Jambo! Safari Review
Posted by Luke Westaway
Sega’s African adventure bagged and tagged.
Jambo! Safari: Animal Rescue is a bold attempt at converting the popular Arcade title to something more palatable for the home audience. Quite obviously aimed at younger gamers, this conversion basically boils down to a few veterinary minigames tacked on to the central animal-wrangling gameplay sections. But is Jambo! Safari the big-game catch we were hoping for or does it belong in the petting zoo?
The capturing mechanic of Jambo! remains largely faithful to Sega’s arcade original: you drive around the African plains in a clunky old jeep until you spot an animal in need of "rescue" (the animals don't show any visible signs of illness, so we’re assuming Dr Dolittle is riding shotgun with you). These animals must captured and made well back on the ranch, which involves some good driving and, er, netting skills. First, you must wait to get in range of the animal to get a lock-on with your lasso and then rope 'em up; once you've got the animal lassoed it's then a case of driving behind it and keeping the beast in your line-of-sight until you're able to throw a net over it – at which point it will be transported back to the ranch. Repeat as necessary.
Littered around the game world are missions you can sign up for (for example, capture five hyenas, or give a tourist a guided tour) which will grant you access to more missions and unlockables, such as new hairstyles and clothes for your avatar and new 4x4s to drive around in (including a few licensed models). With several different open-world sections also available to unlock, you might be lead to think that this game has a lot to offer. Unfortunately, there is a desolate feel to these open plains (they’re rather plain!), which is in part due to the game's short draw distance – most gameplay involves driving fairly aimlessly until the right dots appear on your radar – somewhat hindering the potential for exploration and discovery. That being said, the central animal catching mechanic still works reasonably well, and although the driving controls are clumsy, it’s decent enough to make catching a particularly sneaky lion reasonably satisfying.
When you're tired of bagging animals, you can exit to the animal-care section of the game. Essentially, this is a set of simple stylus minigames – pulling a thorn here, applying ointment there – that contains nothing too taxing, yet provides some decent entertainment. Although it's not likely to challenge Trauma Center in terms of brow-furrowing tension, for the most part the stylus control and interface are tight enough. The main problem here is that it feels a little undernourished – a few more minigames and a bit more interaction with the animals themselves would've been appreciated.
Looking at Jambo! Safari, you can see that the graphics don't exactly make the most of the DS's hardware: environments are bland and unappealing and the in-game characters are blocky and poorly rendered – at best they can be described as tolerable, just about. The area in which the graphics become unforgivably bad, though, is in the veterinary sections: the animals you've worked hard to rescue are static, lumpy and poorly designed – we found it rather hard to care about thorns in the side of a lioness who looks like she was composed of Duplo blocks! Nintendogs proved that creating dynamic and endearing animals on the DS is entirely possible, and seeing as this game is aimed at youngsters, making the animals look cute should have been a development priority.
The audio present in the game provides for some small redemption. With pretty decent music and sound-effects, you won’t find too many gripes here (although several of the music loops present in the menus will quickly become annoying). In all, it's a nice effort – the Lion King-style tribal percussion conjures up a nice atmosphere – and the sound effects are well done, with the various animal cries rendered well through the tiny speakers.
The biggest barrier to enjoying Jambo! is the menu system: navigating the interface is ridiculously overcomplicated for such a simple game. With a carousel of icons you scroll through, using the stylus providing the key mechanic, controls are clumsy, and 'clicking' your selections often fails to register. It makes moving around the different parts of the game something of a chore and emphasises the gap between the open-world capture sections and the animal-care minigames. When you're pitching a game at children, it's more important than ever to make it instantly appealing, simple and intuitive; a game where you have to battle your way through the menu system to the actual content is unlikely to impress.
Jambo! Safari could have been a pretty solid game if the animal-capture or animal-care sections were cut out and more time was spent polishing the remaining parts. As it is, the game is fun but somewhat uninspiring. If you persevere with it, then there's some substance here, but it's hard to be enthusiastic about it – the overall lack of polish and unintuitive menu system make it hard to recommend in light of all the alternative titles out there. In short: it’s probably best to release this beast back into the wilderness than to try and tame it.