objectives that appears on the top-left side of the screen.

I've heard a few complaints about the game, one being that you can't always find the objective and get the picture you need. The only time I found this to be an issue was for the occasional optional one. The required pictures seem to be fairly obvious, and as long as you get enough optional ones, it doesn't matter if you miss a few; again, no score means no consequences to not getting everything. Heck, there isn't even a list somewhere of objectives you've completed and ones you haven't.

While the main mode of the game, the assignments, aren't altogether fun, per se, I did enjoy the experience and it accomplishes what it set out to do. If you are looking to spend time with your friends on the game, there are two options. One is to go into an assignment and have one person control a vehicle while the other handles the camera, or you can go into the Safari Arcade Games mode where you can play various games inspired by the animals you see in your adventure. These games include flying a vulture through gold rings, racing an ostrich over rocky terrain or performing a DDR-style dance with a flamingo. There are 11 mini-games in all, one for each assignment.


Difficulty:

Wild Earth: African Safari is not a hard game at all. While walking around the level and following the clues to your next required objective, you need to keep your eyes open for those optional ones, like a hyrax on a rock (I didn't even know what a hyrax was before this game), or an ostrich nest or even a dead fish. Completing a level is as easy as finding all of the required photo-ops and enough of the optional ones to fill out your portfolio.

The only real aspect that might make the game harder is keeping in mind the Impact Meter, which is a gauge on the top of the screen that shows how much the animals have taken notice of you. If you upset them too much, you might find yourself running for your life a bit or worse, leaving the environment completely because it has been compromised. But even that aspect is easy to avoid if you use your camera's zoom liberally.


Game Mechanics:

Wild Earth: African Safari's control scheme has only a slight learning curve to it, but anyone who has already gotten used to the Wii-mote and Nunchuck shouldn't take long to pick it up. The Wii-mote controls your camera and moving it around on the screen moves the camera's frame around. Pushing the frame to any of the edges of your screen causes the camera to rotate in that direction. For instance, if you want to look up at some birds, just point your Wii-mote to the top of the screen and the camera will rotate up. Walking is done with the Nunchuck's stick, and taking pictures is a simple press of the (A) button. In order to zoom in or out, you use the (C) and (Z) buttons found on the Nunchuck, and once the picture is taken, you can save it to your album with the (B) button.

By the time you take your first picture, you should have a good handle of the controls of Wild Earth: African Safari and then after that, it's just a matter of listening to your guides and looking for some nice shots to take.

While Wild Earth: African Safari isn't the most fun game in the world, the mini-games are definitely a hoot, and like many things on the Wii, it goes along way with uniqueness. If you are unsure about it, rent it, but adults might find it a great way to teach their kids about animals. Heck, this game could become the Zoobooks of the next generation.


-J.R. Nip, GameVortex Communications
AKA Chris Meyer

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