Please use a html5 video capable browser to watch videos.
This video has an invalid file format.
Sorry, but you can't access this content!
Please enter your date of birth to view this video

By clicking 'enter', you agree to GameSpot's
Terms of Use and Privacy Policy


Zoo Tycoon Review

  • First Released Nov 22, 2013
  • Reviewed Nov 25, 2013
  • XONE
Jeremy Jayne on Google+

Zoo Tycoon Review

Monkey business.

Zoo Tycoon impresses you immediately with its animals. The authentic and adorable behaviors they exhibit make Zoo Tycoon an endearing game that fosters an appreciation for the diversity of creatures with whom we share this planet. Unfortunately, Zoo Tycoon's interface makes the work of building and managing your zoo really feel like work, diminishing the pleasures to be had in creating a great place for people to observe and interact with the animal kingdom.

You spend some of your time with Zoo Tycoon in what's called zoo view, controlling a zookeeper who can run about the zoo grounds on foot, or leap into cute buggies that look like tigers or zebras and go careening about on four wheels. The buggies are fun to drive, and come complete with hand brakes you can slam on to make wild turns and leave tire tracks in your wake. And don't worry; you can't hurt anyone, no matter how recklessly you speed about in your elephant buggy. It's also in zoo view that you can interact with animals, holding out fruit or vegetables to be plucked right from your hands by elephants, giraffes, or antelopes; spraying hippos, rhinos, and other animals; or playing monkey see, monkey do with lions, tigers, or chimpanzees (which are not monkeys). The first time a giraffe slowly lowers its long neck to grab that apple from you is magical, and it's fun to just watch meerkats stand about in that adorable vigilant pose of theirs or observe bears as they go down a slide.

But the game's other view, called tycoon view, is far more practical for accomplishing the sorts of things you need to spend most of your time doing. In this overhead view, you place new exhibits and edit existing ones, as well as adopt new animals; build concession stands, restrooms, zookeeper centers, and other facilities; and beautify your zoo with all sorts of statues, fountains, topiaries, and other decorations. Placing new exhibits is a breeze, and you never need to put too much thought into designing the layout of your zoo, if you don't want to. Pathways automatically spring up to connect any new exhibits to the existing zoo.

There are benefits to spreading things out in a sensible way, though; guests may not be thrilled if all of the food options are on the far end of the zoo, for instance, or if one section's collection of animals puts the variety of animals on display in another section to shame. Monitoring this stuff is easy; at any time, you can "ping" anything from the social satisfaction of animals to your guests' satisfaction with entertainment options, and you get a quick, at-a-glance indication of how these wants are being met across the zoo so that you can easily spot problem areas. Zoo Tycoon also notifies you about problems as they spring up--animals falling ill from neglect, guests complaining about the lack of food options, or what have you--so it's easy to prevent any trouble from getting too out of hand.

You unlock access to new species and other stuff as your zoo's level increases.
You unlock access to new species and other stuff as your zoo's level increases.

But while it makes some actions easy, the interface makes others needlessly time-consuming, and since you need to do the same sorts of things over and over again in Zoo Tycoon, this becomes a serious source of frustration. New exhibits typically require an assortment of amenities--feeding stations, cleaning stations, toys, and the like--and you need to click through a few layers of menus to select and place each of these things, each time you create a new exhibit. Similarly, you might know that you want three Malayan tigers to populate your new tropical exhibit, but you can't just go to the list of available Malayan tigers, select the three you want, and watch as they're dramatically helicoptered in. Instead, you need to select Edit exhibit, then Animals, then Adopt new animal, then Tigers, then Malayan tiger, then choose a single tiger, three times over. As you go through these motions again and again, you rapidly start wishing that the game had a smarter, more streamlined interface.

The three modes of play let you approach Zoo Tycoon as either a leisurely experience or a somewhat challenging, goal-oriented one. Freeform mode gives you unlimited money and lets you build the zoo of your dreams, though you can't just go hog wild and build all the biggest exhibits with all the most exotic animals immediately. As you expand your zoo, your zoo's fame level rises, slowly giving you access to new exhibit types, species, and facilities. With unlimited funds, though, there are no impediments; you can eventually feature those scimitar oryx you've got your eyes on, but it'll take a while.

You can interact with animals using the controller or using the Kinect.
You can interact with animals using the controller or using the Kinect.

Challenge mode starts you off with limited funds and requires you to manage your zoo smartly if you're going to stay afloat by hiring staff, attracting crowds with advertising campaigns, and so on, though these concerns are introduced at a manageable pace, and the in-game notifications offer plenty of guidance, making this an accessible management simulation that never overwhelms. Campaign mode is similar to Challenge mode but presents you with scenarios that have specific goals you must complete within a time limit. All three of these modes can be played cooperatively online with up to three friends, and only with friends. There is no online matchmaking or even an option to host or join a public game, which makes sense given the family-friendly nature of the game and the way players need to cooperate and communicate to build a zoo that all players are happy with.

There's a lot to like about Zoo Tycoon. Wandering the grounds of your zoo and interacting with animals can be a delight. And the game presents its concepts in a way that's accessible to players new to management sims, but still makes building a successful, flourishing zoo a rewarding achievement. It's just a shame that the game forces you to spend so much time bogged down in its clumsy interface, when all you want to do is build a better zoo.

The Good
Animals are adorable and behave in believable ways
Makes its concepts accessible and easy to manage
Driving around in a buggy is fun
The Bad
Clunky interface adds numerous unnecessary steps to many basic actions
About GameSpot's Reviews

About the Author

Carolyn hasn't spent much time playing management simulations, and Zoo Tycoon is her first game with the word "Tycoon" in the title. However, she has been to the San Diego Zoo Safari Park many times, and has a particular fondness for capybaras.
43 Comments  RefreshSorted By 
GameSpot has a zero tolerance policy when it comes to toxic conduct in comments. Any abusive, racist, sexist, threatening, bullying, vulgar, and otherwise objectionable behavior will result in moderation and/or account termination. Please keep your discussion civil.

Avatar image for jayjay444

When I got my Xbox One I got this game for the kids and yet I find my self playing this more often than I probably should lol. It's a good game but iv'e played the game for 30 hours + and find there is a major lack of Animals in the game but at the end of the day the kids love it, I love it and it's fun it get's a 5/10 from me, it could have been better but for a launch title it's decent. :D

Avatar image for Toysoldier34

The game has big limits on how much you can actually make. You can't even use the entire areas it gives you to build before hitting a cap for the number of objects you have.

Avatar image for slipknotmaggot1

i have been waiting for an updated version of this game. but after watching this, i don't know i'll spend money on it. maybe get it used in a couple years, but i'm not paying 60$ for half a game, when they are releasing DLC's worth 15$ each. i'll wait for a delux edition that comes with all DLC for 30$ and then i might buy it. seems like the 2003 version is still better in ways. just give us a new Rollercoaster Tycoon!

Avatar image for elbauto

I don't actually know what's wrong with the interface...

Avatar image for fluffy_puppy666

What the hell is up with this super minimalistic interface?!

Avatar image for beniboybling

Hmmm, I see no option to release the animals from their cages and turn your zoo into Animal Battle Royale.

Disappointing. I shall not be purchasing.

Avatar image for uglypinkmoose

I'd like to try it out but I can't see myself paying much for it

Avatar image for pedram007

Are the animals misogynistic?

Avatar image for mick1500

@pedram007 Just freaking drop it

Avatar image for timthegem

Does this game let your monkeys fling poo at guests? It would be a fun use of the Kinect.

Avatar image for FernoFrY

I got this game today, it is a bit of a fail. I don't care if it has 9 different breeds of Giraffe they all look the same. Technically this game only has 23 types of animal on XB1 and 21 on X360.

You can make a maxed out Zoo fairly quickly and it seems to be missing alot of pretty basic animals you'd expect to find in a zoo such as camels, ostrich/emu, pandas, penguins, all aquatic mammals, kangaroo, crocs. The list goes on. There's also no terrain options so every zoo looks the same swiggly mess. For a next gen title it could have done so much more....


Avatar image for Codyrin

@FernoFrY So basically stick to zoo tycoon from 2003.

Avatar image for FernoFrY

@Codyrin @FernoFrY I think I'll have to give it a try. Downloaded the older Sim City as well after the new one was an online connection disaster.

Avatar image for MigGui

@FernoFrY relax, "furry friends", "winter season", "aquatic fun", "desert oasis" and "australian outback" DLCs are coming on the following months for only $15 each :P

Avatar image for FernoFrY
@MigGui @FernoFrY ONLY?! Lol, they have totally nickle & dimed us here. Withheld content...
Avatar image for Iffy350

I for one am getting kinda sick and tired of this DLC fad. People should stop buying games that have dlc like that. Content that should've been in the launch game should stay in the game. Whats the point of a 40 gig bluray disc if most of the content is cut out. This game is a scam.

Avatar image for MigGui

@carolino there's a lot to like in zoo tycoon, but you'll get bored pretty soon = 6

Avatar image for dmastor

Game has it's place it's pretty fun, good change up

Avatar image for Iffy350

You should play the original marine mania and let a blue whale eat a guest. The funny part is no one seems to care that a guest got eaten.

Avatar image for PancakePuncher

and then the play station 4 is going to release something that will get a six just like they did with knack and son of rome

Avatar image for deactivated-5a44ec138c1e6

I thought this game was going to be the best next gen game reviewed???

Avatar image for erani_1111

Not a single worthy Kinect game. They shouldn't have pushed the thing to every console till there's something to justify it.

Avatar image for MigGui

@erani_1111 if they didn't push it to every console, what would be the purpose of developing a good game for it? no one would buy them :P

Avatar image for Zevvion

@erani_1111 The push they made for it was for system functionality. Not for games. And seemingly, they did alright. Apparently the instant facial recognition log in, voice commands and all that stuff makes it really useful.

Avatar image for moesuir

Wow, a 6.0. This score is close to Killzone Shadowfall's score, but yet Zoo Tycoon is not even considered a triple A title.

Avatar image for daviz88

IGN = 5.5

Avatar image for bmart970

I'm pretty disappointed about this game. I really enjoyed Zoo Tycoon 2 on the PC, and I was looking forward to this, but it looks like almost all of the customization and creativity have been removed and what we have left is essentially Kinectimals with a buildable environment.

Avatar image for TheGreatPhoenix

this looks less like a tycoon game, and more like nintendogs

Avatar image for Hollowdimension

"Clunky interface adds numerous unnecessary steps to many basic actions"

That's why these kind of games should be on PC with a keyboard and mouse.

Avatar image for hadlee73

Looks a little bit "facebooky"

Avatar image for Undertow207

$60 for this shit...

Avatar image for daveg1

what a load of shizer..

Avatar image for ThePowerOfHAT

I find it annoying that developers for Kinect continue to use interfaces like the one seen in this game. Menus and motion controls simply don't mix well. Kinect-focused games really ought to minimize menu use.

2003's Black & White did that incredibly well, and it's still somewhat astounding that a third game in the series has yet to be announced for the Xbox One, considering that people have been calling for a third game in the series since the Kinect was first detailed. Picking up and tossing villagers or other objects, using gesture controls for various god powers, rewarding or punishing your creature... All of that was done in the original game without the need to make your way through a bunch of menus, and it just seems like a perfect fit for the Kinect's features. (In fact, somebody got it running surprisingly well on Kinect 1.0 with a modified control scheme, which you can see here:

Add in some new Kinect-specific features and you've got the outline for a really exciting sandbox sequel. Giving players TWO hands to interact with the world with would certainly be a great way to add new features like combining objects/miracles to make new ones. Voice commands could be used to ease navigation, perform certain miracles, and address your creature or worshippers directly.

Zoo Tycoon would've done well to learn from what games like Black & White did, and a future Black & White game for Kinect should definitely make note of what doesn't work in games like Zoo Tycoon. There should be better ways of navigating a game like this than hovering your hand over an icon. Make it quick and intuitive, not methodical.

Avatar image for DuaMn

Thanks for the review, game looks good enough.

Avatar image for gamerno66666

Should be on pc.

Avatar image for jacquelineferre

@gamerno66666 no, thanks. Console guys can keep it

Avatar image for Ahiru-San

@gamerno66666 thought the same thing… from Frontier Developments, the game couldn't be bad… but I rather play with a mouse, this one that is… looks fun!!

Avatar image for Gelugon_baat

Do watch the last two minutes of this video to see Carolyn and company place zoo attractions in terribly amusing ways. ;)

Also, in before silly misogyny jokes. (Some people just love to jump on bandwagons.)

Avatar image for jacquelineferre

@Gelugon_baat Evey time you mention the misogyny you are just giving more incentive to the trolls

Avatar image for Gelugon_baat


I am aware of that - and I am amused too. :P

Avatar image for Gelugon_baat

Damn anti-spam LiveFyre/GameSpot scripts that blanket-alter links. X(

The video I was referring to is the Zoo Tycoon highlight for the Xbox One Pre-Launch video on GameSpot. Let's see those f*cking scripts screw with this statement.

Avatar image for Stevo_the_gamer

Clumsy interface is a shame, but it probably won't bother me too much. As a fan of Zoo tycoon, I'm glad to see transition onto the Xbox One wasn't too bad. Could use some tune-ups, but overall, it looks fun and worth playing.


Zoo Tycoon More Info

  • First Released Nov 22, 2013
    • Xbox 360
    • Xbox One
    Zoo Tycoon lets you build your dream zoo alone or with up to four of your friends on Xbox LIVE, choosing from over 100 animals and a large selection of environments.
    Average Rating35 Rating(s)
    Please Sign In to rate Zoo Tycoon
    Developed by:
    Frontier Developments
    Published by:
    Microsoft Game Studios
    Strategy, Management
    Content is generally suitable for all ages. May contain minimal cartoon, fantasy or mild violence and/or infrequent use of mild language.
    No Descriptors