First off, let me apologise for the lack of updates recently. I've just not had time to update the blog due to real life getting in the way of my precious gaming time. So without hanging about, let's get the blog back on track with the wonderful Afrika/Hakuna Matata on PS3.
My copy arrived from Japan this week and although I ordered Afrika, I received Hakuna Matata instead. The difference? Well Hakuna Matata is the the Asian version of Afrika, but aside from the name change, the only difference between the two versions is that Hakuna Matata has two pages of English in the instruction manual relating to the controls. Everything else in the manual and on-screen is still in Japanese.
So what exactly is Afrika/Hakuna Matata? Well, plain and simply, it's a wildlife photography game. As I've mentioned previously, think of Hakuna Matata as a grown-up version of Pokemon Snap.
You begin the game by choosing a male or female character and then you are whisked away to base camp - a small location nestled in the south of the Duma Steps. The camp has a bed, a map, a bookshelf - where you can view your progress - all your tools, such as tents and your collection of cameras. There's also a laptop, which acts as the hub for all your African adventures. You'll receive missions via the laptop, each one accompanied by a small video clip of what animal picture the client is looking for.
As the text is in Japanese, this makes things much easier to understand, although a little trial and error is required as you get further in. Every photograph you take is also uploaded to the laptop, and you can pick and choose the best picture to send to the client. Every successful mission rewards you with a grade and a cash bonus, which is used to buy new equipment from the laptop's online store.
When you venture outside the camp for the first few missions, all you'll have to your name is a bog-standard camera, which takes slightly fuzzy pictures. But don't worry, as you progress through the game, new cameras and lenses become available. In fact, it doesn't take long to get a cracking little digital camera, which takes beautifully sharp pictures. Incidentally, all the pictures featured here are my own creations, so I hope you like them!
As the gameworld is sizeable, the preferred mode of transport is a jeep. At first you will be taken to points of interest by your driver, but later in the game, you gain full control of the jeep and can drive it anywhere.
Your first assignment is to take pictures of general wildlife, and you'll be dropped off near a watering hole, where zebras, antelopes, giraffes and vultures like to gather. However, care must be taken when approaching animals, as most are easily scared and will run off if you get too close. You can sneak by pressing down on the D-Pad, and finding some cover in the shrubs and bushes enables you to observe the wildlife going about their business without disturbing them.
Snapping pictures is very straightforward - pressing R1 takes the snap, while turning the Sixaxis 90 degrees changes your view from landscape to portrait - very handy for taking pictures of giraffes! The right analogue stick is used to zoom in and out, which is vital for getting great close up shots without frightening the animals.
After taking your pictures, you'll be taken back to base camp, where you can send pictures of new species back to central office. Each new species photographed and recorded earns you 3000 points, and taking snaps of new creatures opens up fresh missions and challenges.
Occasionally you will have to take on a Big Hunt. These are scripted events, the first of which sees you taking pictures of a cheetah chasing down an antelope. These are great fun and offer a nice change of pace from the rest of the laid back gameplay. As far as I'm aware, there are 20 Big Hunts to discover throughout the game.
As you progress, the missions start to get interesting - you'll start by snapping giraffes drinking from a pool, but soon you'll be face to face with a charging elephant and dealing with angry bison. Incidentally, you can't die in Hakuna Matata. If you anger an animal, it will charge you. This results in you being knocked out, but you'll come round back at base camp, ready to try the mission again.
As you can see, the graphics are excellent and although animals in the distance look a little stilted, up close they look incredible. Because the draw distance is so good, it's impossible not to be impressed with the backgrounds just as much as foreground objects. There's also a day/night cycle at work and the effect as afternoon turns to evening is breathtaking. The music is equally good, with a soundtrack composed and conducted by Wataru Hokoyama, which gives the game an epic feel.
Hakuna Matata is a great game to chill-out with. If you don't want to dive into the missions, you don't have to. In fact, most of the images you see here were taken when I was just exploring the game world. There is also an option in the main menu called Afrika viewer. When in this mode, you select a landscape, time of day and background music. Then you just sit back and watch the wildlife going about its business. You can also speed up time so the colours of the landscape gradually change from day to night. You can also manually change the view or let the PS3 flick between them. It's lovely to have on in the background late at night and is a great inclusion.
Sony also teamed up with National Geographic for Hakuna Matata, and as a result, every animal in the game is featured in the National Geographic Library - an album crammed full of glorious hi-res pictures and videos of the featured wildlife.
Sony have obviously gone to a lot of trouble to create Hakuna Matata, which makes it even more baffling when they announced they have no plans to publish the game in the US or Europe. I'm still confident they'll change their minds, as this is a game which will appeal to gamers and non-gamers of all ages.