Feeling charitable? Safari Sketch is a match-three game with a cause, and the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) will receive a $2 donation for every copy of the game purchased. The AZA is America’s leading non-profit accrediting organization for zoos and aquariums. They evaluate and accredit only those programs that have achieved rigorous standards for animal care, education, wildlife conservation and science, keeping zoos and aquariums at the top of their game.
Like many other match-three games, the object is to clear the board by making matches of three or more over all of the green tiles. If you can match four or five tiles at a time, you’ll earn special bonuses. The game is timed, which can make it tougher to beat when there are many obstacles on the board, but you can choose to play in untimed relaxed mode if you prefer.
Safari Sketch does have a couple of unique power-ups, like column or row bonus tiles that clear the entire coloumn or row, or eraser tiles that allow you to erase any tile clear off the board. There are also some interesting obstacle tiles, like skuttle bugs which grab pieces and must be scared off by matching surrounding tiles. Althogether, however, there are just four obstacles and five power-ups, so there’s not much to learn, and you won’t have to play long in order to see all that the game has to offer.
As you beat each level, you’ll complete “sketches” of various protected or endangered animals, plants, and flowers. These will be automatically placed in your journal and include interesting factual information about each species, such as alternate names, habitiates, and conservation status. This makes the game educational, appealing to environmentalists and animal lovers alike.
For example, after sketching the Island Gray Fox, you’re told that this cute little guy is critically endangered, and lives right off the southwest coast of the United States, on the Channel Islands. The introduction of the golden eagle, combined with disease from the mainland, has crippled it’s delicate population.
Later, you can select which country you’d like to visit, such as Mexico, Australia, or the USA, giving you more information about animals indigenous to these regions. For example, down in Mexico, you learn that another critically endangered species fights for existence – the Lake Patzucuaro Salamander. Pollution and habitate destruction are the cause of its gradual demise.
There are instructions given on the menu screen, as well as given gradually as you play, but these explanations are sometimes unclear. For example, in reference to crossed out tiles, you are told that matches must be made “under the X to clear them.” Practically, you must make a match using the tile which is crossed out before it can be cleared. The directions can mislead you to thinking you must make matches literally underneath, which would not actually free the tile.
The game’s artwork is hand drawn in 2D, but it just doesn’t meet the standards of other titles currently in the genre. It’s very simple, and sometimes unattractive when it comes to the tiles. There are sound effects, but these don’t always fit with the theme. The music is good, but it loops and doesn’t give any added atmosphere.
Giving to a worthy charity like The Association of Zoos and Aquariums is a great thing. Safari Sketch also offers an environmental conservation education while you play. Unfortunately, if you’re just looking for a fun match-three game and don’t care much for the educational or charitable value, Safari Sketch doesn’t live up to the standards already set by the genre. However, if you want to give to charity or to learn a bit more about endangered species, this is a good choice.