Business-sim games AKA tycoon games have been around since the dawn of videogames, but were probably at the height of their popularity on PCs in the 1990s. Games like SimTower, Theme Park, Theme Hospital, Aerobiz and (to a lesser extent) Harvest Moon proved that both adults and children wanted to test their corporate mettle and see if they had what it takes to succeed in a simulated business world.
‘Zoo Tycoon’ is an ambitious zoo-simulator from Frontier Developments, developers of the underrated Kinectimals as well as the popular Rollercoaster Tycoon 3, and in it, players create the “zoo of their dreams”. While that might sound like an exageration, Zoo Tycoon does allow players of all experience levels and ages to create and manage zoos that border on the fantastic. Gameplay is extremely light on the normally-hardcore simulation side of things, and heavy on the interactivity and cute animals, making it a fun game for kids and adults alike.
Zoo Tycoon offers three different game modes which will suit players of all experience levels. Campaign mode offers a 15-hour story mode (of sorts), Freeform mode (where money is infinite and unlocking new content depends on your zoo’s level) and Challenge Mode (short challenges which unlock content for the other game modes).
When players start the game, they are at the main entrance gate to their zoo. Players are able to customise their zookeeper’s gender, hairstyle, face and uniform at any point in the game, so kiddies need not fret if their zookeeper isn’t quite what they wanted.
Navigating around the park is simple, thanks to two different movement modes and camera perspectives. Should a player want to take in the sights and experience their zoo first-hand, they can walk around as their zookeeper, as well as drive the zoo’s different animal-themed buggies around the park’s pathways. The other mode, is a bird’s eye view of the park, which is what I would recommend for the actual zoo construction, as it allows for better planning and more even designing. Players are able to swap between the two at any time; I’ve found I regularly do and use the bird’s eye view to quickly drop my zookeeper at different enclosures at a much quicker speed than walking or driving.
When creating an enclosure, players choose the size of the enclosure (larger sizes need to be unlocked and then researched), and what type of habitat the enclosure will feature. Different animals can live various enclosures, but will only thrive in certain ones. For example, chimpanzees can survive in a savannah, but will thrive and love to live in a tropical enclosure.
After constructing an enclosure, players can than decorate them, as well as build a number of improvements to them. Some of these include compulsory feeders and bathing utilities, and some of them are for the animal’s enjoyment or interaction with the animals. It’s extremely enjoyable watching the animals play with their different toys (especially the chimpanzees!) and Frontier Developments have done a fantastic job not only simulating a zookeeper’s job, but also the various behaviours of different animal species (lemurs and sloths being this big kid’s favourites!).
When interacting with the animals, players are able to feed them using the controller or hand gestures via Kinect, wash them with a hose, or mimic the chimpanzees and felines through a special play screen. It’s impressive how different each animal’s personality can feel, and just how fun each interaction remains time after time. I got particularly attached to Frazier, my baby elephant, who would bound over to my zookeeper when spotting him, and then squeal for fruit.
There is over 100 different animal species in the Xbox One version of Zoo Tycoon (65 in the Xbox 360 version) and a huge variety of unlockable content for the game including shops, entertainers, decorations and other staff (who make your job that little bit easier). Staff, shops and utilities often need repairing or restocking (as do the animal enclosures) and the animals themselves have a small amount of needs that require attention. Most of these are pretty simple to manage, but they can become difficult when the player’s zoo becomes larger.
Now, the Xbox One version does contain more content than the Xbox 360 version of the game (as one would expect), though both versions are enjoyable. The Xbox 360 version of Zoo Tycoon is a single-player game, while the Xbox One version boasts an impressive four-player co-operative feature, which is even playable when the host player is offline. Yes, you can manage your team’s zoo even when the zoo’s owner isn’t playing. Pretty slick.
After spending a fair amount of time with Zoo Tycoon, I only have a few minor gripes with the game. One is that it feels as though the unlockable content comes too easy, as you are given multiple rewards for almost every possible action. Bought a milkshake stand? Here, have five different animal species! Ran a TV commercial? Here’s a stack of cash and ten more animal species! As I said, this is only a minor gripe, and I imagine you unlock so much content with every action because there really is so much content available. I also imagine that unlike in real life, every possible zoo location in Zoo Tycoon from North America to Australia and everything in between is able to successfully maintain every species of animals, which is a good thing.
- Cute and life-like animal behaviour.
- Possibly the most accessible business-sim ever. Anyone can play.
- Multiplayer on the Xbox One is brilliant.
- Starts to feel repetative, especially on a long play session.
- Can be difficult to manage the increasing amount of tasks and challenges found in larger zoos.
If you’re an animal lover, a fan of business sims, or are looking for a game to play with your kids, you should definitely give Zoo Tycoon a closer look. While it can get a tad repetitive, it features a ton of fun and accessible gameplay that kids will love. One of the few games in my collection that I can not only show to everybody, but also amuses everybody.
Score – 7.5/10