Sea Life Safari for the XBLA: A QJ.NET Review

Sea Life Safari: the QJ.Net Review - Image 1We recently got a chance to test drive a submarine and take pictures of all manner of strange and exotic underwater creature in Sierra Online and WildTangent’s Sea Life Safari. Come join us after the jump as we discuss whether or not the game is worth shelling out clams for.

Sea Life Safari: The QJ.Net review - Image 1 

Sea Life Safari
is a strange fish, to say the least. Released on the Xbox Live Arcade service last week, it tasks players with going to the bottom of the ocean to photograph 60 different sea creatures, as well as other forms of marine life, across five different levels. For lack of a better way to explain it, think of it as an rail shooter akin to Aces of the Galaxy or Pokemon Snap, except underwater.

The question is, is Sea Life Safari meant for QJ readers out there? Read on to find out my assessment of the game.

Meet a variety of interesting creatures in Sea Life Safari - Image 1 Meet a variety of interesting creatures in Sea Life Safari - Image 2 Meet a variety of interesting creatures in Sea Life Safari - Image 3

As mentioned above, your job is to go out into a submarine to take pictures of the local sea life for a oceanographer. Whenever you finish a level, the oceanographer in question looks at your pictures (we guess they’re digital pics) and ranks them with stars. The better the picture, the more stars you get. This is important, as the only way to open up each of the five levels is to get a good number of stars in all the levels prior to it.

To the game’s credit, Sea Life Safari is easy to pick up and play, even without the tutorial system, as you use the left analog stick to look around, the left trigger to zoom, and the right trigger to take pictures. To take better pictures, you have to take your shots of the sea creatures while they’re showing off their personality, and you do that by throwing things at them using the B button. It’s a simple system, but it works well given the context of the game as one meant for kids.

Sea Life Safari is easy to pick up and play - Image 1As noted earlier, you unlock new levels by taking good pictures. By that, we mean lots of pictures. You only have a 24 shots with each run of a level, and sometimes, you’ll have to revisit a level multiple times. This can get frustrating as you’ll notice the same fish usually popping up in the same location.

We mentioned the on-rails part earlier, and this plays an important role in how you do things. Your submarine moves along a predetermined path that lasts a couple of minutes in real time. Now, seeing as you have to revisit a level multiple times to get the job done, the game starts feeling less like the “safari” it was advertised as being, as opposed to being a trial in rote memorization of animal placements. Seeing as you only uncover new creatures when you open up new levels, revisiting old haunts can mean seeing the same blue lobster animation at least 30 times. Some variety, or at least some kind of checkpoint system, would have been a welcome addition in this case.

Another problem I noticed is that the photo rating system can sometimes be arbitrary in its assessment of photographs. A nice, centered mid-range shot can easily be replaced by one that’s off-center, yet closer. Worse still, the game sometimes doesn’t recognize a creature if it’s too close, which can happen a lot when you’re trying to capture images of orca whales.

You'll be seeing these same creatures over and over again... - Image 1Lastly, and I find this kind of important to mention, the game’s presentation as a game for kids is dampened somewhat by the lack of information in the game. Sure, you’re taking pictures of creatures real and imagined, but some nice unlockable info pages about the creatures would have added a lot of value to the game, especially when you’re tired of seeing the same Ship Graveyard over and over again.

While lacking some added value in the form of educational points of interest, Sea Life Safari does manage to be a good game. There aren’t any bugs, the game is solid for what it’s supposed to do, and it can be challenging if you’re not observant or skilled in camera control.

Is it perfect for young ones? Definitely. You can spend short bursts of time between fragging sessions bonding with your kids or siblings, and it’s peaceful respite from alien-slaying.

Is it a good fit for QJ readers? It depends. There’s a good chance that you’re not going to be enthusiastic about buying this game, other than for the relatively easy-to-acquire achievements and the utter calm you’ll feel under the ocean’s surface. This game is essentially a fish out of water on the often hardcore sensibilities behind the Xbox 360, which is why I give Sea Life Safari a passable two out of five stars.

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