As consumers of entertainment, we all generally gravitate towards the extreme sides of the spectrum. When a product is amazing, it's really amazing — and we can't say enough about it. When a product is awful, it's really awful — and we're going to let everyone know. That's why it's such a disappointment when a product falls squarely in the middle of expectations, as it does in Maximum Games' forgettable puzzler Safari Quest. As a perfectly functional imitation of the Bejeweled games with a few additional twists, it's less likely to leave an impression on you than some of the truly awful shovelware on Nintendo platforms. Not only does it not have enough to differentiate it from similar products that already have this genre in the bag, but it also frustratingly bungles several attempts to freshen up the formula.
As already mentioned, Safari Quest plays it safe by using the reliable Match 3 formula found in titles like Bejeweled. Using the stylus, you can use one of three manoeuvres to match up similarly-coloured gems in groups of three or more: swap, which switches the positions of two adjacent tiles; chain, which draws a line between all adjacent gems of the same colour until you lift the stylus to clear them; and group, which allows you to tap on an already-aligned bunch of gems to set off a chain reaction. Having these additional methods of matching up gems is welcome variety, and the L and R trigger shortcuts to swap between these options is very helpful.
In order to beat each of the 100 levels, you'll need to clear a certain number of each coloured gem and smash all of the "grassy tiles" that appear under gems on the board. The number of gems required to move on increases rapidly as you clear more and more levels, of course, and eventually grows to include all five available colours. This method of progression, particularly the fact that you need to clear away specific colours, means that gameplay can get tedious when you're forced to clear away colours that don't even help you meet your quota.
In addition, the number of gems required to clear the later levels can be a little outrageous — games like this are best utilized as time-wasters, and Match 3 is hardly a gameplay style suited for play sessions upward of ten or fifteen minutes. Nothing quite stalls up the game like the grassy tiles, however, which require that a gem currently sitting on top be cleared away in order to smash. This can be immensely frustrating when you can't find the tiles you need, and their existence is frankly unnecessary given the already-present challenge of meeting your gem quota for each stage.
One of the special features of the game intended to differentiate it from its countless counterparts is that of the "animal friends" on the top screen. By clearing enough gems, you can drop an animal tile to the bottom of the screen and collect it for use. Each of the four animals has its own special method of clearing away objects on the playing field, such as changing the colour of gems to ones more suited for combos. This can be good fun, but the animal tiles are a huge pain — they will not leave the field until they've hit the very bottom, sometimes landing you in a sticky situation that takes forever to resolve (especially when a grassy tile ends up shoved in a corner not too far from an animal tile — beware!).
Graphically, Safari Quest is on par with most of the Match 3 games you've seen before. It's comparable to a DSiWare game, but gameplay of this nature hardly requires cutting-edge use of the technology. However, it must be said that the sound presentation exceeds expectations — the tunes accompanying each level sound as though they were recorded with live instruments, and are infused with an energy and soul rarely found in a title like this.
Safari Quest will scratch your Match 3 itch, but it could have used a little more polish in the gameplay department. This is a genre that benefits greatly from quick play sessions, but many of the levels — particularly as the game goes on — take far too long to complete thanks to high quotas of coloured gems and annoying tiles. The music is unusually inspired for a budget title like this, but the attempts to shake up the formula do more harm than good and make this somewhat difficult to recommend.