One thing I regret back on the 360 launch days is the fact I didn't grab all the games that were available. This time with the Xbox One I was like, what the heck, let's pick this thing up (along with a bunch of other titles). After all, it's from Frontier - same publisher of RollerCoaster Tycoon series.
The game doesn't look impressive, sure, it's not a "next-gen" title, and probably it's the same in the 360 as well… But it is surprisingly fun and addictive!
TL;DR: jump to the pros/cons paragraph!
First off, I'm a huge sim/tycoon genre fan. SimCity 2000 and RollerCoaster Tycoon are amongst my favorites. But I must admit I skipped the original Zoo Tycoon back in 2003 - I wasn't playing too much PC games back then…
My expectations with this one weren't high, I just wanted my collection to grow as fast as possible, so I booted the game up hoping to get a couple of achievements and never look back. Wrong.
The tutorials start off slowly, and they are useless for achievement hunting if that's your concern.. Still useful to learn the game's mechanics. Nothing difficult here, the game should be pretty much pick up and play for any person who played any simulation game before.
You build exhibits, adopt (you actually buy) animals, place some enrichments like food stands, shower, toys, etc… Animals aside, you will also have to keep an eye on what guests need: food parlors, restrooms, tidiness, decorations, etc… Hire staff to help you out, research stuff, level up, unlock more stuff, keep growing.. whew!! You get the idea...
There's two ways to move around your zoo - 3rd person view which is pretty much useless and slower and the Tycoon view - a.k.a your traditional flybird or isometric view. I really miss a mouse and keyboard here though. You'll spend 99% of the time in the Tycoon view, really. That's how the game is meant to be played, but since it's a console game, they put a 3rd person mode to walk around the zoo.
In 3rd person mode, you can customize your character and interact with the animals and exhibits. Well, some of them. Kinect is totally optional - I always play this with my kinect unplugged. You can also take pictures and it's always cool to watch the cubs to do some funny stuff. Driving around with a buggy is also useless, unless you are playing in Challenge mode. Of course there are achievements for feeding the animals manually, walking certain distances, driving a certain mileage, and taking pictures of hidden coins and every animal. It feels like Pokémon Snap all over again! Cool!
The major downside is that, like the "new" SimCity - even if you didn't play it, you must have heard of it - the maps are limited. I mean, the slate is huge, the map is actually big - but it plays like an old PSX Theme Park game: it has a complexity limit. This means, the more stuff you place in your Zoo, the sooner this limit will reach, it doesn't matter if you still have plenty of room in the map. It takes some time to get there though. And renovation is a way to get rid of that limitation: old animals can be released into the wild, or you can even trade/sell/donate, you can sell any decoration/exhibit/attraction… and move stuff around to reorganize and make the perfect zoo until you're happy. And happy leveling up.
What bugs me is the menu navigation at some points. Placing trees for instance: there's no hotkey to redo last action or a quick menu that brings you to the last accessed menu. That is just dumb in a sim game not to have that, especially for a console sim game. You can't fast travel to exhibits/attractions either - for example, you just placed a Savannah exhibit and want to move the elephants from another one to this new one you just placed. You gotta move the cursor with the analog stick and chugga-chugga-chugga travel all over the zoo to reach the exhibit you want. Insane. Speaking of moving animals, this is also a pain in the butt: you gotta move one by one. I couldn't find a way to move all or at least more than one at a time. You click, zoom, choose, click on move, travel to the location, click, confirm, travel back, click, zoom, select the other animal, repeat… Really, this game was meant to be playing with a mouse! At least you can customize a lot of stuff, choose which kind of trees, bench, roads, walls, etc… for each attraction individually or globally.
Out of the bat you have 3 game modes: freeform, challenge and campaign.
- Freeform: a sandbox mode. No money, no rush, no challenges. Everything is unlocked by either leveling up or by playing other modes. This is the ideal way to learn the game mechanics. Mess it up, don't worry. Plenty of achievements are earned here as well by simply playing, nice! Test out layouts, take pictures, do whatever… This is probably the fastest way you will reach the map limit, but hey, that's not how the game was meant to be played anyways.. this is "cheat" mode...
- Challenge: this is the SimCity mode. My favorite! You start off with a clean map and initial money. You gotta keep building and leveling up to unlock more stuff as you go. And then challenges start to pop up as missions/side quests you can either accomplish or fail them. Rewards come as money or more guests, or more willingness to visit attractions etc. Failures results in less guests, less profitable attractions etc. Believe me, it is fun. In this mode, buggy and 3rd person mode become obligatory in certain quests. You gotta deliver medicine to sick animals, supply burgers to the Burger Farm, feed animals to please guests, take pictures of certain animals for a magazine, etc. And also keep an eye on everything: animals and guests needs. Gotta keep growing and leveling up. Don't let the challenges expire! Keep an eye on the time!
- Campaign: this is the traditional RollerCoaster Tycoon mode. Preset zoos with specific objectives. You start each level in a different zoo, already laid out. In some you cannot change the scenery, or the admission price. There's a time limit to reach the level's objectives too, so you gotta be fast and keep everything under control at the same time. Once you beat the level, you can move on or continue to play in case you liked the zoo. Just like any RollerCoaster game.
Overall, this is a great game with plenty to accomplish and stuff to do! I wasn't expecting it to be that fun!
So here's my list of pros and cons:
- Great fun, addictive and awesome sense of reward upon beating each map or missions.
- Tons to do: photo album to complete just like in Pokémon Snap, animals/attractions/decorations/maps to unlock, lots of Campaign levels and plenty of missions in Challenge mode. It got plenty for everyone's gameplay style, even a sandbox mode for the lazy or non-tycoon players!
- It got more than it meets the eyes: mini exhibits for lizards, snakes, red pandas, etc… Attractions brake, you gotta repair, upgrade, you can even change the price to use the restrooms! You can try to breed endangered species and release them into the wilderness afterwards! Using Kinect to interact with monkeys, you can use face recognition, that's pretty funny! There's multiplayer co-op!
- Achievements are fun to hunt in this one, makes you explore each part of the game!
- Lack of quick menus/redo actions or fast travels will annoy you
- Again, map limitations. It should not be a problem, especially in a "next" gen console, I mean.. come on… I would expect this issue on the 360, but not on X1...
- No Giant Panda bears. Really???!!?!?!2!12!212112121 This smells like incoming DLC….