• Safar'Wii Doubutsu Kisoutengai! (Amazing Animals) Review - Wii

    Whilst some of the more curious gamers were waiting patiently for Afrika on the PS3, a very similar Wii game went completely unnoticed. Doubutsu Kisoutengai! (A.K.A. Safar'Wii in the West) is a Safari game Ė not an over-populated genre for sure, especially considering that previous games labelled as such have been geared towards either hunting or arcade audiences. Amazing Animals differs in that itís all about finding the animals and observing them, rather than sending them to an early grave or finding the limits of adhesion in the jeep/dirt track interface. At this point you have probably just decided whether you are interested in this game at all!

    Those of a certain age and retro gamers, alike, would be best placed to understand how the game plays out. Pokemon Snap on the N64 - a title that would probably have slipped into obscurity had it not been for the Pokemon element - had you on-rails, searching all around for the critters and then taking photos, hopefully of them all. Amazing Animals takes this structure one step further. Whilst being driven around a loop on an idyllic island by a robot driver guide (yes, that bit is odd given the realism present elsewhere), the safari goer must search around with the analogue stick for signs of animals. These might be trees and bushes rustling, puffs of dust in the distance, or water rippling. Beeping the horn might tempt some animals, once friendly, or scare others off. Thankfully, the jeep speed can be increased to allow different parts of the island (and thus different animals) to be reached quickly. However, the jeep does have a minimum speed, which keeps you on your toes, looking around; meaning spotting everything isnít too easy.

    Once signs of life are located, it then deviates from the Pokemon Snap formula and, instead, tapping the tell-tales with the pointer then cuts to an on-foot sequence in which the player can walk/run/tip-toe amongst the animals. Although the area is constrained to some extent, full control of direction and movement speed is passed over to the player and the next step is to both befriend the animals and take photos of them. At this point, another N64 game springs to mind Ė Pilotwings had various photo challenges and the score depended on the quality of the photos. Similarly, Amazing Animals lets you choose three of your favourite photos from the dayís travels around the island and ďsendĒ them off to the mainland for evaluation. Close-ups and interesting events will have a better chance of gold and silver medals in the album - a place whereyou can save photo records of everything youíve seen. For example, a giraffe eating a tree is more interesting than a giraffe doing nothing. At first the animals will be very wary, but with each trip out from base-camp, they will get increasingly bold and eventually come very close; although, if they have young offspring, they will become cautious again. This all works wellbecause it makes you eager to get out and do another expedition after completing the last one, both to get better grades on the photos and to see what the animals are up to now; each time getting a little closer.

    Oddly, the relationship between the scenery thatyou see while in the jeep and the vistas that are displayed in the on-foot sequences is fairly basic. However, itís all remarkably good looking, with plants and trees being very detailed and for example the view along the shoreline of the in-land lake giving a very tranquil feeling, in stark contrast to the harsh Savannah-style areas. Jungles, giant waterfalls, caverns, sea views, dodgy-looking bridges; itís all here and ready to be explored. The scenery changes too, with sudden storms making for an exciting jeep ride, followed by a sudden surge in greenery, waterholes and accompanying animals making the most of the new, lush environment. What has been created here is often beautiful and makes us want to go on safari for real.

    The animals are captivating to watch. Whilst they may not have the high definition of those in Afrika, they make up for it with mostly realistic animation and interaction, both with eachother and their surroundings. Often itís easy to find yourself just standing around watching the animals for minutes at a time, especially when several different kinds of animals are wandering around together. Given the concentration span of the average gamer, thatís high praise indeed. However, if you place yourself in serious danger, perhaps getting too close to a lion while itís busy at the waterhole, you are quickly put back in the jeep with the guide. Your explorer is never in any mortal danger.

    Proceedings are spiced up a bit with various upgrades. These can be found in boxes left for you by rangers, which must be spotted and opened, such as a zebra or lion disguise. Zebra for herbivores, lion for carnivores. Best not to mix these up, eh? Thereís also a camouflage tent with a slot for the camera - useful for waiting for the animals to get really close - and, helpfully, a rain generator. Additionally, coins hidden in the undergrowth can be collected for jeep paint jobs and equipment power-ups, like larger camera capacity.

    Since itís a Wii game, the obligatory mini-games appear every now and then. For example, protect your tent and safari kit from a night-time attack by hyenas by SETTING FIRE TO THEM with a flaming torch - it's tense stuff, with them all lined up in the darkness of the treeline, their beady eyes reflecting the torch light. A fun diversion that brings home the reality of sharing the island with wild animals, and showing itís not taking itself too seriously.

    The way the game is structured means that you arenít overloaded with things to see from the start, with new animals being gradually introduced with each trip, along with new behaviour for previously sighted animals. For example, a jungle gorilla might be sleeping one day and then feeding a baby the next. Itís all a good incentive to keep playing regularly and, if thatís not enough, then thereís always the vulture mentality Ė waiting for a carnivore to pick off something smaller.

    Whilst Doubutsu Kisoutengai! doesnít have mass appeal, anyone that enjoyed the unstructured approach of Endless Ocean or even perhaps Animal Crossing will find a lot of joy here. If you want something very different, then check this out.

    Score: 7/10


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    1. VR46's Avatar
      VR46 -
      Nice review (and banner) Charles.
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