Wild Earth: African Safari from developer Super X Studios and publisher Majesco Games hits upon a winning concept. We like the idea of simply exploring Africa's famed Serengeti National Park, rummaging through the tall grasses and trees and shooting photos of the wildlife, including 30 different species of animals, from cheetahs to zebras. It's a premise very similar to Sony's forthcoming PS3 game Afrika, a title we eagerly anticipate. Disappointingly, however, Wild Earth comes to Wii with decidedly sloppy execution, from play mechanics that very quickly become repetitive to a wide assortment of technical deficiencies. These shortcomings pile atop one another and ultimately detract from the experience. Even so, parents will very likely find the game's learn-as-you-play presentation appealing and the only shooting taking place is with cameras, not guns.
In African Safari, you explore vast landscapes armed with your trusty camera, the goal always being to shoot the next major activity. A guide leads you along the way and simultaneously explains the practices of the animals as you photograph them, or the attributes of certain geographical points or plant life. Unlike most videogames, you will actually learn or thing or two about the species of animals and the location as you play, which makes Wild Earth an ideal candidate for discerning parents. While you cannot actually get hurt in the game, you can fail if your presence is felt too often by the wildlife, and thus you will need to keep your distance as you endeavor to snap the best photos. This secondary mechanic adds some semblance of danger to the otherwise calm and sometimes boring safaris.
The title features 11 missions, each featuring upward of 40 different picture-taking objectives. You might need to snap shots of elephants greeting one another, lions chasing zebras, a certain flower type, a big lake, giraffes eating, dead fish, and the list goes on. You will be required to snap pictures of these various animals and environments in order to advance; there are primary and secondary photo objectives. The adventure is far from epic -- the average mission takes about a half hour to complete -- but it will keep kids busy for a good while. Sadly, Wild Earth lacks a smart auto-save system, an issue if you stray too close to wildlife deep into a mission, as you might fail the entire challenge, at which time you will be forced to restart the process. This happened to us after we had snapped nearly 50 different animal and location shots, and we had to start again from scratch -- a nuisance. A word to the wise: hit the 1 button and save periodically.
You control your main character with the nunchuk's analog stick and point your camera with the Wii remote. Hit the A button and you'll snap a photo. Tap B and you can archive your favorite shots. Press the plus and minus buttons to zoom in and out respectively. And that's really all you need to know to progress. The controls aren't necessarily bad, although they are a bit loose -- and incidentally, there's no way to set the sensitivity of your Wii pointer. The problem is that the technology powering the experience is underwhelming, to say the least.
The framerate is consistently poor despite the fact that African Safari doesn't look especially good. Low-polygon environments skinned with blurry textures are commonplace, and while the 3D animal models are passable, they do not come to life with fluid, believable animation. Meanwhile, there are invisible walls at every turn, sometimes jarringly so -- walk into some water and you'll stop halfway in. Come to two-foot edge and you won't be able to walk down it. It's hard to nurture any suspension of disbelief when the world is realized with such careless attention to detail. And yet, despite these issues, Wild Earth will still provide an entertaining experience for those less concerned with spectacular graphical presentations and more interested in playing games in which they can go at their own pace, like Endless Ocean. The title is ported to Wii with a few enhancements, including a somewhat unnecessary cooperative mode in which one player controls movement and another takes pictures, and a slew of shallow mini-games which use the WIi remote.
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