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Jambo! Safari

Complete the special research.

Dark blue icons of video game controllers on a light blue background
Image credit: Eurogamer

And they say online petitions never work. In your FACE, They, and a great big thank you to the literally thousands (approx.) of people who signed up to support the return of Jambo! Safari. SEGA could not ignore the cry of our united voices and now the classic arcade game is making a comeback. YES WII CAN.

For those who aren't familiar, Jambo! Safari originally appeared in arcades in the late nineties and quickly established a reputation as the best videogame ever made. Eager fans would queue for minutes at a time just to have a go, especially when the Thrill Drive machine was broken. They knew that for just 50 pence - less than the price of a can of Tab Clear or a B*Witched cassette single - they could be transported to the majestic plains and sweeping savannahs of the Masai Mara.

There they got to chase terrified wild animals round in circles while driving a massive jeep. Giant emoticons hovered above the animals' heads to denote whether they were happy, angry or, best of all, scared. The arcade cabinet's steering wheel was ideal for careering around with no regard for shrubbery, while the gearstick thing was perfect for throwing lassoos round animals' necks. You then had to tow them in gradually without letting the rope snap - think SEGA Bass Fishing but with giraffes instead of trout.

If you did really well, i.e. managed to play the game for 38 seconds without having to put another 50p in, you were invited to "Complete the Special Research". There was never any explanation of what this research was for, or why it was special. But completing it involved throwing a crate over some rhinos.

You can customise your ranger so they don't have to look like this.

Yes, all right, the original Jambo! Safari doesn't stand up well in the context of today's animal welfare standards. But remember, this was the late nineties, a time when badger-baiting was legal and every Harvester in the country had a bear pit. In those days it was acceptable to leave the odd bloodstain on the mattress of the cradle of civilisation, especially if it came from a zebra.

But times have changed, as Alex Humphries - associate producer on Jambo! Safari for Wii - admits. "Due to the time the original arcade game was made it was a lot more cheekier than you can be today," he says. "For example, I was playing the arcade game recently and one character calls someone a moron. That's not really appropriate for us."

You can't even call someone a moron these days? Why, in case you offend someone from the planet Moro? "Well, you could, but it's not right for our target market. We're going for young children so we don't want to go down that road." You probably don't want to say "we're going for young children" in the current climate either, but that's by the by.

Hmm. Don't recall the visuals looking this crisp in either the arcade or Wii version.

Specifically, Jambo! Safari for Wii is aimed at seven to 12 year-olds. This is worrying as only adults educated to degree standard or higher could ever have appreciated the subtlety, sophistication and complex narrative structure of the arcade game. However, Humphries assures us the team has been conscientious in staying true to Jambo! Safari's core artistic and aesthetic values, and you can still tell which animals are the best because they have a crown.

"We've had the original creator of the arcade game giving us feedback as we've gone through the project," he says. "He's had a lot of input into the actual controls and how it feels to play, to make it just as good. There's still a lot of tweaking to be done in the next few months, but the idea is it will have the same feel and playability as the arcade game."

You won't play it with a steering wheel and gearstick though, of course. Instead the Wii nunchuk is used to drive the jeep and rope in animals, while flicking the remote launches your lassoo. At the start of our hands-on demo the steering feels awkward; the controls are over-sensitive and it's easy to swerve out of control. But things get easier after a few minutes and besides, Humphries says, improvement of the jeep handling is at the top of the development team's to-do list. At least the lassoo mechanic works well; it's a perfect fit for the Wii remote.