I primarily got Zoo Tycoon for my daughters as the amount of Xbox one games or children is pretty limited. I’ve not been much of an active ‘Sim’ or ‘Tycoon’ player for a long time and I think the last game in this genre I actually put some serious time into was Theme Park World. The original pull back then was the fact you could ride the roller coasters to built which sounded fantastic even if it wasn’t all I hoped in the end.
A similar feature grabbed me in Zoo Tycoon as it boasted the ability to feed and play with the animals you look after. Not only that, but you interacted with them using the Kinect controller reaching down for virtual fruit, pressing up a high five to virtual glass and grabbing the handles of virtual water cannons. All of the interactions work really well and whilst hardcore gamers will tire of the novelty after a while, children will continue to enjoy it for months. However, the ground level Zoo simulation is just a small part of the game. In the third person view players can not only interact with the animals but also call and drive animal themed buggies around the park. Whilst this seems a little light in features, Achievements can earned by running and driving round your Zoo. This side of the game, however is merely an inspection tool that allows you to bask in the Zoo you have created. The real game is played in the top down view as you research, promote and build your Zoo.
For the more serious gamer Zoo Tycoon offers a strategic park management simulator as you carefully balance the finances researching animals, breeding animals, selling them and releasing them into the wild. When not caring for the animal population you need to focus on your facilities building new enclosures, filling them with feeding and playing stations and repairing them. Ultimately you have to keep all the bars in the green which means keeping everyone happy. Players can choose to take on set challenges in pre-built Zoos, build their own from scratch where money is no object or play using a set starting budget. In all the modes you have a fame level as as your Zoo’s fame level increases you unlock more animals and enclosures.
Zoo Tycoon does have its fun elements and watching you Zoo grow and thrive really is a joy but some aspects are more cumbersome. As you can only research one thing at a time you might find yourself waiting around for research to be completed or worst accidentally cancel it when you start researching something else. Also, some of the species are so similar you might find yourself with five types of Gazelle when really you wanted a better mix of the more exciting animals. My final snag would be that the people who walk around your park cannot be hit by your buggy and simply ‘jerk’ out of the way with little consideration made on animating them. However, these issues are easily overlooked as you wash bears, high five tigers take photo after photo of your tenants.
Zoo Tycoon is also a force for good in the real world as well as the more virtual animals you release into the wild the more money Microsoft will donate to animal charities so there is no excuse to keep on playing.
Overall, Zoo Tycoon is one of the strongest launch titles on the Xbox One as the graphics are fantastic with realistic animals and an array of well thought out animations. The simplified controls work well on the controller and my family and I have had no real issues with the Kinect controls. It can get a little boring when waiting around for cash or research to be completed, but you can use this time picking up virtual poo in order to gain that much loved achievement of picking up 1000 pieces of poo. Thanks to the animal interactions and the third person view this game will also appeal to younger children and educates them about different animals. Zoo Tycoon has been well designed as it has both pick-up-and-play elements as well as longer term aspects meaning you can keep coming back again and again as you become the ultimate Zoo Tycoon.