This is the official description of the 1999 Jambo! Safari arcade game from Segaarcade.com: “A very fun hunting and driving safari game, where players chase wild animals in an off-road jeep and attempt to capture them. The game comes with a steering wheel to control your jeep and a lever to lasso your animal targets. Players chase down the animals in their vehicle and when close enough to them, fire a lasso from their jeep to catch them, and then reel them in!”
We’re reproducing the description here because we’d never played it and needed to find out what it was all about for this preview (nothing to do with being lazy, no sir). In any case, we imagine most of you lot never played it either. While Jambo! Safari proved a popular swallower of pound coins back in the day, it never managed to achieve the mainstream appeal of some of SEGA’s arcade mainstays. So it was that Jambo! Safari was consigned to the Great Arcade History book, an entry sitting pretty in the “animal cruelty” section.
Now, a decade later, SEGA is preparing to release a Wii and DS version later this year. This comes as something of a surprise. Of all the titles in SEGA’s vast back catalogue of dormant franchises, Jambo! Safari is perhaps bottom of the list of games we want to see revived. This is probably doing Jambo! a disservice, though. At a recent SEGA press event in London we scored some hands on time with the Wii version, and bar some easy to fix control issues it was decent fun.
So, what’s it like? Well, have a read of that opening paragraph again. Where it reads “steering wheel”, in your head say “Nunchuck analogue stick”, and where it says “lever”, in your head say “Wii Remote”. In a nutshell, that’s Jambo! Safari on Wii.
The game’s a curious mix of open world role-playing and driving. You arrive in the African plains as one of four green park rangers. The aim of the game is to become a fully qualified ranger, and to do it you need to pick up quests from NPCs, complete them, gain experience and capture as many animals as possible. There are three different environments in total, each with three levels, bringing the total number of game areas to an impressive nine.
The bulk of the game sees you driving around the African plains hunting down gazelles, hyenas, zebra, giraffes and the like. Driving is governed by the Nunchuck. The analogue thumb stick is used for steering, C accelerates and Z brakes. In the build on show steering was troublesome – the officially licensed Land Rover was a nightmare to control, swerving left and right seemingly of its own accord. This made tracking animals, displayed as dots on the mini-map, more difficult than it should have been (animals have emoticons displayed above their heads, and won’t be afraid to stick their tongues out at you if you’re struggling to keep up). Thankfully, SEGA is aware that the steering needs work, so no need to panic.