Diving and photography. Two very worthwhile pursuits, experiencing the wonder of wildlife in many an unexplored location, whilst preserving the memories on film, or SD card if you’re more into the digital side of things. Just the sort of thing that would make a great game, right?

Sea Life Safari is an on-rails photography game, admittedly a new genre for XBLA, and perhaps the burgeoning of a new genre altogether; think Pokemon Snap crossed with Finding Nemo. In a gaming era of blood and violence, it’s most certainly a welcome relief from guns and bullets.

For each dive, the player takes a roll of film with twenty four exposures ( yeah, Sea Life Safari is a bit behind the times ) with the idea of taking the best shot possible of each fish or other aquatic life-forms. The game completely controls the movement through the level, but allows the player to move the camera around 360 degrees in any direction. In order to get the best photographs, it’s necessary to get the attention of the little fishes. What better way to do this than throw things at them. Sea Life Safari, as a family game, teaches us that the best way of attracting the attention of aquatic animals is to maim them with flares and other heavy, bruise inducing items.

What is unacceptable is the sometimes choppy framerate, given the uncomplicated nature of the game’s graphical assets. Not maintaining even a modest 30 frames per second (FPS) is unacceptable in today’s graphically whorish times. That’s not to say that Sea Life Safari is a bad looking game, far from it. The environments explored are very well lit, and are interesting to look at – there is plenty of detail and some fantastic animations of the under underwater life.

After each dive, the photos taken are judged on a zero to three star scale. The more stars gained, the better the photograph is judged to be. Stars gained are important as it is the accumulation of these that unlocks further game stuff.

There are five different scenarios to explore: Coral Reef, Ship Graveyard, Deep Sea, Abyss and Volcano. With the exception of the Coral Reef, all are locked – in order to gain access to these, the player needs to take some amazing shots. With well over sixty different creatures to photograph, and a number of unique items for some bonus stars, there are plenty of things to see, but the entire experience itself doesn’t last too long.

There’s no doubting that Sea Life Safari is a relaxing and calming experience, some may say mind numbing. It’s difficult to see where the claimed “unlimited replayability” enters the picture; indeed, once the restricted number of scenarios and lifeforms have been seen, there’s little reason to return to the game, other than just enjoying the scenery and music. That said, the limited dives are entertaining, at least whilst they last – it’s one for chilling to in the post pub hours.

Marty Greenwell

Marty has been gaming since the heady years of the ZX-81 and still owns most of the gaming systems purchased since those days, including the Atari 2600, ZX Spectrum, SNES, Jaguar, Dreamcast and GameCube. Being a collection junkie (or more accurately, hoarder), he buys more games than he can possibly play, far too many of which are still sealed in their packaging. Marty favours RPGs and Driving games when it comes to genres, and is possibly a little bit too addicted to Disgaea. When not gaming he’s out frightening OAPs on his motorcycle, clad in black leather.

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