Lions, Tigers, Bears and not much else
The Zoo Tycoon games are simulator games where you own a Zoo and are given the ability to control the layout of your Zoo. The goal is to keep both your guests and animals happy while gaining profits. I got the Xbox version out of nostalgia of the original PC version from 2001 and my desire to play a game I knew I could relax with. But the considerable number of changes and emphasis on new items feels to have shifted the original objectives of the first.
The first major change is having different play modes. Back with the original, there was one mode and the tutorial. The tutorial provides challenge aspect that set you up to learn how to combat different problems that could arise during the main game. Difficulty of your game would be based on how much money you started out with. Now there is a Campaign, Challenge, and Freeform mode to accompany the Tutorial mode. Campaign is the more baseline mode of playing through the game, with some event challenges along the way. Freeform is a mode where you have infinite money and can simply grow your Zoo. You won’t be able to do everything right away. The fame of the zoo needs to level up for more animals, facilities and items to be added options (which isn’t a lot).
The game says it has 101 different animals. That number is padded through having different types of the same species. There are only 9 Large Species of Animals and 15 Small Species animals. This is one of my large issues as it limits the variety of the Zoo. Who wants 5 different Lion exhibits? The older version may have had 45 ( 95 with the updates), but at least there were wolves, boars, alligators, penguins and more. The change that I did enjoy with this version was easily showing the endangered level for the different species of animals. It may not have changed the gameplay much, but it did offer information easily.
The actual exhibits pose another change. Each exhibit is pre-set. They’ll all be roughly the same, with the only difference being the extra items added for animal care and entertainment. A small, medium and large, to choose from for each type of terrain that is included. This is another cut to customization and variety. I remember spending time and making huge exhibit areas, even housing multiple species in an enclosure. And while that isn’t impossible, it doesn’t have the same degree of ability.
I won’t say the game is entirely filled with negative changes. The graphics are truly on a different level than the previous version. And the Zoo viewing mode allows for close look, not just at the animals, but the environment of the Zoo itself. The preset plots for exhibits and facilities is with the purpose of keeping pathways open – the pathways that become important for the challenges that involve driving around to different locations in the Zoo. The game also has availability for multi-player (competitive and co-op experiences) which can allow for greater interest and continuous play than for someone playing by themselves.
This game was clearly made for younger audiences. If that wasn’t clear, then the animal poop exploding into confetti with the sound of cheers when cleaning exhibits made it so. My issues stem from that the original was, as well. That’s why the changes and dumbing down of customization and variety feels worse. It still has a relaxation factor, with some fun in growing the Zoo, raising the fame and gaining more money. The brighter menus and screens give a more cheerful vibe. But simplification of other elements feel harmful. The lack of variety and elimination of other challenges for the interactive challenges doesn’t help. If the old version had simply been enhanced with the updated graphics, brighter atmosphere and added interactive elements, then it could have been an amazing game and not like a lesser reboot to an older and ultimately better version of the game.