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Publisher: Aspyr Media    Genre: Simulation    Expansion For: Zoo Tycoon
Min OS X: 10.1    CPU: G3 @ 233 MHz    RAM: 128 MB    Hard Disk: 600 MB    Graphics: 16 MB VRAM

Zoo Tycoon: Marine Mania
December 11, 2003 | Eddie Park

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The dream of running a personalized zoo was realized back when Zoo Tycoon, courtesy of Microsoft Game Studios and Aspyr, arrived on the Mac gaming scene. Featuring the ability to construct enclosures and populate them with a variety of animals, Zoo Tycoon tried to fill a niche in a genre currently dominated by the Maxis-owned marketing juggernaut known as The Sims. Whether or not they succeeded is anyone's guess, judging by the reader reviews posted at our review of this title.

Looking to expand on the formula, Aspyr has released what amounts to two new expansion packs in one package. Titled Zoo Tycoon: Marine Mania, the package contains not only the presumed aquatic fauna, but also the Dinosaur Digs expansion, which allows zoo keepers the radical convention of raising and displaying a variety of gigantic carnivorous beasts just aching to sink their teeth into a few tourists.

While the combined expansions serve to add a wealth of new content to the somewhat landlocked original title, it does beg the question: Does throwing more gravy onto a bowl of mediocre mashed potatoes make them taste any better? The decision may ultimately lie with whether or not you even liked potatoes in the first place.

Flipper never had it so good
As stated earlier, Marine Mania adds an aquatic element to what was previously a landlocked title. Players will now be able to construct a variety of tanks designed to hold all matter of swimming creatures. Tanks can be adjusted in a variety of ways, including wall height, base height, and water salinity, which contribute to general aesthetics as well as the happiness of the animals contained within. Of particular interest is the ability to create exhibits that use both water and land - I got a kick out of watching polar bears and walruses swim around before heaving themselves up onto solid ground for a bite to eat.

Once constructed, these tanks can be fitted with a good variety of popular animals. These include bottlenose dolphins, Orcas, narwhals, and manta rays. As in the previous game, these animals must then be kept happy through a variety of means, mostly through adding and subtracting various items to their habitats until a balance agreeable to the inhabitants is reached.

Marine Mania makes no attempt to deviate from the basic happiness formula set in the original title, which leaves me with mixed feelings. On the one hand, fans of the original game will feel quite at home taking care of their charges, be they limbed or finned. However, I found the task of adding and subtracting vegetation, toys, and what not to be a tad simplistic, which eventually translates into tedious. It's a simple matter to check what the animal wants and simply give it, with the only really limiting factor being how much money one has. The same can be said for the new buildings - aside from the way they look and act, they serve the same purpose as any food shack or what not, which is to generate revenue for the park as well as provide a little eye candy.

Something new that Marine Mania does add, and where it shines, is in its Aquatic Shows feature. No longer must zoo owners cater to an animals needs without receiving anything in turn other than the mere existence of those animals - now it's possible to make them work for their food. Shows do not only generate additional interest, but provide a greater source of income as well. It doesn't hurt that they're fun to watch as well.

Creating a show is as simple as anything in the game. One simply creates a show tank adjacent to an exhibit tank, which automatically creates a gate between the two. Show animals are identified in the bestiary with stars next to their icons, and are limited to the great white shark, Orcas, sea otter, bottlenose dolphin, and California sea lion. Put up some grandstands, and you have a basic show all ready to go.

To compete with the likes of Sea World, however, requires a little tweaking. Thankfully, Marine Mania allows gamers to adjust the trick scripts associated with a particular show tank. Adjustments include price of admission, frequency of performances, and the tricks used in the show itself. Additional tricks can be enabled by adding show toys or by putting a few dollars into trick research. The better the show, the happier visitors will be, and the more money the zoo makes. However, overworking your animals can have a negative effect on their well-being, and visitors will quickly become bored with the same old show.

Needless to say, I had a lot of fun setting up shows and watching the performances. A saving grace in what may have amounted to more of the same, the shows add some variety and enjoyment to the mix, which is something Zoo Tycoon sorely needs if it is to keep your average gamer interested.


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