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A short, but surprisingly fun experience

Natsume is pretty well known for publishing some of the most relaxing games available, their most famous and popular being the Harvest Moon series, and Animal Kingdom follows in that tradition. This game is very relaxing as all you’re basically doing is touring around an island and taking pictures...That’s it. I know some folks may be thinking, “That’s it? How can this possibly be any good?” But Natsume, like they’ve done with the Harvest Moon games and the need to do farming chores, has made it pretty fun. But there is a difference between a fun game and a great game...So, I’ll get into the review and let you folks know what’s going on.

First off, the game is pretty easy. Literally, all you do is ride around in a jeep, take photos of wildlife, and send your three best photos to your headquarters each day for evaluation. It’s actually pretty hard to fail during evaluations...Well, in my experience it was anyway. My only failed photo was the first one I took, since you’re very limited as to what you can do with the shot. The most common evaluation that you’ll get is ‘Silver’, however once you kind of get the hang of what they look for in evaluations, it’s not hard to start pumping out ‘Gold’ evaluations on a regular basis. To add a tiny bit of challenge to the game, while you’re out taking pics of the wildlife, you’ll have a specific goal to try and obtain. Headquarters may want you to get a photo of an animal and its child or of a specific animal eating, etc. So, as you explore around, you’ll want to keep an eye out for that stuff.

The concept of finding animals is kind of neat, but kind of annoying at the same time. As the jeep drives, you control the eyesight of your character from a first-person perspective. As you look around, you’ll never actually see an animal. Instead, you’ll see dust kicked up, leaves rustling in a tree, or splashes in a pond. When you see this, you need to use the Wiimote and point to the location and press the ‘A’ button. This will allow you to get a closer look and see what animals you’ll discover there. When you’re in the area with the animals, you need to slowly approach them or you’ll frighten them and they’ll run away...However, if you keep snapping some good photos of that specific animal, their tolerance and like for you will increase, allowing you to get closer and closer and reducing the need to sneak before the animals decide to run. With dangerous critters, a warning also appears if you’re too close....But you’ll never die or get attacked. If the animals turn ‘hostile’ you’re just simply told that it’s become dangerous and you’re returned to the jeep unscathed. The hostile animals have the same tolerance rules, though...So, if you take enough good photos, you’ll be able to literally stand right next to them without them turning hostile. And getting a good, close-up photo of some of them, like the lion, will usually result in a ‘Gold’ evaluation with little to no effort on your end.

There are kind of other things to do aside from simply taking pictures...But I never found them to be important enough to spend too much time with. You may receive items as you play...Like alternate paint jobs for your jeep, etc. It allows you to do some minor customization within the game...But again, I felt no need to really customize anything. There are some items that I do enjoy using, however, for example there’s a device that makes it rain for a short period of time. After the rain, you’ll be able to find animals doing things that they normally wouldn’t be doing before due to the puddles and such created from the storm. But, for the most part, I never really used any of the items, either. I didn’t see any need to. Even the seemingly helpful ones, like the disguises that supposedly help you sneak up on animals for photos, I very rarely used. It’s neat that they were added in the game, but I wish that there was a reason for them being there...It mostly just feels like they added these items to create a false sense that this is a deep game. While the game is fun and I enjoyed my time playing it, it’s not deep at all. There’s no real need for most of the items...They’re basically just there as an option rather than a necessity. The lone non-photography thing that I enjoyed was the ability to see detailed information about all of the animals you’ve sent in photos for, including the ability to study the 3D model used for the creature as well as being able to hear what kind of noises they make. It’s a nice learning tool for the little ones, if you have them play.

Aside from the needless items, I wasn’t too pleased with the load times...Or more specifically, the game’s need to play a lame cutscene of your character hopping out of the jeep every time you leave to take pictures. Yes, you can skip the cutscene by hitting a button, but an option to simply turn it off would have been nice. The scene, even when skipping it, is like adding double the load times in during the gameplay...It just doesn’t seem like it’s necessary to be there. I’m also not a huge fan of the whole ‘Hey, you beat the game! Here’s a secret area for you to explore...Which we aren’t actually going to let you explore.’ Where, like in the jungle areas, you’re put into an area where you can look in three directions....And then you’ve got to leave. If you visit this area and nothing is to be found in any of the three locations, then that’s it. Visit again on another day and hope for the best. I do like that they added a few more assignments for that area, and there are a couple ‘secret’ animals for that area that aren’t found anywhere else in the game...But still, it seems like a very lame bonus area for folks who beat the game. The last thing I’ll complain about is that dang robot...Randomly it’ll pop up with some sort of comment...And on several occasions, I’ve actually had a shot ruined because it popped up with a comment just as I was lining up a shot. By the time I had rushed through what it had to say, the animal had run away and I had nothing but a landscape in my lens.

Graphically, I really enjoyed the style that they went with; a cartoony character that the player controls moving around very life-like-looking animals. I thought the contrast between very fake-looking characters and realistic-looking animals and backgrounds added character to the game. The graphics are all well done as well. The animals look absolutely incredible. However, there are some glitches in the graphics that you’re bound to notice as you play. There is also often a lot of slow down, particularly when there are several animals on the screen at once. Those problems never really effect the enjoyment of the game too much, though. Audio-wise, the music works...But it’s extremely forgettable. I can’t remember a single note from a single song in the game, but I never hated listening to it. And for those ‘voice-over snobs’ out there, there aren’t any voice overs here, it’s all reading text....Which personally, I prefer.

In the end, Animal Kingdom isn’t a game that’ll turn heads or sell systems...Nor is it a ‘must buy’ title by any means. It is, however, an enjoyable, relaxing experience that serves as a nice break from the real world. The difficulty is a bit on the easy side, which makes it a nice game for children...But it’s not so incredibly easy that adults will get bored by it. Natsume created a good game here and if you’re looking for a relaxing experience for Nintendo’s Wii, then this is a great game to pick up. If I were a lion, I’d roar in approval....Get it? ‘Cause it’s an animal game...So I tried to end it in a clever way.....Nevermind.

Added by ape
10 years ago on 11 January 2010 07:57