PopMatters is moving to WordPress. We will publish a few essays daily while we develop the new site. We hope the beta will be up sometime late next week.

Animal Kingdom: Wildlife Expedition

If you’re going to claim that a game is about observing animals and taking pictures, there are certain things a person is going to impulsively want to do.

Animal Kingdom: Wildlife Expedition

Publisher: Natsume Company Ltd.
Players: 1
Price: $29.99
Platform: Wii
ESRB Rating: Everyone
Developer: Success Corp.
Release Date: 2009-09-30

In a game, there is always a difficult balance between meeting expectations about the experience that it is claiming to give us and handling the technical realities that hold it back. If you’re going to claim that a game is about observing animals and taking pictures, there are certain things a person is going to impulsively want to do. Get close to the animals, be able to sneak around to get clever shots, explore a variety of different environments, and naturally take a lot of pictures. The problem with a game like Animal Kingdom: Wildlife Expedition is that the technical limits outweigh the things that you want out of a photography game. The resulting experience is more irritation than fun.

The game lets you pick from two Caucasian avatars, one male and one female, before dropping you off on Animal Island with a friendly robot assistant. Gameplay consists of you hopping in a jeep that will drive a circuit around the island. When a bush shakes or a dust cloud kicks up, you tap on the spot to get out and look for animals. You can also find hidden medals and boxes with special items like camo tents and animal masks. Once you hop out, you’ll be in a circular zone in the middle of a plain or lake area. Forests are set up slightly differently. Animals can come and go from the zone, but you are not allowed to leave. If you want to get close to an animal that means putting on a disguise and making sure to walk slowly up to it. Pictures are judged by how close you are and whether or not the animal is facing you. There is no zoom on the camera, walking up is the only way to score a gold medal for a picture. There are no penalties for taking bad pictures or even not turning any over except for your editor getting a bit fussy.

And that’s the gist of the game. Your editor will give you a new assignment to keep things going such as taking a picture of an animal bathing or getting close to a lion. The main skill required is knowing which part of the island to hop out at and possessing a very large amount of patience. Which is where the problem with the game’s setup comes in: you spend most of the game waiting for it to let you continue. The first couple of shots are all fairly easy but you will hit your first brick wall when the editor asks for a photo of an animal in water. Such a shot is only possible if there are already animals in the water when you arrive. If you try to drive an animal there, they hit an invisible wall even if it’s something that swims like a hippopotamus. The issue is that all of the things that make the game fun like sneaking up on animals so that you can get that perfect shot don’t factor in anymore. In this mission’s case, it’s just you driving to all the lake sites, seeing if something is in the water, and immediately leaving if they aren’t. What makes this even worse is that since you yourself cannot leave the circle, your ability to get a photo depends solely on the random element of how close the animal is to you. If the animal is too far away to qualify for a bronze medal shot, you just have to sit and wait.

This problem continues in the other missions as they get more difficult and precise. Rather than give a specific request, the editor will just start asking for things like a “priceless shot”. The only way to figure out what that means is to walk up to every animal and see if the robot thinks that it could be entertaining. After that, you have to keep looking in every single spot that the animal might appear to see if they’re willing to perform a specifically entertaining act. Often this will not be the case. Drive around, click on all possible spots, see if something is going to work, then leave if it won’t. This process is dragged out by long load times. Since you’re entering a new zone every time that you enter an area, even if it’s just to check on what’s present, you spend most of your sessions watching the game load.

In terms of graphics the game is pretty jagged during the car sessions but most of the animals are nicely represented. Occasionally, the game puts more on screen than it can handle, so moments where there are a lot of herd animals on the level requires exiting even if what you need is there. As you progress through your photo assignments different parts of the island will unlock, so there’s a decent dose of exploration going on even if it is on-rails. As time goes by, items like a camera that holds more footage or different artwork for your jeep will also become available. Once in a blue moon, a random mini-game will also be made available as well, like hyenas trying to steal your gear in the middle of the night.

Judging a game intended for children is always a difficult process. Things like the game not being challenging obviously gets chucked quickly as a standard. Keeping things simple and easily understood is even a virtue in these cases. But I think someone is just going to be disappointed with how limited the game is after seeing the promises on the box. Invisible walls keep you from running around and approaching animals how you’d like. Your photo assignments are all based on random luck instead of skill. The fact that many of the specific poses that the game requests occur rarely means that you’ll spend most of the time stopping and starting while looking around. All of this is dragged out by long load times. It doesn’t really matter what your age is; when you spend most of a game looking at a loading screen nobody is going to have much fun with it.


Please Donate to Help Save PopMatters

PopMatters have been informed by our current technology and hosting provider that we have less than a month, until November 6, to move PopMatters off their service or we will be shut down. We are moving to WordPress and a new host, but we really need your help to save the site.





The 13 Greatest Horror Directors of All Time

In honor of Halloween, here are 13 fascinating fright mavens who've made scary movies that much more meaningful.


British Jazz and Soul Artists Interpret the Classics on '​Blue Note Re:imagined'

Blue Note Re:imagined provides an entrance for new audiences to hear what's going on in British jazz today as well as to go back to the past and enjoy old glories.


Bill Murray and Rashida Jones Add Another Shot to 'On the Rocks'

Sofia Coppola's domestic malaise comedy On the Rocks doesn't drown in its sorrows -- it simply pours another round, to which we raise our glass.


​Patrick Cowley Remade Funk and Disco on 'Some Funkettes'

Patrick Cowley's Some Funkettes sports instrumental renditions from between 1975-1977 of songs previously made popular by Donna Summer, Herbie Hancock, the Temptations, and others.


The Top 10 Definitive Breakup Albums

When you feel bombarded with overpriced consumerism disguised as love, here are ten albums that look at love's hangover.


Dustin Laurenzi's Natural Language Digs Deep Into the Jazz Quartet Format with 'A Time and a Place'

Restless tenor saxophonist Dustin Laurenzi runs his four-piece combo through some thrilling jazz excursions on a fascinating new album, A Time and a Place.


How 'Watchmen' and 'The Boys' Deconstruct American Fascism

Superhero media has a history of critiquing the dark side of power, hero worship, and vigilantism, but none have done so as radically as Watchmen and The Boys.


Floodlights' 'From a View' Is Classicist Antipodal Indie Guitar Pop

Aussie indie rockers, Floodlights' debut From a View is a very cleanly, crisply-produced and mixed collection of shambolic, do-it-yourself indie guitar music.


CF Watkins Embraces a Cool, Sophisticated Twang on 'Babygirl'

CF Watkins has pulled off the unique trick of creating an album that is imbued with the warmth of the American South as well as the urban sophistication of New York.


Helena Deland Suggests Imagination Is More Rewarding Than Reality on 'Something New'

Canadian singer-songwriter Helena Deland's first full-length release Someone New reveals her considerable creative talents.


While the Sun Shines: An Interview with Composer Joe Wong

Joe Wong, the composer behind Netflix's Russian Doll and Master of None, articulates personal grief and grappling with artistic fulfillment into a sweeping debut album.


Peter Frampton Asks "Do You Feel Like I Do?" in Rock-Solid Book on Storied Career

British rocker Peter Frampton grew up fast before reaching meteoric heights with Frampton Comes Alive! Now the 70-year-old Grammy-winning artist facing a degenerative muscle condition looks back on his life in his new memoir and this revealing interview.


Bishakh Som's 'Spellbound' Is an Innovative Take on the Graphic Memoir

Bishakh's Som's graphic memoir, Spellbound, serves as a reminder that trans memoirs need not hinge on transition narratives, or at least not on the ones we are used to seeing.


Gamblers' Michael McManus Discusses Religion, Addiction, and the Importance of Writing Open-Ended Songs

Seductively approachable, Gamblers' sunny sound masks the tragedy and despair that populate the band's debut album.


Peter Guralnick's 'Looking to Get Lost' Is an Ode to the Pleasures of Writing About Music

Peter Guralnick's homage to writing about music, 'Looking to Get Lost', shows how good music writing gets the music into the readers' head.


In Praise of the Artifice in George Cukor's 'Sylvia Scarlett'

George Cukor's gender-bending Sylvia Scarlett proposes a heroine who learns nothing from her cross-gendered ordeal.


The Cure: Ranking the Albums From 13 to 1

Just about every Cure album is worth picking up, and even those ranked lowest boast worthwhile moments. Here are their albums, spanning 29 years, presented from worst to best.


The 20 Best Episodes of 'Star Trek: The Original Series'

This is a timeless list of 20 thrilling Star Trek episodes that delight, excite, and entertain, all the while exploring the deepest aspects of the human condition and questioning our place in the universe.

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.