Zoo Tycoon Review
Developer: Blue Fang Games
Windows® 95, 98, 2000, Me, or XP operating systems
Multimedia PC with a 233 MHz or higher
DirectX® 8.0a (included)
32MB RAM for Windows 95/98 and ME, 64MB for Windows 2000, 128MB for Windows XP
Minimum 250MB available HD space, 600MB recommended
Super VGA video display capable of 800X600 resolution
Microsoft Mouse or compatible pointing device
Audio board and speakers recommended
Tycoon titles abound on store shelves this holiday season, following in the footsteps of such insanely successful games as Railroad Tycoon and Roller Coaster Tycoon. Microsoft’s venture into this crowded area of gamingdom has come in the form of Zoo Tycoon, in which you use both your visitors and animals to make yourself filthy rich. Sound simple enough? Well, it is.
Zoo Tycoon is easier to get into than this review. You’ve essentially got two options when playing the game, tackle a scenario, or set your starting money and create a zoo from the ground up on a zooless map. This freeform option really adds to the number of hours you’ll be playing the game. The thirteen scenarios have predefined goals, time limits, and a set amount of starting dollars, but in a freeform game, the only limiting factor is your imagination. There are nearly thirty maps of various sizes and themes to build a freeform zoo on. They vary from arctic settings, to rocky highlands, to flat featureless grass plains.
Scenarios range in difficulty from beginner right up to the penny pinching very advanced level. Goals include creating, enhancing, or expanding zoos within a given time frame and with a set amount of money. There are ways to grab quick cash, such as clear cutting your zoo area of trees, which is handy. In some scenarios, you must build exhibits for animals which are chosen for you, unable to adopt any of your own choosing. While this is challenging, the adoption menu is disabled, preventing you from reaching the valuable and very helpful information on any animals. You have to take a guess at what kinds of trees and shrubs your animals like, making a fairly simple process potentially frustrating for the player. The varied goals for the scenarios make them generally enjoyable, although some may be too difficult for younger players.
The game itself is easy to play. The manual is adequate at explaining the various menus, but it would likely take a new player a matter of minutes to have a zoo up and running even without glancing at the documentation. Menus are well labeled and fairly well organized, and the roll-over help is great for getting quick information about your options. Creating an exhibit is about as easy as connecting some fences together via the construction menu and then adding an animal or two via the adoption menu. However, succeeding at the game means keeping your animals healthy and happy. You’ll need to set down terrain, such as sand or salt water, vegetation that will make them feel at home, and possibly provide them with a toy, or a mate. (the undo feature is invaluable during this process) Creating a gorgeous exhibit that resembles Africa, or a jungle in Asia, or the Rocky Mountains, is certainly possible, but largely the animals and your finances dictate what you get to create.
When creating exhibits, you have your trusty Zoo Keeper at your side to give you advice, in addition to animals providing their own feedback. Green smiley faces will appear above animals who are happy with changes you are making to their exhibit, and red frowns if you are messing with their turf in a way they dislike. Your Zoo Keeper essentially provides you with a list of an animal’s demands that must be met, or the fur, or poop, will fly. The list of demands can include, more foliage, different foliage, removal of a certain type of terrain, more of a certain type of terrain, toys, a mate, and so on. Unhappy animals make for unhappy guests. Unhappy guests leave, and don’t spend money. The list of demands that the Zoo Keeper provides updates in an odd fashion, and not at all if you’re building when the game is paused. More attention to this function would have made this process, which is used often, more helpful.
The great many animals seem to have personalities, and can become something like a pet. Some will be in your zoo until they die of old age, while others can seem moody or downright stubborn. Animals like Warthogs or Gazelles will breed like rabbits if you purchase males and females, which can be very profitable. Selling off older animals that have produced young is a great way to earn a profit. There is plenty of strategy in which animals you choose to exhibit.
To take care of your animals, and clean up after your guests you just need to hire a few staff members. Zoo Keepers look after the needs of your animals. They feed them, heal them, clean up after them, and so on. Maintenance Workers empty trash bins, sweep up garbage, and mend fences. The AI for staff is generally pretty good, although your zoo design may confuse Zoo Keepers and make it difficult for them to reach all of your exhibits, but they can navigate most mazes. I had a pair of Maintenance Workers following each other, essentially doing the same job twice, but they eventually went their separate ways — no word yet on who got to keep the kids.