After theme parks, one of the most enjoyable experiences is visiting the zoo. Examining the menagerie of exotic animals in reconstructed habitats makes for a fun and educational afternoon. Behind the scenes, however, there is an army of vendors, veterinarians, and visitor guides making sure the zoo runs smoothly. Now you can experience the joys and pains of maintaining a zoo suitable for both animals and guests. Zoo Tycoon answers the age-old question, who picks up the scat after the crowds go home?
Although Zoo Tycoon doesn't have a true storyline, it does follow the conventional pattern established by RollerCoaster Tycoon: build attractions, supply shops to sell items, and deal with the difficulties of meeting the basic needs of large crowds. To that end, there are several animals, terrain types, and fence styles for the exhibits in addition to food kiosks, gift shops, and smaller attractions to spruce up the landscape.
The most striking aspect of Zoo Tycoon's gameplay is the level of customization. Animals need appropriate terrain and housing, but how the cage is detailed is up to you. A polar bear is just as happy with an island surrounded by fresh water as it is with a small pond and a shore of snow. This leads to some very intriguing design possibilities, as long as the balance remains within the limits dictated by the animal's needs. Considering there are over 40 different types of animals, there are nearly endless landscaping possibilities.
After laying out the cages, buying animals, and staffing the zoo, there really isn't much to do except fine-tune the environment for optimum comfort for the animals or fix trampled areas. A virtual zookeeper informs you of animal needs with usually sound advice congruent with the detailed entries in the animal information database. Reading the database is a very educational experience as well. Once the animals are happy and content, adding the amenities for the public is a bit of a letdown. Plenty of buildings and maintenance facilities can be placed, such as trash or rest areas, but they're not nearly as customizable as the terrain or flora options.
The animals and buildings are nicely rendered and easily identifiable. Creatures frolic, prowl, paw, and sleep with convincing realism. Especially amusing are the frightened guests screaming and running from freed lions. For the mean spirited, overcrowding cages with predators and prey results in a cartoon scuffle-cloud, but nothing more violent. No zoom feature is available, but several tycoon games have suffered from blocky close-ups so perhaps it's understandable. The menus are easy to navigate and relatively intuitive; the panda icon shows a list of animals while a shovel/hammer icon readies construction options.
Zoo Tycoon does a nice job of recreating the sounds of the zoo. The hoots, growls, snorts, and honks of over 40 types of animals are faithfully recreated. There is no soundtrack other than the title screen's jungle theme song, however. Overall, sound plays a backseat, being neither intrusive nor absent. The game won't put your speakers to the test, but it isn't terrible either.
Although realism is a key part of Zoo Tycoon's formula, it is also its biggest fault. Some animals, like camels, are exceedingly easy to take care of, with only slight modifications to the cage. Others, like the jaguar, are much more finicky and nearly impossible to please. Since many stores and donations hardly make any cash, zoos must rely on selling baby animals for a big portion of their income, but most animals take forever to reproduce. Zookeepers are assigned paths, but often can't reach some cages, which results in the hiring of an extra worker or regularly reworking pathways. After making an exhibit just right, there's not much else to do except wait for money to come in to start another. Unfortunately, the action happens in spurts, not evenly enough to excite most gamers.
Zookeepers can expect continued support from Microsoft for this single-player game. The official website has several new animals, scenarios, and buildings for download. The game will appeal to a creative segment of gamers who need a break from the blood and mayhem of other games, and the downloadable extras reward loyal fans of the title.
Zoo Tycoon is a nice diversion from the tedium of other tycoon games, but not overly exciting. Beyond basic maintenance, you'll mostly just watch and wait for the next rush of action. Those who don't mind the leisurely pace will find hours of decorating enjoyment. For the majority of gamers, though, the game will maintain interest for only a little while before being shelved for a rainy day.
Graphics: Consistent artwork shows guests and animals at play. While not state of the art, graphics realistically depict animals and habitats.
Sound: Animal sounds are really strong, from the anteater to the zebra. Lack of a decent soundtrack occasionally leaves a vacuum of sound.
Enjoyment: Graphics and antics are fun to watch, but action becomes cyclic. Game's true joy is manipulation of each detail in an exhibit and will appeal to those who like that style of play.
Replay Value: Gamers hooked on the style will appreciate the support from the official website. Lack of multiplayer options is almost made up for by the free extras available for download.
People who downloaded Zoo Tycoon have also downloaded:
Zoo Tycoon 2, RollerCoaster Tycoon Deluxe, Sims, The, RollerCoaster Tycoon 3, Rollercoaster Tycoon 2, Sim Theme Park (a.k.a. Theme Park World), Sim City 2000, Prison Tycoon
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