|Publisher: Aspyr Media Genre: Simulation|
|Min OS X: 10.1 CPU: G3 @ 233 MHz RAM: 128 MB Hard Disk: 600 MB Graphics: 16 MB VRAM|
Wouldn't it be cute to manage a zoo full of animals? Your instincts and interests could probably answer this question, but in Zoo Tycoon Microsoft wants to answer it for you. As the manager of a virtual zoo you can play through the pre-drawn tutorial and scenarios, or start up a freestyle zoo of your own. There are "over 200 animals, exhibits, and zoo materials" to place in your world, as the description at Aspyr's Web site mentions. So what are you waiting for? This review, I hope.
GraphicsSimply put, the reason the system requirements on this game are low is because your expectation of graphical presentation should also be low. This is one of those rare occasions where an Aspyr-published game falls flat in the graphics department. The colors, inexplicably, do not pop in this game and there are plenty of opportunities with the amusement park-like atmosphere, child-slant, and overall game theme. The organisms available do play and jump and run and scream in all of their animated glory, but the repetition is easy to point out. Some tasks such as simply changing your viewpoint by rotating the zoo area a quarter-turn take a strangely long time even on a 17" Powerbook with a gigabyte of RAM. Just keep telling yourself: "Cute animal animations, cute animal animations, cute animal animations..." and maybe the rest of this game won't let you down.
SoundQuite possibly the best feature of the game is its sound, but even it can grow repetitive. The music is primarily for the intro and otherwise doesn't make itself unwelcome. Background noises and animal sounds are very appropriate and clear -- for the first few hours. Recently I was playing a freestyle game on a long road trip and a friend in the car remarked, "Man those monkeys are digging whatever it is you are doing." But actually, they weren't. It made me realize how generic many of the noises were and one more layer of detail was removed for me.
Game playRight out of the box this game was very frustrating. I'm happy to report that it got much better over time, but the initial few hours of play were very disappointing. With mystery-meat menus (i.e. icons and buttons that don't clearly represent how they are distinctive) and a difficult game of "hide the plot" for my zoo in full-effect I found myself learning to cope with the game's inadequacies early on.
Let's take the subject of menus head on. It is in this area that the game truly represents itself as a member of the Microsoft-bred software legion. The same menu for buying animals includes sub-menus for constructing and placing animal toys; a different menu is used for constructing everything else, including buildings such as the Aviary. In the “animal purchasing” sub-menu the male and female symbols are used, which is sure to confuse young players of this game early on. The menus are strewn about the left and bottom of the screen with quite a bit of space between them, and have a lack of flair for icon size that is rarely seen in games targeted for the general audience and kids. There's no shortage of information contained within the sub-menus, although portions of it were in a hard to read font reminiscent of poorly designed Web pages.
The game of "hide the plot" that I played within Zoo Tycoon about drove me crazy in the first few games. The scenario games are standard fare and entertaining up to a point, but many people will want to dive right in and build a zoo just to play around. In doing so, expect to see a large number of unhappy animals. Actually mine weren't unhappy as much as they were rampant at first since all I wanted to do was build a cage with some chimpanzees. After picking the wrong fencing (which essentially was all the fencing choices but one) my chimps were scattered all over the place.
Trying to please the chimps when they were put back in their enclosures was another matter. The Sims-like trick of pausing the game while building worked, but the happy-or-sad bubble faces that float up with every addition or subtraction in an exhibit don't appear when you do that so you often are playing a guessing-game with what you're building. Finding out why the chimps were unhappy was nearly as difficult as making them feel better. Yes, there are a handful of ways to get to the status panes of an animal, but all of them seem slower than just clicking on the animal, which is more frustrating than you think when it's a small bunch of pixels hopping all over the place. Sure you can pause but then again you run into the limitations of the setup while paused. When one of the four chimps complained about the size of the enclosure, I tried to make it bigger by re-fencing the exhibit into a larger place while paused. This caused the entire exhibit to be renamed. As frustrating as that was, it was nothing compared to the constant checking on whether a single chimp was unhappy and why. There seemed to be no way to please a single chimp much less all of them.