Following the success of the 2001 release of Zoo Tycoon, and the 2 expansion packs that followed, Blue Fang Games, whose founders were former Papyrus Design Group developers, was tapped to continue Microsoft’s Zoo series with Zoo Tycoon 2. The original Zoo Tycoon, much like some of the other ‘Tycoon’ games, opened a niche market for the creation and management of real-world entertainment venues, with the fresh angle of including animal selection, breeding and maintenance.
This game follows closely the game play and interface of the original, where the gamer takes the role of planner and manager of a zoological park. Your primary goal is to build a zoo that customers will come and spend money, have an enjoyable experience, and leave happy. The happier your guests leave, the greater the fame of your zoo. The fame of your zoo determines the number of guests you attract, as well as the extra opportunities you have to earn extra money or take in unique animals from other zoos.
The gameplay options allow for several different types of games: campaign, challenge, and freeform games. Campaign games teach you how to play the game, and help you in building your skill as a successful zoo operator, through a variety of economic or animal husbandry goals. Challenge games force you to start a zoo under severe limitations, such as extremely low funding or a small range of animals to begin your zoo with. Lastly is the freeform game which allows you to build a masterpiece zoo without the limitations of a budget.
Once I had completed a few of the campaign style games, I moved into a challenge scenario where I was placed in charge of a new zoo in North America which began with limited funding and a small range of animals to begin the zoo with. The zoo building process is relatively simple. You select the animal you want adopt for your zoo, and when that animal is selected you can then see the options you have for caring for this animal. The game displays the types of fencing that work best to contain this animal, the environment (or biome, as the game refers to it) is best suited to support the animal, as well as the types of food, toys and shelter the animal will thrive on. You can deviate from these selections, but most animals are happiest when in a sample of their natural habitat.
Once you’ve added an animal, you can choose a mate for the animal to begin a breeding program for this animal. The game alerts you when the animal becomes pregnant or lays an egg. When a baby is born, the game signals you with a beam of light from the sky, letting you know there’s a new addition to your zoo family.
As you build a selection of animals for the guests to see, you also need to build facilities to entertain them and meet their basic needs. Visitors to your zoo will want food, shelter, restroom facilities, and places to rest. Part of meeting the needs of your guests comes from having a wide variety of food and drink options as well as picnic tables, play areas for children, and souvenir shops, as well as some of the more advanced structures, such as fountains and archways.
One of the most interesting additions in the second installment of the game is the ability to enter your zoo as a guest, or a member of the staff. As a guest you can tour the zoo as a paying customer, while in zookeeper mode you can manually take over the care and feeding of the animals.
The primary game control was the mouse, and while keyboard shortcuts are available, the on screen interface is relatively intuitive. By linking the animals to the building materials that are most likely to keep them comfortable and happy, the developers really made it simple to stick with a mouse-driven approach.
The graphics and sound are not particularly high end in comparison to most of the higher end games on the market today, but are certainly comparable to other simulation style games. Up close, the animals are easily identifiable, and the facial expressions of the guests reflect their overall mood. The graphics have a ‘cartoonish’ quality to them, but not so much that it would cause someone into high polygon counts to go into withdrawal. Sounds are mostly environmental in nature, and get louder as you get closer to the item generating the sound.
Overall, I found the game enjoyable, and while this isn’t normally type of game, I got pulled into the idea of making my zoo famous, and meeting some of the special challenges the game throws at you as your zoo grows. With the freeform games, replayability is fairly strong, although eventually it can become repetitious, as there are only 29 species of animals, 45 or so buildings, and roughly one hundred challenges available. Microsoft has added the ability to download new content, including more animals and buildings, but due to the pre-release timing of this review, this content was limited at the time of writing.
It is certainly a step ahead of its predecessor, and the addition of the zookeeper mode allows expanded playability. Once I had my zoo where I was happy with it, I began working through the zoo, picking up trash, feeding animals and refreshing their habitats, and carrying out various maintenance tasks. The game runs well on the specified hardware, and even ran reasonably well on a AMD Duron 1.0GB system with 256 MB RAM.
The only place I felt the game could really be improved outside of more realistic graphics was the control for the overhead view didn’t allow for very accurate rotation. If I wanted to see my zoo from a specific angle, it often took about a minute of adjusting the rotation.
Finally, this game will most likely have it’s strongest appeal with ‘tweens’ who have a strong interest in animals, and of course anyone who has a love for simulation style games.
A fun game that may be better suited for younger gamers rather than older gamers.