Title: Jambo! Safari
Developer: Sega
Publisher: Sega
Date Published: 1999
Platforms: Arcade (Naomi)

Jambo! Safari is one of those games that is perfectly suited to an arcade. It provides short blasts of intense fun and a control system difficult to replicate on a home system. One of the earlier Naomi games, this came out after Crazy Taxi and used the same cabinets albeit with a slightly different control configuration. The steering wheel and pedals remain, but the up/down gear shift has been changed to a winch operation.

The idea of the game is reasonably simple: as a hunter it's your job to catch as many animals as possible. The tools of your trade are a jeep, a pair of binoculars, and lassoo, and a net. Spread out across the African veldt are small groups of different species of animals. Pick your target, and drive over. Once you're reasonably close, a targeting reticle will appear over whichever animal you point your jeep at. Push up on the stick, and a lassoo will fire out. If you hold the reticle over the appropriate animal for a couple of seconds, the animal will be caught. At this point, the camera changes to an in car view as your prey tries its best to break free from the rope. Hold down on the stick and the animal will start to be winched towards your jeep. Of course, you're still moving at high speed here so it's imperative to keep steering. The catch is usually shitting bricks (literally) by this point so avoid them. Any clocks that it drops however will add to your time limit so it's a good idea to run these over. When you get the animal reeled in enough another reticle will appear. At this point you push up again on the stick and a net will fire out. Keep the reticle over the animal until the net lands, and you've got your first catch. Now, do it again before the time runs out.

There's loads of different animals in the game ranging from mundane springbok to the more extreme moas and white lions. Each herd of animals has a leader who is more difficult to catch but worth more points. There's also a few quests dotted around e.g. retrieving a villagers mask from a group of babboons, or fetching water for a parched traveller. And that's it. So why is this game so much fun? I put it down to a few points:

  • The characterisation of the animals - when you're chasing them a comic avatar pops up above their head giving you their current mood (scared, angry, embarrassed)
  • The arcade control system - double-tap the accelerator to get a mad wheelying boost dash, bounce over four foot high rocks without damaging your jeep
  • The perfect tuning of the time limit - the game always seems to give you just enough time to catch that elusive cheetah

It's a shame that you rarely see this machine any more. It never got a home port (although one was rumoured and I'm sure there's a beta kicking around in Sega's offices), and most arcades seem to have dispensed of it in favour of more up to date titles. I've never seen a deluxe (sit down) cabinet in the UK but I'm assured they were pretty common in the US. The most recent place I've seen a cabinet was on Paignton pier but I assume there are at least a couple left in London if you look hard enough.

The official game site can be found at http://sega.jp/safari/

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