One of the most interesting additions in the second installment of the game is the ability to enter your zoo as a guest, or a member of the staff. As a guest you can tour the zoo as a paying customer, while in zookeeper mode you can manually take over the care and feeding of the animals.
The primary game control was the mouse, and while keyboard shortcuts are available, the on screen interface is relatively intuitive. By linking the animals to the building materials that are most likely to keep them comfortable and happy, the developers really made it simple to stick with a mouse-driven approach.
The graphics and sound are not particularly high end in comparison to most of the higher end games on the market today, but are certainly comparable to other simulation style games. Up close, the animals are easily identifiable, and the facial expressions of the guests reflect their overall mood. The graphics have a ‘cartoonish’ quality to them, but not so much that it would cause someone into high polygon counts to go into withdrawal. Sounds are mostly environmental in nature, and get louder as you get closer to the item generating the sound.
Overall, I found the game enjoyable, and while this isn’t normally type of game, I got pulled into the idea of making my zoo famous, and meeting some of the special challenges the game throws at you as your zoo grows. With the freeform games, replayability is fairly strong, although eventually it can become repetitious, as there are only 29 species of animals, 45 or so buildings, and roughly one hundred challenges available. Microsoft has added the ability to download new content, including more animals and buildings, but due to the pre-release timing of this review, this content was limited at the time of writing.
It is certainly a step ahead of its predecessor, and the addition of the zookeeper mode allows expanded playability. Once I had my zoo where I was happy with it, I began working through the zoo, picking up trash, feeding animals and refreshing their habitats, and carrying out various maintenance tasks. The game runs well on the specified hardware, and even ran reasonably well on a AMD Duron 1.0GB system with 256 MB RAM.
The only place I felt the game could really be improved outside of more realistic graphics was the control for the overhead view didn’t allow for very accurate rotation. If I wanted to see my zoo from a specific angle, it often took about a minute of adjusting the rotation.
Finally, this game will most likely have it’s strongest appeal with ‘tweens’ who have a strong interest in animals, and of course anyone who has a love for simulation style games.
A fun game that may be better suited for younger gamers rather than older gamers.
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