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.
To catch an animal you need to swing the Wii Remote as if you were swinging an actual lasso. This will cause your ranger to swing with one hand while the other holds firm on the steering wheel (don't try this at home kids). When the reticule is on the target, you need to flick the Wii Remote forward to cast the lasso. If successful, the camera zooms in to an over the shoulder perspective and you need to reel the beast in by holding B, all the while trying to keep your vehicle behind the desperate to escape animal. The rope's amazing - you have to lose track of your target by some distance for it to snap - but there's an on-screen indicator showing you how close it is to breaking point just in case. When two separate reticules are aligned, you need to flick the Remote one final time to bring the animal to a halt. Bingo!
You get a pop-up notification of success, nab some Ranger Points, and a short cutscene plays out, showing you and your quarry locked in a tug of war as you pull the lasso and the animal tries in vain to wriggle free. What's interesting is that this cutscene is dependant on the age you enter into the game at the start. If you tell the game you're 12 or over, you'll get the lasso-pulling cutscene in all its glory. If you're under 12, you'll skip it entirely.
Once captured, you're asked to decide whether to send the animal to the enclosure or set it free. Some animals, those that are sick or thirsty, for example, you'll want to send back to the enclosure. Nurse them back to health, via a mini-game, and you'll form a bond between man and beast. If you come across the animal in question back in the wild, they'll play nice, allowing you to set up the best possible shot for your safari snaps collection.
Beyond this core capturing mechanic, there's plenty for rangers to do out in the wild. The quests are varied, ranging from bog standard capture X amount of animals within a set time limit to more traditional driving game races. There are plenty of collectibles, too. Picture taking challenges - a camera is one of three items mapped to the Wii Remote d-pad, the others being a radio and a pair of binoculars - should keep budding photographers happy. In "My Place" you're able to customise your character with different outfits and accessories. Photos you've taken while on assignment are displayed on a board, along with achievements, badges and certificates.
If you can't be bothered with the story mode, there's an arcade mode that recreates the original cabinet experience, slapping on a countdown timer and simply asking you capture animals. Two players can get in on the ranger act in a drop-in drop-out co-op mode. Here, one player drives while the other lassos. Further support for multiplayer comes from the four-player mini-games. There's Jam Ball - basically Land Rover football - Ostrich Racing, Stone Skipping and a puzzle party game.
There are 50 species of animal in total, ranging from baby animals to veterans. Some will even be aggressive (from the sounds of things, they've every right to be). The Rare White Rhino, we're told, is the biggest baddest animal in the game, and will drag the Land Rover around like a bulldog pulling a chav down the street.
Jambo! Safari is clearly aimed at the younger end of the Wii market, but it still looks like it could be decent fun for everyone, as long as the driving is fixed. And for some, it might be worth a punt just for the 90s SEGA arcade nostalgia.
Jambo! Safari is due out for the Wii and Nintendo DS later this year.