Review: Wild Earth: African Safari

WildEarth Wii cover.jpg Wild Earth: African Safari. The title alone probably has your shovelware detector warming up. Now take into account that it’s a Wii port of a 2006 PC edutainment simulation game called Safari Photo Africa: Wild Earth and I’m sure your shovelware detector is beeping like crazy. But hold the phone there, folks. Underneath the generic title and some supremely dated graphics, there is a fun, educational gameplay experience to be had here.

In Wild Earth, you jump into the role of a budding photojournalist taken on an 11-assignment tour of the Serengeti National Park in Africa, guided along by a wildlife professor and fellow journalist who help fill you in on the indigenous flora and fauna as you snap photos of it all using the Wii Remote as your camera. With each assignment, you venture out into the Serengeti, either on foot, in a safari jeep or even in a helicopter, to document a specific type of animal, be it a family of elephants, pack of hyenas, pride of lions, or venue of vultures. There are both primary and secondary photography objectives to be completed per mission, and in order to successfully fulfill each assignment you simply have to snap a specified number of the photo objectives.

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At the end of each assignment, your photos are then compiled and placed into a detailed report recapping what was learned on that day’s adventure. It’s a surprisingly rewarding concept, not to mention rich with interesting wildlife factoids that both entertain and educate. I only wish there was some form of scoring system, because as is it makes no difference whether your photos are good close-up shots or not. It also limits the replay value. Once an assignment is over, there’s nothing more you can do, so going back to play it again is fruitless.

Snapping off photos is a fun, tactile experience that’s captured well with the Wii Remote. Pointing and shooting really couldn’t be any more intuitive, and thanks to the remote’s built-in speaker you get the full aural experience of the shutter clicking and the lens zooming in and out. Moving around with the Nunchuk’s analog stick handles well for the most part too, though there are numerous invisible barriers that occasionally make navigation feel clumsier than it should.

I guess my main disappointment with Wild Earth has to be the graphics. It’s a shame too, because the original PC version from two years ago is still one attractive game. But it’s a completely different story on the Wii. The textures are now blurry and washed out and the environmental geometry is alarmingly simplistic. And to top it all off, the frame rate never seems to stay fully locked in. I’m not sure what happened in the translation process, but this port has been significantly downgraded. There’s no reason why the PC version’s graphical integrity couldn’t have been recreated on the Wii. At least the animal models look, sound and animate authentically enough…

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In an attempt to put the Wii Remote to further use and maybe atone for the graphical woes, Super X Studios has provided this version with some exclusive content, including a co-op mode and a collection of Safari Arcade Games. Co-op is completely pointless, however. I mean come on, why would it ever be fun to have one person control the character movement while up to three other players take the photos? Many of the mini-games feel similarly tacked-on and unrefined, like meerkat whack-a-mole and a completely broken flamingo dancing rhythm game.

But as ugly as the graphics are and as poorly as the extra content is executed, I still had a hard time pulling myself away from playing and enjoying Wild Earth: African Safari. There’s nothing else like it on the Wii right now and I’m always on the lookout for games that have something unique to offer. If you’re an avid Animal Planet watcher and lover of niche games like me, this is a game well worth giving a shot. If you have the choice, though, the PC version is your best bet.

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Pros:
+ Photo-snapping gameplay provides a unique experience unlike anything else on the Wii
+ Blends entertainment with education remarkably well, that’s why they call it edutainment!
+ Excellent safari ambiance and music

Cons:
– Disappointing downgrade in graphical quality from the PC original
– Poorly implemented mini-games and co-op mode
– Doesn’t offer very much replay value

Game Info:
Platform: Wii
Publisher: Majesco
Developer: Super X Studios
Release Date: 4/22/08
Genre: Simulation
Players: 1-4

About the Author

Matt Litten is the full-time editor and owner of VGBlogger.com. He is responsible for maintaining the day to day operation of the site, editing all staff content before it is published, and contributing regular news, reviews, previews and other articles. Matt landed his first gig in the video game review business writing for the now-defunct website BonusStage.com. After the sad and untimely close of BonusStage, the former staff went on to found VGBlogger.com. After a short stint as US Site Manager for AceGamez, Matt assumed full ownership over VGBlogger, and to this day he is dedicated to making it one of the top video game blogs in all the blogosphere. Matt is a fair-minded reviewer and lover of games of all platforms and types, big or small, hyped or niche, big-budget or indie. But that doesn't mean he will let poor games slide without a good thrashing when necessary!