Zoo Keeper Nintendo DS
by Ignition Entertainment
Developed by Buddiez.inc
Release Date: 11th March 2005
At long last the first of the new handheld consoles is going to arrive in the UK this week. First to arrive in the UK is the Nintendo DS, Nintendo's dual-screen console that allows games to utilise a touch screen as a way of controlling a game. The Nintendo DS certainly promises to give gamers a unique gaming experience and we're keeping our fingers crossed here at Deaf Gamers that the console can manage to fulfil its potential. We have two Nintendo DS game reviews for you this week and the first of these is Zoo Keeper. Zoo Keeper is a puzzle game and as usual for such a game there isn't much of background story. The game manual gives only a few words so it's no problem to quote them here. 'In the historic zoo on the outskirts of town, the animals were fed up with the arrogant zoo keeper and so they started a riot.' Of course in this game you're a zoo keeper and you're the one who has been called in to clean up the riot.
Several reviews have already mentioned the fact, and yes it's true, that the game bears a striking similarity to the PC puzzle game Bejeweled. In Bejeweled you had a grid of 8x8 jewels and the idea was to swap adjacent gems to create a row of three or more (horizontal or vertical). Doing so would make those in the row disappear and cause the jewels above to collapse to refill the now empty spaces. This continues until you've removed all the jewels or until you can't make a move. You can't move an adjacent gem if it doesn't form a row of three or more though and that's what made Bejeweled challenging. Zoo Keeper takes the gems and switches them for animal heads. In addition a few extra modes have been added too. Zoo Keeper also adds the concept of the Lucky Animal. On the top screen you'll see a picture of an animal. This is the Lucky Animal and capturing these animals will earn you double the usual points that you get for capturing an animal. During a game you'll have a limited number of hints (shown as binocular icons) that can be used. These hints will show you all of the animals that can be captured at that moment. You'll also see special panels from time to time. These panels constantly change until you touch them. The animal that is then showing after you've touched the tile will then disappear along with all the animal tiles of that type from the grid.
Zoo Keeper includes five modes for you to enjoy. The Normal mode sees you having a quota for each level and you won't complete the level until you've caught the required number of animals (by lining them up in rows of three or more). When you've completed your quota it's on to the next level. Tokoton is a mode where you capture as many animals as you can. Once you've captured 100 of an animal, you'll level up. Levelling up not only increases the difficulty but also increases the amount of points you receive for capturing the animals. Quest challenges you to complete 10 stages and doing so will give you results that you or a friend can then try to beat. Without a doubt the most addictive mode is Time Attack. You're given 6 minutes to capture as many animals as possible and create a high score in the process. It's a great mode to test how good you are by comparing your scores with those of your friends. Finally there's the 2 player Battle mode. Essentially it's you against a friend and when you capture animals your opponent's time will deplete. The first player to run out of time will lose the game. Thankfully only one game card is required which means anyone with a Nintendo DS can give you a game.
Until now of course this review reads like Zoo Keeper is a game you could play on any other handheld console and this is perfectly true. In fact if you want to you can use the directional pad and buttons to play the game in a traditional manner. However the game is for the Nintendo DS which has a great touch screen to use and Zoo Keeper certainly allows you to use it. Using the stylus on the touch screen is actually a more intuitive way to play the game as you simply touch the animals who you want to change places (you can touch and drag one animal to the next if you want to). This actually gives you a PC mouse-like precision and is not only quicker than using the d-pad and buttons but is also much more comfortable. Everything of importance can be touched (the top screen only displays information and nothing on it can be interacted with) and in many ways it shows off the potential of the Nintendo DS.
The graphics in Zoo Keeper are perhaps best described as charming, if simplistic. The lower screen contains the 8x8 grid of animal heads along with the timer gauge and binocular icons. The upper screen shows details such as a picture of the lucky animal, information showing what animals you've caught, the current score and what level you're on. The animals in Zoo Keeper are rather square in nature which might seem too simplistic but as you can see from the screenshots on the right side of this text they have a special charm and are easy on the eye which is exactly what you need in a game of this nature.
Deaf gamers will be pleased to learn that Zoo Keeper is deaf gamer friendly. All the information in the game, such as the story and how to play instructions are presented visually so you'll have no problems at all in enjoying this addictive puzzler. Looking at both the Sony PSP and the Nintendo DS I have some concerns because they are both equipped with a microphone (well in the PSP's case it comes with a microphone socket) and there are games that are set to take advantage of them. Could this be a problem for deaf gamers? Only time will tell but I suspect there will be problems sooner or later. At least Zoo Keeper doesn't use the microphone so it's of no concern here.
It's a fair bet that when the Nintendo DS is released on the 11th March that the games that will grab the attention of most gamers will be the Super Mario 64 remake and Wario Ware Touched! For once though there's actually a collection of puzzle games to please the more cerebral gamers out there. Both Mr. Driller: Drill Spirits and Polarium are to set to be released alongside Zoo Keeper. Whilst I haven't yet played the other two though I can say that Zoo Keeper is exactly what you need for a puzzle game on the go. No the graphics don't show off the power of the Nintendo DS and you could even argue that the concept of the game isn't highly original. However, what the game does it does very well indeed and it's an all round great puzzle title with modes to suit no matter how much (or little) time you have available. Being able to use the stylus to move the animal heads makes the whole thing much more intuitive too. Zoo Keeper might not be the first game you pick up for your Nintendo DS but it could well be the last you put down.
Overall Game Rating: 8.1/10
It's not often that a console launches with 3 puzzles games. Zoo Keeper is the first we've looked at and it's well worth the money for it's charm and sheer addictiveness. It shouldn't be forgotten that the game makes very good use of the stylus and touch screen. If you like a game that makes you think and also want a game to show you the delights of using a touch screen then Zoo Keeper is a must.
Deaf Gamers Classification:
(Click the letter or here for details)
No problems at all for deaf gamers. The Nintendo DS and Sony PSP have the potential to cause deaf gamers a few problems with the DS having a built in microphone and the PSP having a microphone socket to give gamers a way of using their voice as an input device. Thankfully though there are no such problems with Zoo Keeper.