Sealife Safari Review (Xbox360)

We’ve had uncountable amounts of games set in the vast emptiness of space; from original arcade hits like Asteroids and Spacewar right up to modern day epics like the “X” series, and the “Homeworld” games. Interestingly though, despite the obvious parallels of exploration and the unknown that can be drawn between space and our own oceans, relatively few games have had a purely aquatic setting, and perhaps with the sole exception of the ever popular Ecco there’s yet to be a game that truly exploits the environment.

The basic gameplay of Sea Life Safari could be described in any number of ways – my personal favourite is Fish’Em’Up – but the games main premise is simple; take pictures of fish in the best possible position in order to score points. If that seems like a fairly obtuse goal it’s worth mentioning that it’s actually been done before. “Pokémon Snap” was one of the N64s many Pokémon spin off games that involved taking pictures of various Pokémon in their natural habitat, and recently release Wii title “Endless Ocean” even uses the same setting as Sea Life Safari as a stage for underwater photography.

Unfortunately, a lot of the games ‘non fish’ creatures don’t give you any points for photos
Creatures like this guy are much easier to get pictures from as they barely move

The best way to describe the game for those who’ve never had a chance to play those titles is that its on-the-rails shooter in the style of Time Crisis or House of the Dead, without the weapons, the enemies, or the ability to shoot anything but pleasant pictures. The game itself moves you along a predefined path in each of the games marine environments, and you control only your viewpoint, using the camera to try and take the best pictures. You have free, 360 degree movement on where you can shoot, but the only other options available to you are a zoom function and the ability to throw ‘gizmos’, which allow you to interact with the fish for better shots. Usually, this means the fish will dance or smile of do something terribly un-fishlike for long enough to make your picture interesting.

It’s difficult to say there’s really anything else going on with Sea Life Safari. The plot of an eager and friendly professor asking you to go out and catalogue various creatures for him might sound oddly familiar to anyone who has ever owned a Nintendo console, but after a quick tutorial you’ve pretty much got everything you need in order to take good pictures; keep the fish in the centre, get the face of the fish in the camera and shoot when the fish is doing something interesting at a sensible distance.

Sadly, you don’t get any bonuses or credit for capturing multiple fish in the same shot
There’s a reasonably interesting array of creatures, especially in the later levels

Such simplicity means you can jump straight into the game and take good photos with relative ease. This is excellent if you’re after a virtual aquarium screensaver, but as a game, the player is stripped of any need for skill or aim. Because everything is on-the-rails, the game is entirely ‘set up’ each time, and you can tell quickly exactly when the game wants you to take a picture. The only real demand the game places upon the player is the patience required in lining up the perfect shot. After that, launching a gizmo to gain the fishes attention is as simple as pressing the B button in the general direction of the creature and capturing the shot.

The game features five different levels which are surprisingly visually varied, considering that one part of the ocean generally looks quite similar to another. The game makes good use of the 360 and thanks to plenty of fine detail and strong animation the water never looks too fake. Bubbles and various fauna dot the surface, swaying in the currents as fish move gracefully through them. The art style also hits the nail on the head, being neither too cartoony nor attempting serious realism.

No matter how varied they are though, five different levels just aren’t enough when you’re dealing with a game mechanic this simple. There are sixty fish to capture as well as special photographic opportunities that only appear after you have played through a level several times, and coins to collect to gain achievements. Even with this obvious attempt at winning the hearts of completist gamers, there are few that won’t be able to run through and discover just about everything Sea Life can offer in a single afternoon, and after all is unlocked, there’s only an online leaderboard to keep you coming back.

The environments are small but offer good variety, like this level set partially inside a shipwreck
Getting the subject dead on centre is the only real challenge for the majority of your pictures

Pace is also big problem in any game where you don’t get to control your own movement, and Sea Life is no exception. The serene crawling speed your sub takes around each environment can be appreciated on your first or second trek, but on your fourth time around, the calming effect wears off as you sit and simply wait as long as five minutes to get that one picture of a fish that only appears towards the end of the level. This is something that could have easily been remedied with a speed-up option, although this would have had a negative effect on the lifespan of an already short title.

Ultimately, Sea Life captures the feel of the ocean and combines it with a very casual, softcore gaming experience that’s more “Free Willy” than “Jaws”. Arcade is in desperate need of variety and originality, and Sea Life satisfies both criteria providing a detailed and peaceful experience that stands out amongst a marketplace full of generic shooters and ports, but the relative length of the game makes it hard to justify the price of 800 points, and the lack of any real challenge or competition will turn off most gamers.

Top Game Moment: Panicking and taking a picture of a chandelier in a shipwreck, mistaking it for a nearby octopus.

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By Kyrsus (SI Veteran Newbie) on Jul 05, 2008
Another safari game!!!