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Zoo Tycoon

Have you ever sat down and seriously contemplated starting your own zoo? Have you ever yearned to entertain adults and children alike with all manner of beasts from around the world?


Well, neither have I. But Zoo Tycoon, as I will explain, will make the task substantially more interesting.
Right from the very start you can tell that the developers have put a lot of time and attention to detail into Zoo Tycoon. The installation program presents you with a simple image-based tutorial while the files copy over, which helps in easing you into the interface once the game starts. The first time you run the game, you will be immediately thrown into a proper tutorial, to ensure you know the absolute basics before you start. Know-it-alls can skip the tutorial after the first few screens, but I wouldn't advise it. There is a lot buried beneath the simple-looking menu bars!

Since this is classed as a build'em-up, I'm afraid I'm going to have to make the early comparison to Theme Park and Rollercoaster Tycoon. Both games have set standards in the genre, especially the former with it's continual strive to keep the punters happy while at the same time, keeping your park from going under. Well, Zoo Tycoon borrows from both and adds its own unique brand of good fun into the mix.
You are a Zoo manager, charged with constructing/renovating various zoos into successful animal preservations, as well as making the whole thing profitable. A multitude of scenarios await completion, with the harder ones being unlocked after the easy ones are completed. If you don't fancy cleaning up someone else's mess, then you can make your own with the free build mode. Here you get to design your entire park, research new enclosure features and adopt new and rarer species of animal as they become available.

The interface that let's you do all this is very simple to use indeed. Each menu for adopting animals, building enclosures, placing snack stands and gift shops and such like are easily navigated - nothing is hidden away at the bottom of several sub-menus for example. Zoo statistics are easily viewable with a glance, because the average animal and customer happiness levels are displayed along the bottom. These bars also provide menus when clicked, which allow you to alter financial information as well as locate any animal throughout the zoo.
If you forget how to make a simple enclosure, then read the back of the manual! Yup, there really is no way to fail in this game unless you skipped everything and ploughed right in. The zoo is built around the animal displays and retail stands, which are a vital source of customer satisfaction. Those punters you see wandering around need to be kept fed, refreshed, energised and interested, which means a well planned and attractive zoo. Thankfully, the tools at your disposal allow you to do just that, but the perfect zoo will be almost impossible to make until you learn the intricacies of each component.

Often in games like these, certain features allow you to refine your creations down to exactly what you want. Rollercoaster Tycoon for example, I spent ages trying to make a huge and fast ride that would take punters to the limits that their body could stand, without making it collapse and kill them all. Zoo Tycoon has a different but equally time-sapping feature: the enclosures. Each animal needs its own habitat in order to remain happy, something which is of utmost importance if your zoo is to be successful. To list the individual things you have to take into account when making them would take way too long, but to summarise, you have to consider the needs of the workers, the punters, the animal and any future animals. Yes, you guessed it. They breed!

The graphics are good. They're not spectacular, but then if they were, your system would probably ground to a halt with all the activity. Everything is distinguishable from the background, with the occasional animal getting helplessly un-selectable amongst the 'furnishings' you provided for it. Animals escaping are especially fun to watch, as the punters scream in horror and run as fast as possible away from the enclosure. It doesn't last long though, as your zoo keepers are quite adept at tranquilising and caging the animals, so there are no deaths involved. I swear I saw a polar bear beating up one punter by a bench, though.
As for the sound, it's not bad. I've heard a lot better, but to be honest, too much sound in a game like this is just annoying. You want to be left alone to build and manage, not listen to each and every customer flush the toilet. Occasionally you hear a roar or two from angry lions, and an "ooooh" from an amazed child, but that's about it.

I could honestly spend hours upon end tweaking my park, trying to get the best animal happiness ratings possible, or making huge enclosures that represent national parks, or planting food stalls in strategic locations for maximum income, or unleashing a herd of angry rhinoceros' upon a defenceless zoo populace, or.....well, you get the idea. There is so much to do in Zoo Tycoon that you really will be dragged into the game. If you tolerate the somewhat simplistic graphics and lack of any excellent quality sound, I believe any budding amusement park owner could have quite a great deal of fun with this game!