Wildlife Park is a game with an interesting take on the theme park tycoon formula: design and build a wildlife preserve from the ground up, but with an emphasis on taking proper care of the animals as well as the visitors. It's just too bad that we've seen this done already in Microsoft's Zoo Tycoon. As it is, Wildlife Park comes off as a poorly designed and badly paced imitation in an already crowded genre.
Once again, we have a game that looks like it was directly lifted from the mother of all theme park games, RollerCoaster Tycoon. Wildlife Park offers a few twists, though. For instance, care and welfare of the animals is a top priority; should you mistreat your animals, you risk the wrath of animal-rights protestors. Thankfully, you can use a wide variety of tools to customize each animal habitat so that you can keep your little beasties comfy.
There are 45 different kinds of animal species, representing virtually every region of the world, including aquatic life. To tailor the habitats, you control everything from the temperature, the kind of surface, and the hardness of the floor, to the kind of food the animals eat. Some animals have special needs, so you can put in scratching posts, climbing trees, and even instructional mating videos to help those endangered pandas procreate. You can also hire a variety of staff members to keep your park in order, including janitors, gardeners, veterinarians, animal keepers, and animal trainers.
Wildlife Park comes with 20 missions that represent both extremes on the difficulty scale; the early missions are incredibly easy, while the later missions become frustratingly difficult. Many of the early missions give you an almost unlimited amount of funding, so it's easy to spend your way to success. However, the later missions have you struggling to make a profit just to keep solvent. It doesn't help that the game has an almost baffling economic system that keeps you wondering just how it is your park makes any money at all. You have to make sure that your visitors are completely and totally happy so that they'll recommend the park to their friends, but to reach that level of happiness you have to focus obsessively on every detail and cater to their every whim.
Many of the missions are also badly paced. For instance, in one mission your job is to make sure that an endangered species breeds offspring. It takes about five to 10 minutes to set the habitat up correctly so that the animals are happy enough to mate. Once they're pregnant, though, you've got to wait for gestation and birth. Even at the fastest speed setting, it takes at least 10 to 15 minutes for that to occur. In the meantime, you've already done everything you need to do, so you're forced to sit and wait it out. Other missions require you to build a small, profitable park so that you can save up and buy certain exotic animals, but you find yourself eking out so little profit from monthly operations that it takes forever to accumulate enough money.
The waiting wouldn't be half so bad if you had fun watching the goings-on in your park. In other theme park games, there is a palpable sense of joy and giddiness you can get watching the visitors interact with the environment. But in Wildlife Park, the visitors just mill about the park and barely show any emotion, which can be maddening if you're trying to figure out what's working and what's not. The animals, at least, interact with their environment, and they're often much more interesting to watch than the humans.
There is a sandbox mode that allows you to build to your heart's content without having to worry about objectives or time limits. You can also adjust how much cash you begin with, which makes it easier to build the park of your dreams.
Unfortunately, Wildlife Park suffers from a lackluster graphics engine that might have looked good four years ago. Now it just looks dated. Background animations, like swaying trees, seem to consist of a few frames of animation, giving the motion a stilted feel. The color palette looks like it uses 256 colors, and the graphics are blurry and pixilated on the closest zoom option. The game does come with some nice music, including a catchy theme song reminiscent of The Lion King. And the sound effects are well suited for each of the animals.
We're also beginning to wish that European publishers would do a better job of translating their games to English. If you didn't know that Wildlife Park was a European game, you'd probably figure it out by reading the in-game text. To say that it's awkwardly translated would be an understatement. Much of the text feels like it was translated word for word, which creates some odd-sounding sentences.
Wildlife Park might have been a fun distraction for theme park fans, but the poor design and execution cripple it in a crowded field of competitors. This game may have lions and tigers and bears, but, in the end, it's not worth your bother.