Digital Chocolate Goes on a Facebook Safari

Safari KingdomThough there may be a lot of urbanization going on lately with the growing number of Facebook city-building applications, Digital Chocolatelooks to be getting back to nature. After the release of their Facebook application, NanoTowns, the social developer is now taking users to Africa where they become part of the circle of life in the animal husbandry game, Safari Kingdom.

Lion King puns, aside, this is a fairly simple, slow burn title. Players are granted a six by six grid of space within an African savanna, with the sole job of caring for and raising various forms of wildlife until they are ready to be released into the wild.

Raising the animals is fairly straightforward. On one of the grid spaces, users build a simple nest and choose from a variety of indigenous animals to care for. This ranges from meerkats, to flamingos, to even lions and giraffes (eventually). From here, they will appear as an egg, hatching a minute or so later. Depending on the type of animal, it will take anywhere from five minutes to a day or more to grow into adulthood.

Animal CareAs time passes, these highly saturated, cartoon-like animals will grow larger and change between stages of Baby, Teen, and Adult. Periodically, they will need to be fed, and until such is done, growth will halt. Furthermore, each of the creatures needs a bit of love too, but this is merely accomplished with a simple virtual pat on the head. Once an animal has reached adulthood, it is released into the wild for a sum of money and experience.

The leveling system in Safari Kingdom is the traditional gating system for these kinds of games: As players grow in level they are offered new animals to raise, and of course, new decorum for their little patch of land (which can also be expanded for a hefty sum).

This is the second aspect of Safari Kingdom: Decorating your own African habitat. Within each grid space, players can place various forms of trees, fauna, terrain tiles, as well as some safari-themed vehicles, fences, and buildings. Most of the items are reasonably affordable, though the collection of off-road jeeps and tents are a bit pricey. Nonetheless, if one doesn’t have enough money in game, they are always able to pruchase a relative equivalent (as well as a few fun extra items such as mandolins, flags, and fire pits) with the buyable virtual currency, Safari Cash.

GoodsFrankly, all of the decorative items are great to look at, but the biggest complaint comes with the fact that everything has to be placed within a very distinctive grid layout. Literally, you can see the grid lines even if they are “grass.” It really takes away from the immersiveness of the game, and feels a little bit limiting. Granted, there are many games that do the same thing with an invisible grid, but with a game that is simulating something natural like Safari Kingdom is, having everything laid out in such a precise and mechanical way, just feels… off. Luckily, as players level up and earn more money, the ability to add different floor tile decorations becomes available and that beginning grid gradually fade away. It is still there, to some degree, but hardly as glaring and noticeable.

Socially, the game makes up for this short-coming a bit. This isn’t so much in the way of social features, as these are primarily the same as any other game that uses a virtual space. Essentially, it boils down to visiting other friends’ safaris and helping to care for their animals, earning a bit of coin for your troubles. What is interesting, however, is how you get friends to actually play in the first place.

Rather than spamming the user with prompts that say “Invite your Friends!” the game has random non-player characters walk into your safari. These characters are linked with random Facebook friends, indicated by the name above them, and when they get to the border of your grid space, a nice big question mark appears.

VisitorsRight off the bat, the user has an innate reaction to click on this giant icon above their friend’s head. Doing so, brings up a prompt for you to send a message/invite from Safari Kingdom, asking them to play. It’s quite ingenious really, as many Facebook users have reached a Pavlovian level of clicking “Skip” to get through all the invite messages at the start of the game. Here, it is initiated on the players’ terms in a way where they feel compelled to investigate, rather than through obnoxious, brute force methods.

In the end, Safari Kingdom is nothing terribly huge, yet. It only garners around 6,500 monthly active users, but then again, it hasn’t been around that long either. It’s certainly a game that takes time to get all the good stuff, so it isn’t going to be some massive boom like FarmVille. However, its simplicity and slow-placed play, coupled with an attractive visual style, makes this app a nice quietly good game that is likely to gradually grow in popularity.