Tycoon crazy! Transport Tycoon, Rollercoaster Tycoon, Casino Tycoon, Ski Resort Tycoon, the list goes on and on. It may seem inevitable then that we would eventually come to involve the animal kingdom in all of this and guess what, here is Zoo Tycoon. With the exception of Transport and Rollercoaster Tycoon most of the games in the 'Tycoon genre' have been poor to say the least so will it be the same with Zoo Tycoon?
One of the first things you'll notice about Zoo Tycoon is that it has been modelled on the best Tycoon game to date, Rollercoaster Tycoon. The game seems so similar that in places, it is obvious that Blue Fang Games have been clearly influenced by Chris Sawyer's masterpiece. Normally this would be a bad thing but Rollercoaster Tycoon was so good that I think it has proved a wise decision to model Zoo Tycoon on the game.
The basic aim of the game is to build a successful zoo. Success in this game relies on four aspects. You have to keep an eye on finances, zoo rating, customer rating and most of all, animal happiness. After adopting an animal you provide an adequate setting for them. The surroundings you provide for the animals are called exhibits. An exhibit is made up of a perimeter fence, an appropriate terrain, appropriate foliage, rocks, toys and a suitable shelter. Building the correct exhibit for the animal is perhaps the greatest challenge with the game. Each animal has a specific preference. Lions prefer savannah grass while a Clouded leopard prefers tropical rainforest terrain and Mangrove trees. You are helped in the game by a zookeeper who gives you a comprehensive description of the animal and the all important zookeeper recommendations. The zookeeper recommendations are the feedback on the suitability of the exhibit for the animal, what the animal would like to see in the exhibit and the thoughts of the animal in some circumstances. Further insight into the animals feelings can be ascertained by studying the four ratings that each animal has. The ratings are happiness, hunger, health and suitability.
You may think that this doesn't sound too difficult but there is also the fact that each animal is an individual and even animals of the same type might want different things. I placed two giraffes in an exhibit and after clicking on one of the giraffes I followed the zookeepers instruction to make the giraffe happy. This would have been fine except for the fact that the other giraffe had become unhappy at the increased amount of foliage and decreased amount of savannah grass. It took me ages to strike an appropriate balance. I could have placed the animals on their own but they were one of the species that likes company so putting them on their own would have upset them. Should you have a male and a female animal together and should the circumstances be right and both of them are happy then they may have a cub, calf, etc.
The game breaks you in nice and gently. A series of simplistic tutorials are followed by a series of missions. These missions are classified as beginner, intermediate and advanced. The beginner missions are in truth a little too easy and you can complete your mission goals in a quarter of the time given to you (but you still have to sit out the remainder of the time) . However at the other end of the difficulty scale the advanced missions request sky high ratings for everything and insist that you import animals from six different continents. If you feel you don't quite understand anything then a simple tap of the F1 key will bring up a help menu that will explain all the games basics and concepts. Should you complete the missions or fancy a game where your imagination is the only limitation then there is the freeplay mode. A vast range (28 in total) of maps are at your disposal. These range from locations such as the Jungle Lagoon to the Lunar Facility.
The range of animals available is very good and include animals such as the Emperor penguin, Bengal tiger and the Common Wildebeest. An extensive variety of fencing, foliage, animal toys, rocks, terrains etc. are all available to you to create the perfect exhibit for your animals. You can also hire various helpers to assist you in the running of the zoo. Zookeepers help to keep an eye on the animals and they feed them as well cleaning the animals unpleasantries out of the exhibit. Tour guides can also be hired and can give your customers tours of the animals if you so choose. Finally there is, the dogs body that is, the maintenance worker. The maintenance worker is responsible for emptying the trash cans, repairing the exhibit fences and generally fixing things. I thought it was a shame that you couldn't set the working area for the maintenance worker as this would have made it easier to control the maintenance of your zoo.
You can also plough money into research and conservation. Investing in conservation can lead to new types of foliage and animal houses whilst throwing your money into research can increase staff education and give you more specific animal shelters. This will prove vital as you play the more advanced missions but in the earlier missions it will not be necessary to follow a plan of research and conservation.
Zoo Tycoon is a must for fans of the Tycoon genre. Deaf gamers can fully experience the game as every bit of information is in text. In fact nothing in the game relies on sound to relay information. As a Tycoon it is one of the best out there. If you are a fan of Rollercoaster Tycoon you are going to love this game. Is it any better than Rollercoaster Tycoon? Well that depends on whether you prefer fair grounds or the zoo as the games are otherwise a similar experience and for that Blue Fang should be congratulated.
Overall Game Rating: 8.8/10 A very good game that will appeal to animal and Tycoon game fans alike.
Quality of text: 10/10 All information is given in text. Excellent.
Graphics: 7.5/10 Nothing fancy here but the graphics are pleasant and do their job well.
Visual Presentation: 9/10 The game has been very well set out and is easy on the eye.
Interface: 9/10 A simple and easy to use interface. Every button is tooltipped.
Gameplay: 8.5/10 Some of the earlier missions are just too easy and give you too much time but apart from that it's great.