Safar’ Wii claims to, “make the dream of getting close to wild animals a reality.” No doubt there are many Wii owners who would love a detailed virtual safari to explore at their leisure, free to gain the trust of the wildlife before photographing them at their natural routines. Well if any of those gamers do buy Safar’ Wii they are going to be disappointed.
My first disappointment with Safar’ Wii – well other than the surprisingly hard to pronounce title – was the fixed route through the game’s setting, Animal Island. The game is very structured, each day starting at camp and then having you driven along the road around the island by a quirky little robot. As you are driven around you have to keep a look out of signs of animals (not the actual animals) and for anything you can collect. The only control you have over the journey itself is whether you want to go grindingly slow or really fast, every trip round the island follows the exact same trail.
The heart of the game is finding the 21 animals. As you are driven around you will see signs of them. Maybe a bush will shake or there will be a little dust cloud; it all looks a bit like there are some more little helper robots running around pulling strings to try and get you excited. Using the Wii remote you click on these signs and are given the option of leaving the car to go investigate. If you say yes, and I can’t think of a reason why you wouldn’t, you get a little cut-scene of getting out of the car and then a loading screen which takes you to the on-foot section where if you are lucky, you can see and photograph some animals. If there aren’t any animals there (quite likely) or if you have already seen everything those particular species have to offer (very likely) then it is another cut-scene and loading screen and back on the road.
The on-foot sections highlight the best and the worst of Safar’ Wii. They look lovely, wide open vistas on the savannah or beside a lake. The view stretches from horizon to horizon with distant herds, trees and scrub-land clearly visible, it is crying out to be explored. A shame then that you can’t walk more than 10 meters before you hit an invisible wall and a message telling you that you can’t go any further! The feeling of restriction isn’t helped by the fact that there are only a handful of environments used for these sections again and again and therefore they bear little resemblance to the terrain you were travelling through in your car.
Various minigames and tasks try and bulk out the package. Your editor will request specific photos from you which can provide a bit of challenge although actually finding the opportunity to take them is a tedious process. There are a lot of collectables to look out for as you are driving around the island including medals which can be traded for equipment upgrades and items which can help you sneak up on the animals. The minigames are little more than daft distractions.
While Safar’ Wii does feature some pleasant environments and a handful of well realised animals every time you try to do some actual exploration you hit a brick wall. This is a very limited game masquerading as a complete virtual safari package.