Zoo Tycoon Review – An Animal House
Video games may let you experience many of the offerings books, movies and other forms of entertainment produce, but there are some things in life you simply can’t replicate.
As a Microsoft-exclusive launch title for Xbox One, Zoo Tycoon – the first non-handheld game in the series since 2004 – aims to deliver a simulation of not only running your very own zoo, but being able to explore and interact with it via third-person avatar on the consoles.
Zoo Tycoon has three basic principles: make sure people have a wonderful time during their visit, keep your animals happy and rake in the profits to expand your zoo.
For those like myself who have never indulged in the series, there is a wonderful 10-part tutorial going over all these elements. Though there is much to keep up with while running a zoo, the tutorial manages to explain every point carefully without overwhelming you.
From there, some disappointing aspects are quickly made apparent. Aside from the tutorial, Zoo Tycoon offers three other modes that don’t feel too distinctive from one another while also managing to strangely lack in some areas. Each mode also offers 20 locations to play in throughout notable cities in the world, none of which are different from one another minus what appears on the ground and beyond the zoo’s borders.
Freeform Mode grants players unlimited money to let their imaginations run wild while building a dream zoo; Challenge Mode simply makes a player build a zoo from scratch with a set amount of money; Campaign Mode gives the players 20 scenarios with different challenges they must complete within a set time limit to earns prizes.
Do not get the term Campaign mixed with the general gaming terminology, as there is no plot. The scenarios start to get repetitious as you unlock more and more to play scenarios to play, making the campaign more of a drag than a challenge. The prizes are not worth it either, as they only allow players to add minor additions in other modes.
While you may already have a head start in Campaign because each scenario provides a previously built zoo, the scenarios are akin – if not exactly identical – to the ones you would find in Challenge as you progressively build your zoo.
What makes even less sense is how ironically limited you are in Freeform. While in Challenge Mode you have access to every city from the get-go, yet there are only a few cities out of the 20 available in Freeform. Why do I have to play other modes to unlock cities in the mode where I supposedly have no restrictions?
More problems plaguing the game are in its research mechanic. Through the magic of research, players can add further attractions from new animals to food stands and more to their zoo. While this mechanic certainly makes sense and adds an extra layer to the game, you are dreadfully only allowed to research one item at a time. This wouldn’t be as much of a hindrance if certain challenges in Campaign had to be done in a set amount of time, with some researches taking several minutes to complete. Even researching just three items would have been welcomed.
Aside from these setbacks, I can certainly see how this game can be loads of fun with casual audiences and children. While running a zoo by managing everything from keeping the animals fed, breeding new animals, hiring your own staff, starting an ad campaign and maintaining sanitary restrooms for zoo visitors can be surprisingly challenging, there is rarely a moment where you will not be occupied by something that must be attended to in the zoo. It’s also quite rewarding to see your zoo’s level of fame rise so you can purchase more attractions. Simulated titles are admittedly not my cup of tea, but Zoo Tycoon can be moderately entertaining. It can be further enjoyable with three other friends online, but make sure you can communicate with one another somehow, as it can get a bit disorganized otherwise.
For the little tykes in your life, Zoo Tycoon boasts features kids are sure to enjoy. For starters, the game features extensive information on every animal it has to offer, adding educational facts people of all ages will find interesting.
Additionally, Kinect allows players to directly interact with some of the animals by assuming control of an avatar who can explore the zoo grounds with Zoo Mode, a first-time feature for the series. Some exhibits allow you to feed animals with hand gestures, interact with chimpanzees through a see-through glass and wash the animals with a hose. These things can be done with the controller, and while adults may not bother with it, I can easily see how kids would love the Kinect features – and the game as a whole.
Making the close interactive experience better is animal designs. From their fur/skin to how they eat and play with other animals is exactly what you would expect to see at a real zoo. While in Zoo Mode, on the other hand, some of the environments look blurry and pedestrians have stiffer movements than a wooden plank. In Tycoon Mode, where you will spend a majority of the time, however, the zoo below can look pretty, but don’t expect visuals equivalent to Ryse or Forza 5.