The mid 90’s to mid 00’s was the decade in gaming where any place and profession was taken and turned into a video PC simulation game with the word ‘Sim’ at the start or ‘Tycoon’ at the end. Sim City, Sim Farm, Rollercoaster Tycoon, Railroad Tycoon, Golf Resort Tycoon (to name but a very small percentage of them) and of course Zoo Tycoon.
The game followed the same usual premise that all Tycoon games followed which involved designing and building a zoo, making sure the animals were happy, and of course pleasing park guests and making money. The game was well received, and it spawned two add-on packs, a sequel (with two add-ons of its own), two Nintendo DS versions and a mobile spin off.
And now, a launch title for the shiny new Xbox One, we have ‘Zoo Tycoon’. They didn’t exactly reinvent the name, but what about the game?
Fans of the series are fans for obvious reasons: they love designing their own zoo and watching as it flourishes, the animals reproduce, and they make some virtual coinage.
So, when the game was announced and the developers were revealed to be Frontier Developments, the team behind Kinectimals, excitement turned into nervous anticipation. From a company known for producing Kinect based motion control games, what sort of ‘Tycoon’ game would Zoo Tycoon turn out to be?
Early trailers showed very little building and designing, and focused heavily on interacting with the animals within your zoo. While animal interaction is a nice feature and allows for a little emotional investment, it shouldn’t be the main focus of the game. Tycoon gamers want to play a Tycoon game for the Tycoon aspects, so the game needs to be a Tycoon game first and a Kinect game second. If gamers want to interact with animals then they have Kinectimals already available.
What we have come to love in the series is lacking here. Gone is total zoo management – from completely customizable enclosures and layout to staff and refreshment stands, the original game allowed you to do whatever you wanted, however you wanted.
Zoo Tycoon for Xbox One holds your hand and does almost everything for you. Instead of building your own fences, you choose between 3 different sizes of enclosure. Yes, you can rotate the enclosure, but what if I want it to be an L shape, or sunk in to the ground, or have a bridge across it?
You also have to put up with the game choosing where paths will go for you, which means a large portion of your zoo will be made up of unneeded paths and great big empty gaps which you cannot fill. Animals are easy to please and there are a several pre-made tools you can fill your enclosures with to entertain and feed them. And make sure you build something so your animal can feed itself, otherwise you have to do it for them.
That’s right, in a zoo filled with dozens of different species, you have to feed all the animals by hand.
It is details such as this which make Zoo Tycoon somewhat tedious at times. The simple game mechanics mean you can throw a huge zoo together in a relatively small amount of time, but unless you have the money behind you, you have to tend to each of the animals yourself using the Kinect (and thankfully the controller for the lazier gamers among us – that includes me).
Thankfully there is the option later in the game to hire keepers, but it comes too late in to salvage away from any ill feeling I have already amassed.
While the design mechanic is easy and something even very small children won’t have any problem in using, the menu system leaves much to be desired. It is clunky, awkward and frustrating, and the children who would be happy dropping enclosures here, there and everywhere and suddenly alienated from playing by a menu system which even I struggle to get my head around. They say sim games are not suited to be played on consoles, and Zoo Tycoon on Xbox One is the perfect example as to why that statement is true. Until the Xbox One introduces a mouse peripheral (which, quite frankly, I am surprised they haven’t already) then sim games should largely be avoided.
It isn’t all doom and gloom for Zoo Tycoon. The game looks great, and the ability to walk, and even drive, around your own zoo is a surprisingly fun feature. The ability to kill zoo guests Grand Theft Auto style is unfortunately lacking, however.
The animals are well animated and designed, and if you were a fan of Kinectimals on Xbox 360 then you should have a better experience with Zoo Tycoon than die hard sim game fans will. Kinect is used to feed, clean, play and even pull faces at the animals, which is a pretty cool feature for movement control fanatics.
There is a campaign mode, which is surprisingly unfulfilling, as well as a sandbox mode which can get tiring after a very short while. The only thing which prevented me from turning the game off was whistling to call my little animal buggy, which flies in from off screen, and then zipping around my park. That small feature is better than the rest of the game in its entirety, which is a very sad position for a long-time fan of the series to be in.
Online play is limited, with the option to visit and contribute to friends zoos. But if you’re like me, you probably don’t even have any friends who own a copy of Zoo Tycoon on Xbox One to begin with.
The game looks fantastic, but plays poorly. If they decide to give this game another go, then they need to take a good, long look at what made the original game so great. If you want to make a Kinect game, then make Kinectimals 2.
Have you played Zoo Tycoon? Let us know what you think!
Article by - Mike Jeavons
Update Date: 12/17/2013