Zoo Tycoon – Monkey-ing Around


Welcome to Zoo 1! Here we have a wide range of animals in strangely sized enclosures, all for your slightly Plasticine-like eyes to see. I am Keeper Khinjarsi, owner and chief zookeeper and today we’re going to be looking at Zoo Tycoon for the Xbox 360.

I’ve been playing Zoo Tycoon since I was a child. I’ve played most of the expansions and owned zoos all over the (virtual) world. But how does the game compare on the consoles?  I make note here that although I have an Xbox 360, I do not have a Kinect. I find the concept slightly creepy.  As such all my interactions with the game are purely with the controller, although the game does have the capacity to be used with the Kinect and voice commands.

Zoo Tycoon has you build, run and maintain your own zoo, and work your way up to a 5 star, super-duper ultimate zoo which can magically breed all sorts of rare and endangered animals. Of course, you don’t start with the last pandas in the world. You start with very little in terms of amenities and animals. Ideally you start with the tutorials. On the Xbox these come to a grand total of 10, each providing a short introduction to the main features of the game, from building elephant enclosures to entertaining children. Each tutorial focuses on a different aspect of running a zoo, but aren’t particularly deep or very long.

From there you are free to launch into one of three modes; Challenge, which lets you start at the bottom and work your way to the top whilst completing challenges, Scenario, which sets you an overall task or scenario for a chosen zoo, such as repair and improve a zoo to regain your zoo licence, and finally Freeform, which lets you choose your zoo and presents with infinite money and access to everything just to see what you can do.

Whichever you prefer, you’ll be spending most of your time in the menus. Every little change you want to make needs to be done through a menu. Let’s say you want to adopt a lion for your new zoo. First we need to build the right environment for the lion. So, we go to exhibits and find the appropriate one for a lion. Except we haven’t checked which sub-species of lion we want. Do we want an Asiatic or a Masai lion?
Why is this important, I hear you ask? Well, each sub-species likes a different environment. It makes sense, since Indian elephants can hardly live in the savannah, but when you have to go through several layers of menu just to find the elephant doesn’t like sand it gets irritating. Having a Kinect attached makes this process much shorter, allowing you to request the game to simply “Adopt Animal” or “Move object”.

Once we’ve figured out which animal likes what type of floor, tree and rock, the cursor will change into ‘placement mode’. With your chosen landscape in hand, you now possess a smallish enclosure, complete with surrounding path, ready to place where you like in the zoo. Except it doesn’t work as well as I hoped. Instead of attaching the floating enclosure to the rest of your zoo by linking the paths, you place the thing slightly off the pre-existing path and only when the cursor is green. Once placed in the world, this creates a little area for the enclosure, but leaves you with gaps between each bit. It’s a bit like a Venn diagram, only you can’t overlap path areas, but each enclosure must sit almost touching the other. In the gaps, you can’t place animals, or anything that won’t fit for that matter – which seems to be a lot. I found the only things I can squeeze in are trees and rocks. Decorative items such as fountains just won’t fit, because seemingly everything comes with pathways attached.

With this placement restriction, you quickly have a zoo made up of a series of blobs interspersed with rocks and trees. Of course you can’t just have animals. We must feed and water the people too. Just like building enclosures, building amenities and services needs several menus. I did warn you.

With our basic zoo up and running, we can start investing in research and breeding programs. Research allows us to buy better stuff (as it always does in this type of game) and breeding programs allow us to start breeding animals for release into the wild and to help keep the species going. (Duh) If we want to breed animals we must obviously have a breeding pair of animals to start i.e. a male and a female. They must also be happy with their enclosure and not be hungry, thirsty, lonely, dirty, bored or otherwise not perfectly content.
You also need a breeding centre, and staff to do breeding related stuff. So far, I’ve yet to breed anything and there hasn’t really been much in the way of tutorials to explain it all.

This is actually a major problem in Zoo Tycoon on consoles. It fails to truly explain anything properly. It half-heartedly gives you the aforementioned 10 tutorials, but that’s it. If you don’t understand anything else, you’re expected to find the information for yourself by locating the ‘Zoopedia’. This is the in game encyclopedia that details pretty much everything. All the animals have a page, each building has a page and it is here that you find key information you aren’t given in the game itself. In fact, after much clicking and zooming on individual animals, it took a trip to the Zoopedia to find out how I can quickly find out if any of my animals are suitable for releasing to the wild (you need them to be happy and also level 15, which have individual toggles on the ‘ping’ button).

One pleasant aspect of being a zookeeper in Zoo Tycoon is having an avatar and being able to run around the zoo. Or drive in a buggy if that’s your thing. You can check things out from the public’s perspective and have a bit of fun. It’s a much more cut down version of Zookeeper Mode than was found in Zoo Tycoon 2 for the PC, for understandable reasons, but it still has a few things to keep you occupied. You can walk around the zoo and make sure your people can get around. But that’s boring. Instead you can interact with almost all of the animals, provided you have put an interaction object in their enclosure. These vary depending on the animal in question but boil down to one of three things; feeding an animal, playing with an animal or washing an animal. Naturally, you’re limited to the herbivores if you want to feed them, although I get great joy in watching (and hearing) an elephant vacuum up an apple.

Cleaning animals lets you spray water at them from a hosepipe, which improves an animals cleanliness meter, and isn’t that fun. Finally, playing with an animal is limited to a select few. Lions and chimpanzees are the two that come to mind. If you have the Knect attached, the game utilises this and tracks your movements, allowing you to wave at an animal and have it wave back. Without the Kinect, it’s just a series of button presses and pulling of the triggers. Still, it’s better than scooping poop.

Long before I bought the game (second hand I’ll add), I downloaded the demo of Zoo Tycoon for Xbox 360. It showed great promise and made a little nook in my mind to pick it up when the price was acceptable. Since picking it up and playing it, I’m a little disappointed. The list of animals available (at least for the 360) is short and limited to only a few species, further divided into their sub-species – totalling 65 in all. It gets rather dull when you have 5 different types of Lion in the zoo. A ‘Zoo Limit’ restricts the amount of stuff you can build in the zoo, including simple decorations like rocks and trees, to the larger enclosures housing rhinos or bears. However, the deal-breaker for this edition of the game is the many, many menus you have to trawl through if you don’t have a Kinect. It makes for a disconnected gaming session and a hassle just to get to play with a baby animal or two.

If you’ve got kids and a Kinect, and an Xbox One, it’s as great choice to get some child friendly gaming in. But if you’re a veteran Zoo Tycoon, I think you might find it frustrating and hard to work with. Stick with Zoo Tycoon 2 on PC.

Keeper Khinjarsi has long abandoned her dreams of being a Zoo Tycoon and will stick to being an Inquisitor in the future. She also doesn’t claim ownership of any images or properties mentioned here.