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Planet Zoo: Console Edition

Planet Zoo: Console Edition

Written by Jason Dailey on 4/4/2024 for PS5  
More On: Planet Zoo

Some of my earliest and fondest gaming memories are from the hours I spent with RollerCoaster Tycoon on PC, and later, Theme Hospital on the OG PlayStation. I can still hear the faint sound of laughing children, or the PA announcement that a nurse is needed in the pharmacy. I’ve been a fan of this genre for as long as I can remember, and the reality is that management sims are typically best played on PC, though great strides have been made in recent years for us converted console gamers. The latest title to try to buck the trend is Planet Zoo: Console Edition, a serviceable console port of a nearly five-year-old PC game that can both delight and frustrate – a refrain that I’ve become accustomed to saying now that I game exclusively on console.

Planet Zoo is a charming and content rich game thanks to the long lead time on the console version. If you played Frontier Developments' other console “Planet” game, Planet Coaster, you’ll be extremely familiar with Zoo. The music and presentation are both lovely, and several modes are available that should scratch an itch for whatever kind of experience you are looking for. Career mode sets you up with a prefabricated zoo to complete a series of objectives at; timed scenarios take those objectives and put you up against the clock; challenge mode drops the time limit for dynamic challenges that pop up here and there; franchise mode lets you manage multiple zoos around the globe; and sandbox is the standard “just let me play” mode.

Regardless of which mode you gravitate towards, the base game includes more than 70 animal species that you can include in your zoo, each with its own behavior simulation, needs, and wants. Naturally, as a management game it includes lots of moving parts, but thankfully, a fleshed out Zoopedia catalogs each species in a mostly user-friendly way so that you can look up what each animal needs as you build and maintain your park. You’ll spend a lot of time researching your creatures (or not, at your own peril) to ensure their needs are being met. Acquiring animals is done through the animal market, with more exotic creatures demanding a higher price, but purchasing animals is just the tip of the iceberg, as spending time preparing and managing a proper habitat for them will demand most of your time as a zookeeper.

At one of my zoos, I decided to purchase a small herd of American Bison. These magnificent animals were pushed to the brink of extinction by American expansion in the late 1800s, and as a self-proclaimed digital cowboy, it felt like an appropriate place to start. So, I took to the Zoopedia to see how much space, the type of terrain, and enrichment features were necessary to adequately house them. Several thousand square feet of grass, dirt, and other amenities was the correct answer, all easily discovered in the Zoopedia.

To be honest, I always worry about information overload in these sorts of games, but Planet Zoo handles the species information portion well, despite a plethora of menus and submenus. I never felt like I couldn’t find what I was looking for, and animal info is conveniently linked together when clicking on them in their habitat. Bringing up this menu shows you their welfare status along with a ton of other info. Is their social welfare suffering because they have no mates? What about their enrichment being too low because you didn’t include enough toys for them? It’s all there in the Zoopedia to easily peruse and (usually) easily address animal-specific issues. Sticking with the same example, if a bump in enrichment is needed, scrolling to the enrichment tab of the animal’s menu automatically links to the enrichment items for that species in the construction menu. All of which is to say that the controls when managing your animals are largely intuitive on a console gamepad.

With that said, the controls begin to show their ugly side when transitioning to constructing facilities in Planet Zoo. To be fair, it’s not always the case, but it’s frustrating often enough to make you want to throw your controller across the room. Of course, I’m embellishing a bit – I never actually threw my controller – but construction is obviously a big part of the package, and I’d be remiss not to say that it made me walk away from the game on several occasions. Sometimes it wouldn’t let me place an animal exhibit where I wanted it because of unclear parameters, then I couldn’t draw a path around a building, after that it was the inability to use the water tool to create a pool for my saltwater alligators.

Speaking of paths, I experienced a persistent bug that would not allow me to place a path that was not the maximum possible width, meaning that every walkway I put down was enormous, no matter where I placed it. You get the idea – construction can be a finnicky little bugger in Planet Zoo. It’s made worse by the glut of toggles and sliders that you will desperately manipulate looking for a solution, only to make matters worse because you have no idea what they do. Again, this is nothing new to the genre when it comes to console ports, but if there were not examples out there of the transition from PC to console working well, perhaps I wouldn’t be holding the bar so high.

Now, this isn’t my first Frontier game on console, which is to say that I understand their style of management sim. They’re complex to the point of leaving nearly no stone unturned, which I appreciate and respect. I just don’t know if console gamepads can pick up what they’re putting down, so to speak. Frontier games play better with the granular accuracy of a mouse and keyboard, and that’s okay. I’ve played Elite: Dangerous, Planet Coaster, and now Planet Zoo on console, and I’ve ran into similar issues with all three. It’s not an indictment on Frontier as a studio, but it does beg the question – do their sim games require concessions to better cater to console hardware? There’s not a blanket solution, but for me personally, the answer is “yes”. Yet, on the other hand, do I want a pared down version of a Frontier sim? If I’m being honest, the answer is likely “no” to that as well. I know, I’m a difficult one to please, but I want to love these games, and I’m tired of them breaking my heart.

Putting its imperfect construction gameplay aside, I think Planet Zoo is a perfectly fine game. I still enjoyed adopting new animals and setting up their habitats to allow them to thrive. I liked piddling with the odds and ends like educational boards and guided tours, to name a couple. Perusing the animal market and seeing their given names often made me grin – I once adopted an iguana named Antonio, but you’re free to change the names if you’d rather put your mean uncle Tommy in a glass box. You can get as far in the weeds as you wish, from selecting the color of structures, to choosing the music that plays on each individual speaker, or perhaps assigning each staff member their own work zone. You really can make each zoo your own, and easily lose dozens of hours in the endeavor. Though getting too far in the weeds can sometimes lead back to construction frustrations if you’re not careful.

I suppose the moral of my story is not to write off Planet Zoo: Console Edition, because there are certainly hours of enjoyment to be had. I just can’t confidently say that it won’t be accompanied by some hours of frustration as well. It’s an above average management sim on console, held back by some of the infrequent, yet nerve-wracking, control issues we’ve seen in other Frontier Developments console ports. Still, the allure of its charm and overall depth will be hard for genre fans to completely ignore. Go ahead – give in to that animalistic urge that consumes us management sim nerds every time one of these games comes to consoles. Just don’t bite the hand that feeds you when things don’t always go according to plan.

Planet Zoo: Console Edition does not completely pull off the PC-to-console transition from a control standpoint, leading to bouts of frustration. But it has enough charm and depth that will make it difficult for genre fans to ignore.

Rating: 7.5 Above Average

* The product in this article was sent to us by the developer/company.

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About Author

Jason has been writing for Gaming Nexus since 2022. Some of his favorite genres of games are strategy, management, city-builders, sports, RPGs, shooters, and simulators. His favorite game of all-time is Red Dead Redemption 2, logging nearly 1,000 hours in Rockstar's Wild West epic. Jason's first video game system was the NES, but the original PlayStation is his first true video game love affair. Once upon a time, he was the co-host of a PlayStation news podcast, as well as a basketball podcast.

Follow me on Twitter @TheDualSensePod, or check out my YouTube channel.

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