Zoo Tycoon 2, In-Fusio's mobile take on the PC game from Microsoft Game Studios, is remarkable for the amount of content it shoehorns into a single download. The French publisher has managed to pack an entire menagerie of unique animals into this product and has made it easy to run the show, thanks to the game's logical user interface. However, tycoon-game fans should know that In-Fusio didn't attempt a direct port of Zoo Tycoon 2; for all of its thematic fidelity, the game has undergone a fundamental transformation from a business simulation to a much more casual virtual-life game. Even so, Zoo Tycoon 2 is an impressive feat that trumps most other mobile games of its type.
In place of the PC game's complicated interplay between animals, facilities, and customers, Zoo Tycoon 2 mobile is all about the main attraction: If your critters are happy, you'll make money, and if they aren't, the cash will stop rolling in. That's pretty much all there is to it. You adopt various types of animals, from giraffes to chimps, plop them down in an enclosed space, and cater to their every whim to keep the exhibit's overall contentment meter up. Once you've reached a certain money threshold, the next exhibit opens up, and you can repeat the process.
From your overhead, isometric viewpoint, you can watch the denizens of a particular exhibit roam around, enjoying the terrain. Different species require various types of habitat to score high happiness marks, so terraforming an exhibit's ecosystem to order is an important part of gameplay. For example, chimps prefer a certain type of grassland, combined with a certain type of tree, while lions like rainforests and freshwater ponds. It's simple to pick out and place various types of terrain with the game's menu and cursor-based navigation system, which also makes use of hotkeys to access frequently used functions.
The game's terrain system is interesting, but it also effectively limits the use of multi-species exhibits, since various animals' terrain preferences are often mutually exclusive; if you try to please giraffes and chimps, for instance, neither will end up being very happy, and you'll make less money. Although coexistence isn't impossible, it's much easier to race through exhibits with a single type of animal, so you can concentrate on ministering to them collectively. Doing so correctly requires a surprising amount of attention, sustained over long intervals. Your animals are constantly getting dirty, sick, hungry, and bored, so you have to stay on your toes. It's a rare minute of gameplay where you aren't buying food, scooping up excrement (or "poo," as the game calls it), amusing an animal with a bouncy ball or a teddy bear, or bathing and healing them. Your little friends will let you know how you're doing with a simple feedback mechanism. They produce green smiley faces when you do something right and red frowny faces when you annoy them; also, icons pop up periodically to indicate what they're lusting after. Your performance in these tasks determines their overall happiness level, which in turn determines your cash flow.
Zoo Tycoon 2's introductory park limits you to small exhibits with a couple of animals--but as you work through these first levels, the game progressively unlocks larger parks, new exhibits, and other types of wildlife and terrain features to play with. Eventually, you'll have access to the full menagerie of advanced animals like pandas, as well as a dizzying array of plants, surfaces, and landscape features. On Sprint's LG MM-535, the game really capitalizes on this diversity with its graphics. The exhibits appear naturally lush, the flora is verdant, and the animals are sharply animated and sickeningly cute. Watching your lion cub playfully roll around in the grass is positively heartrending, especially if you name it something like "Twiggy." The game's sound is also pretty strong, although the animal noises are curiously subdued. Some more hooting and growling would have been in order.
Zoo Tycoon 2 is a beautiful game in many ways, but it may have trouble keeping some gamers' interest over the long term. It's too easy to distill a particular exhibit's tasks down to an endlessly repeatable, winning formula of mundane tasks, after which there's simply not much to do. Further experimentation on the optimum is usually punished by a decrease in happiness levels. On the other hand, the game requires too much of your attention to be deemed a true virtual-life game, where you can set the wheels in motion and simply enjoy your handiwork. One cannot help but feel that the removal of paying customers from the gameplay equation has hurt the game's replay value.
Overall, Zoo Tycoon 2 is a very good simulation game that could have been a masterwork, had it offered a few more things for you to do. If you remain interested, there's enough content here to keep you playing for 10 hours or more, including Game Lobby leaderboards and a neat photography mode that unlocks codes for the PC game for composing certain "goal" snapshots, like "a monkey and poo." Zoo Tycoon 2 is a superb value, especially when compared to the relatively weak competition in the mobile simulation field.