Posted by Female Gamers on Jan 15, 2010
Zoo Tycoon DS- Review

Zoo Tycoon DS- Review

Post Rating

We all understand the gradual evolution of a videogame once it first hits retail. After a game has been released and (if) it emerges as successful, a sequel or some form of expansion pack is almost a guarantee. This happens, in the main, because of consumer desire to expand on established gaming pleasures, the genre provides an outlet for such content building—and upgraded graphics are certainly an attraction too. Also, bundled gold, platinum, and deluxe releases of the game(s) in question are often produced to please the fans yet further with bonus material, or to reach out to those consumers who’ve not yet had the opportunity to experience the game. Anyway, the core game’s evolution contains progression either by way of extra features, more-of-the-same game fun, or improved graphics. But is this also the case when these ‘extension friendly’ types of games are released on another platform. Is it somehow possible that during the process a game can take a huge step back in its own growth? Or is it just part of some new evolutionary trend in Nintendo DS games? Let’s duly examine Zoo Tycoon’s evolution and my opinion thereof.

As a huge animal lover and tycoon genre fan, I automatically turned into a Zoo Tycoon fanatic when it arrived on the PC. It seems like eons ago since I first played the original; actually, it’s old enough to probably run on a PC that you’d find in an electronics antique store (or perhaps even in a trashcan). However, age aside, Zoo Tycoon was still a hit and, as the opening paragraph details, the next logical step for its developers (Blue Fang) and publisher (Microsoft) was to release two expansion packs to duly please the fan base. But then all fell strangely silent. And it took a further two years before the release of an official sequel. That said, Zoo Tycoon II was certainly worth waiting for, and most were very pleased to experience more fun-filled resource management alongside improved gameplay and graphics. The overall difficulty level may have dropped for the sequel, but it didn’t ruin the game’s entertainment value. Of course, for Zoo Tycoon II as a stand-alone title, even more ideas needed to be added and—surprise, surprise—an expansion pack appeared entitled Endangered Species. More options, extra facilities, and more animals to take care of. Zoo Tycoon games were PC exclusive until the Nintendo DS recently came along and somebody in their finite wisdom decided that Zoo Tycoon might actually be well suited to its ‘touch’ capability. Maybe the in-game animals were looking forward to being poked and prodded, but do gamers want to touch the DS version?

For those gamers not familiar with Zoo Tycoon, here’s a brief introduction to the gameplay. It’s a tycoon game, which means that whatever business you’re running it needs to be profitable. So while running the zoo, it’s your job to attract paying visitors and make them happy during their stay; you should also try to empty their wallets in a professional way. And attracting visitors means displaying animals in customisable habitats that you can tailor to their specific geographical homelands; visitors can even donate money if they’re satisfied with said environments. Also, you need to ensure there are accessible public areas for food & drink and toy stands, with which to make even more cash. And don’t forget toilets! Once into the game you’ll need to hire expert staff to take care of the zoo’s animals, clean the park, repair fences, and to educate the visitors. To sum things up, it’s your duty to be an architect, constructor, accountant, planner, and manager, basically an omnipotent and omnipresent observer to make sure everything is running smoothly.

In the DS version you can choose to play the campaign mode or free play, where you can design and create your zoo without any set goals—beside earning enough money to continue investing in its growth. The campaign mode includes different scenarios with goals to be achieved in a certain period of time. Personally speaking, I like to be challenged and mainly played the campaign mode for the purpose of this review.

Control in the game can be quite irritating, especially if you’re already accustomed to playing on the PC versions. The most difficult part is the creation of habitats and the placing of their perimeter fences. After some training you will get used to it, but it’s a system that’s certainly far from perfect. Frustratingly, once a fence is placed it’s not possible to change it. If you want to increase sizing or just partly tweak design, you’ll need to tear habitats down completely and build them up again—it’s not even possible to split a big habitat into two by placing dividing fences. No, you need to build two separate fenced habitats. Of course, by way of clever solution, you might consider placing several compatible species into one big habitat, like giraffes with zebra’s or elephants—as they all have the same environmental needs. Unfortunately that’s not possible. Beside the annoying construction problems, the interface usage also leaves much to be desired. You need to double click on items you wish to use (animal, fence, plant, etc.) as if you were using a PC mouse instead of a stylus. Also, to find specific information requires some practice and research.

To be quite honest, I was totally prepared to experience some pretty bad game graphics after peeking at some disappointing preview screenshots to see what Zoo Tycoon DS would look like. But the end product has ended up being even worse than feared. The game doesn’t allow for the heightened detailing that tycoon fans have come to love, and this is especially noticeable when zooming in to see the ‘cute’ animals and their behavior. There are also only three staggered ‘zoom in’ possibilities on offer, which is thoroughly unacceptable. Even the most zoomed-in function can be confusing; is that a lioness or a leopard in that cage over there? Who can tell with graphics like these? The overall graphics are comparable to the ancient original Zoo Tycoon, which, again, is just not acceptable given the times, and only further compounds disappointment.

When starting the game, the Zoo Tycoon theme blasts from the speakers. It’s very catchy and, even now, I still whistle it from time to time—though I’ve also heard it in all other versions of Zoo Tycoon, which helps ingrain it in my memory. But, while actually playing the game, the sound seems to be divided into two parts: animal sound and construction sound. As soon as you start building a habitat for a particular animal, you can listen to it to discern whether your chosen construction meets the animal’s requirements. High sounds are good, low sounds are bad. But as this is always accompanied by visualized ‘smileys’ over said animals (or not as the case may be) it’s not necessary to concentrate too closely on the sound. In my opinion, the zoo animals should create a lot of noise to impress the visitors, but they’re all probably so lazy and stuffed with food that they don’t want to produce much sound. However, some of the species really can produce ugly and scary sounds when you pick them up, which really come across as much too loud, much too unexpected, and totally not befitting the overall sound performance of the game.

Regarding the female gaming point of view, there’s no special ladies’ day organised in the zoo, with extra-cheap entrance fees, shopping discounts, or free drinks in the gardens. But that doesn’t keep the ladies away. Recognizable by their skirts, they’re right there in the attending crowds and hopefully enjoying your crafted zoo experience. When you purchase new or replacement animals, you can choose to take either a male or female. But beware, your animals are not sterilized and different sexes will produce offspring if placed together in a habitat.

Zoo Tycoon on the Nintendo DS is a notable backward step in series and gaming evolution. Not only is it visually (im)paired with the archaic original Zoo Tycoon, but the overall game is also sadly deficient by comparison. The control system isn’t user friendly, the graphics aren’t in any way spectacular, and the zoom function is ridiculous with only three available options. The gameplay on offer hasn’t changed either, with only two typical gaming modes in free play and campaign. Though, to be fair, some of the campaign tasks in the DS version were considerably harder to complete than in Zoo Tycoon II, so at least the gameplay difficulty must have increased a little in translation. Actually, for me, the campaigns themselves were the only driving factor that spurned me on while playing—but it’s still a shame that I got irritated by the controls or lack of patience while waiting for a campaign to end. It’s not possible to speed up the in-game time elapse rate, or end a campaign upon meeting its set requirements. It’s almost like jail—you have to stay there until your time is up! An eighteen-month campaign takes about 140 minutes to play through. Sometimes I felt really sorry for the DS battery as it was being used just to wait for the surplus months to pass by. Ultimately, for those gamers who’ve never played Zoo Tycoon in any form, I can only suggest by way of recommendation that you opt for the various PC version(s). For all established Zoo Tycoon fans—just like me—you’re now officially being warned to stay well away from the DS edition. Nintendo proudly states that with the DS ‘touching is good’, but that’s simply not the case with Zoo Tycoon DS.

Review by Wencke
Thumb Bandits European Correspondent & manager of GGU.

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