Zoo Tycoon is King of the Jungle

Been dreaming of building and managing the most spectacular zoo in the world? Dream no more! Microsoft and Blue Fang Games have brought you Zoo Tycoon. In Zoo Tycoon your job is to build exhibits, adopt animals and hire employees to keep up on the maintenance, while keeping the animals and your guests happy.

The key to success in Zoo Tycoon is to keep the guests happy and spending their money in your zoo. This means constructing exciting exhibits that resemble each animal’s natural habitat. This keeps the animals happy and playful. Since nobody wants to look at depressed, lifeless animals, the happier that your animals seem the longer guests will stay and spend money on food, drinks, souvenirs and special exhibits.

The closest game that I can compare Zoo Tycoon to is Rollercoaster Tycoon. Both games are set up similarly. From the way both games feature a top-down interface to being able to click on any person in the zoo in order to see what they are thinking, the interfaces are very similar.

Building an exhibit is relatively easy. First you have to drag and click to build an enclosed, fenced area. There are dozens of different fences to choose from, depending on what animal you are considering for the display. Some animals can climb over certain fences or ram through them, so your choice of fence is important for overall zoo safety. People that get eaten by lions generally don’t spend much more money at your zoo, not to mention the negative impact this has on your other guests.

Second, adopt some compatible animals and put them in the exhibit. Now, you can click on one of the animals to bring up a small window that shows info on them; their sex, general health, age, etc. In this window there is also the Animal Happiness Bar. This bar goes from 0 to 100. When the bar is at 100, that particular animal is so happy that it has found a state of nirvana. Anything below 50 on the bar, and the animal looks like it’s close to going to that great zoo in the sky.

There are some ways to raise that bar. One way is to modify their habitat. There are numerous types of terrain (grass, sand, tundra, saltwater, etc.), foliage (plants and trees), shelters and toys that will make their habitat more like a home. All animals like specific kinds of plants. There is plenty of info found in the game to help you make a heaven on earth for each of your animals.

Then again, common sense would tell you that a giraffe will not be happy living in a snow and saltwater environment. Trust me, I know, I tried it. Another way to keep the animals happy (I know this is going to be a shocker) is to feed them and clean up after them. Believe it or not, most animals like to be fed. To perform these tasks, you must hire zookeepers and maintenance workers to keep the park clean and the critters healthy.

Now that you’ve made the animals happy, let’s talk about the customers. The more they enjoy the exhibits, the longer they will stay and spend money. You can click on each exhibit and see how popular it is. Sometimes, to raise an exhibit’s popularity, it’s a matter of simply moving some trees around so that the public can get a better view. You will also have to meet the people’s base needs by constructing drink stands, pizza vendors, restrooms, and the like. Doing all of this will bring more money into your zoo to spend on research, to get better objects and technology for your zoo, and to adopt even more exotic animals.

There are two ways to play Zoo Tycoon, the scenario game and the freeform game. In the scenario games, you play each one with predetermined goals to be met in a specific amount of time. In the freeform game, you start with an empty park and no defined mission parameters. The only way to lose in freeform mode is to run out of money.

The controls are very easy to figure out. Everything is pretty self explanatory. The tutorials in the beginning are very helpful (and amusing), and give you most of the knowledge that you need to play the game.

The graphics in Zoo Tycoon are more lifelike than Rollercoaster Tycoons’ graphics are. Each animal species has characteristic movements, behaviors and realistic animal sounds.

I enjoyed many things about Zoo Tycoon. The scenario missions were fun and challenging, especially challenging when trying to breed exotic animals in a short time frame. I also like the fact that you can build and landscape your zoo while the game is paused. You cannot get feedback from your customers or animals while paused, but being able to build during pause sure helps on some of the missions. I liked that the animals have the ability to escape and possibly cause havoc.

Also, animals of different species don’t like each other, so you need to keep them apart. Then again, there is nothing funnier than the first time you drop a couple of penguins into the Bengal tiger exhibit. I’m not talking about real life, I mean in the game. Oh, and lets not talk about my disastrous "open zoo" experiment where all the animals lived in peace together, lion and lamb. After a few minutes we were left with a few big predators and a lot of piles of poop that were formerly cuddly herbivores. What a mess.

The problems that I have with the game are minor. Sometimes, it can be difficult to click and highlight a specific animal or person. One of the things the game manual tells you is to keep an eye on how well your staff is performing their tasks, and if they are not working hard that you should fire them and hire new people. I could not tell how my staff was performing at all. I used two ways to manage the employees of my zoos. The first way was to fire all but one or two of the employees every six months, and the other way was to never fire anyone ever. Both ways seemed to work just fine to me.

I give Zoo Tycoon 4 out of 5 GiN Gems. As much as I enjoyed this game, and thought that it was made pretty well, I started getting a little bored with it. This game is perfect for that cute mop-headed 11-year-old you know, but maybe not all that perfect for your favorite 30-year-old.

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