Version tested: Wii
- "jambo safari. one of the greatest games ever programmed. driving and roping ferocious animals. petting them kindly. rinse and repeat. hell yes. who else is on board. who else cannot wait to rope the animals. no more driving to ocean city new jersey to play this very neat very cool game. yes." -
- - Forum post by "drumbeater" on GameFaqs.com.
Oh, drumbeater. I was on board. I could not wait to rope the animals. I have never visited Ocean City, New Jersey, but I would have if I'd known there's a Jambo! Safari arcade cabinet there. I even started a petition to bring the series back and when SEGA announced a console game was in development I, like you, rejoiced.
Now it's here, and the good news is Jambo! Safari for Wii is still about driving and roping ferocious animals. The bad news is there's more of an emphasis on petting them kindly. Plus there's a whole new range of dull, worthy missions to complete, based around tedious things like environmental responsibility and taking photographs of ostriches.
At least the visual style is the same. Once again you get to drive a jeep with poor handling around a badly rendered reimagining of the African savannah, complete with blurry textures, boulders which pop up from nowhere and trees you can drive straight through. The plains are populated by big game such as lions, cheetahs, zebras and gazelles, all of whom are so shoddily animated they appear to have rickets.
The game informs you that these animals are in need of "rescuing", though it's never clear from what. In the world of Jambo! Safari the best way to capture a wild animal isn't by using a tranquiliser gun but by chasing them across the savannah in your jeep, lassooing them as if you're a cowboy and hauling them in like huge, four-legged furry fish.
The arcade cabinet had a steering wheel, gearstick and foot pedal with which you did all this. In the Wii version you steer with the nunchuk, use the remote to lob your lasso and press B to pull on the rope. The overall experience isn't as satisfying but it's not a bad alternative to having a huge, zebra-striped arcade cabinet in your lounge.
The problem is that catching animals is nowhere near as exciting as it used to be. This is partly because the dynamic of being down to your last 50 pence piece, having already shoved £18.50 into the machine that day alone, is missing - which is no one's fault. It's also because you no longer get to see the actual net or cage being thrown over the animal. Now there's just a nice, inoffensive animation involving nothing more than a magical sparkly rope. But it's mainly because the gameplay has been changed and the difficulty level lowered.
In the arcade game capturing animals was a tense, challenging affair. You had to get the balance just right, hauling them closer and closer without allowing the rope to snap, and it often did. In the Wii game the process is much less fraught - there's a meter to show you just how close the rope is to breaking, and animals stay attached no matter how far you veer off course or how many trees you drive through. In other words, Jambo! Safari has been dumbed down - which is quite a feat considering it was spectacularly dumb in the first place.
It's also been niced up thanks to the addition of a proper story mode and the aforementioned worthy missions. You start out by choosing your character from a choice of two men and two women. The men adopt manly poses, tugging on their goatees or making the heavy metal sign with their hands. The girls turn around so you can see their pert buttocks while they gaze over their shoulders at you coquettishly. You can give your character different haircuts and outfits, choosing from a range of utility vests and flak jackets for the men or tight shirts and low-cut vests for the women. New goodies can be unlocked and purchased as you complete the tedious missions.
Customisation is handled in the Ranch, which is also where you can view trophies you've won and pictures you've taken. Photographs are displayed on a pinboard made of cork, which has the most realistic texture in the entire game. Head outside the Ranch and you'll find a map which you can use to teleport to unlocked areas, plus a garage where you can select different vehicles. And finally there's the Animal Enclosure, where animals you've captured are kept (up to a maximum of three). Here you can find out more information about the animals, heal them when they're sick and give them stupid names.
All of this is of course deadly boring so best just get straight onto the plains and start trying to mow down cheetahs. Happily, animals' moods are still indicated by emoticons which appear above their heads. The manual offers a full explanation of these. The best ones are Rage ("The animal is in a very bad mood, resisting violently"), Straining ("The animal is being roped" - that's rOped) and Playful ("The animal acts as if they want to be chased". Saucy).
As you drive around you'll also see icons representing various types of mission. These generally range from monotonous to mind-numbing. You might have to complete a pathetically easy time trial, for example, or pick up bits of rubbish which float magically in mid-air, or drive a tourist to a poorly animated waterfall. The most enjoyable missions are those where you have to catch animals within a time limit, just like old times.
The order in which you complete missions is up to you, but you must finish off a minimum amount before the next area is unlocked. It's all a bit Grand Theft Auto: Serengeti, with zebras instead of hookers and graphics that are 0.000000002 per cent as good. None of the objectives are particularly challenging and at no point is there any actual blood or maiming. Gold sparkles do emanate from your lasso when you swing it though so that's good.
There is a straightforward Arcade mode but it's very basic. To kick it off you boot up Story mode as normal, then capture any old animal at random. This will start a countdown clock ticking and you must capture another animal before it hits zero. The idea is you keep chaining captures until you have trapped eight different species.
This is actually quite hard - not because the roping is difficult, as discussed, but because it can be tricky to locate all eight animals within the time limit. You have to use your pointer to identify what animals are from a distance, otherwise the poor visuals mean you end up racing over to a lion only to discover it's a zebra. Arcade mode is indeed closer to the original arcade experience than all the mission-based nonsense, and it's rather good fun.
It's even more fun if you're playing co-operatively. Unlike the arcade game, Jambo! Safari for Wii has a multiplayer mode. (Although the arcade game did, in fact, have an unofficial multiplayer mode - one of you drove the jeep and captured the animals while the other one shouted "No he's gone left, I said LEFT, go on, get him, ****ING COME ON, KILL IT KILL IT AAAAAAAAA" etc.)
At any time another player can drop in and control the rope and lasso while you drive the jeep. This is easier than trying to steer, spot animals and capture them all on your own and the co-op mechanic works well. The other advantage is you're unlikely to get thrown out of your lounge for bad language by a red-faced manager who wishes they'd just replace all the arcade machines with fruities.
Once you've exhausted the possibilities of co-op there are the party games to "enjoy", all of which require a minimum of two players and can be played by a maximum of four. The lowlight of these is Ostrich Racing. Shaking the remote backwards and forwards is supposed to make your bird run round the track, but the game tends to think you're trying to make it jump all the time so it's more like a series of hops. Frustrating, exhausting and not worth playing more than once.
Next up is Jam Ball. The first time we selected this, the game crashed so badly that both the reset and power buttons ceased to function and I had to pull the plug. Following a successful reboot we discovered it involves each player driving a jeep around a circular arena, trying to knock a gigantic football into a single goal. It's simplistic, shoddy and extremely stupid, and the kind of thing you would play for a solid four hours if you were eight years old or eight pints in.
Stone Skipping involves using the Wii remote to flick pebbles across a virtual pond, which is as thrilling as it sounds. In Meerkat Madness players place arrows on a grid, pointing meerkats carrying apples in the direction of their own goals. The main problem with this game is it will inspire someone in your party to keep saying "Simples!" in an hilarious Eastern European accent, and you will be forced to kick them out of your house. In summary, then, the party games are ugly and terrible, with the possible exception of Jam Ball, which is ugly and playable. Assuming it doesn't crash.
So don't buy Jambo! Safari for the multiplayer experience. And don't buy it if you're expecting a carbon copy of the arcade game or something that's just as challenging and addictive. The Arcade mode is fun enough, but you'll need to have been seriously into the original to make it worth £34.99. Even though that's probably half what you'd pump into the arcade machine on an average day.
The thing is, drumbeater, Jambo! Safari Wii hasn't been designed for the likes of you and I. It has two difficulty levels - "Easy - Age 3 to 9" and "Hard - Age 10+". There is no level titled, "Properly hard like the arcade game - Age old enough to remember when pesto was exotic." And viewed as what it's meant to be - a game for kids - Jambo! Safari isn't too bad. It's simple to understand and there's plenty of stuff to do. You get to drive a big car and throw ropes about and pat lions. There are no guns or scary bits. You might even learn something, although nothing you learn will be very interesting.
So let's leave Jambo! Safari to the kids and resign ourselves to the fact that gaming has changed. SEGA is more interested in selling a kid-friendly game to thousands of parents than selling a trip back in time to you, me, the 18 other people who signed my petition and no one else. Can you blame them?
As you would say, drumbeater: yes. You and I didn't throw endless 50 pence pieces (or "quarters" in your case) into the Jambo! Safari machine because we wanted to learn about the difference between the Side Striped Jackal and the Black Backed Jackal. In fact we could have probably worked that out ourselves. Why does it have to be all about animal welfare now? Why is it perfectly acceptable for games to let you shoot drug dealers in the eyes or blow up innocent civilians in airports, but not throw a giant cage over an angry rhino? Why, SEGA, why?
There is only one thing you can do to make it up to us. That's right, a videogame adaptation of classic US TV series Man Vs. Beast. Who wants to sign my petition? In the meantime, drumbeater, I'm booking my ticket. See you in ocean city new jersey.
6 / 10