Is it just me, or is there a noticeable spate of 'Tycoon' games around at the moment? I don't know whether it's due to the success of Rollercoaster Tycoon, or simply a coincidence, but regardless my shelves are beginning to positively brim with these games. All of which are simulations. Which means there's no prises for guessing what Microsoft's latest 'Tycoon' title is all about, you clever things.
The basic premise is simple and instantly recognisable from many other games in the genre. You are given a wad of cash and a plot of land, and using the various options available to you, you must wisely spend your budget building a good all-round zoo to pull-in the punters. It's all jolly good fun, and pleasingly educational too; a simulation game for all the family, especially youngsters. Though Dad may find himself slightly addicted too…
Build enclosures and realistic habitats for your creatures using the information pages available on them, ensure they are secure, well fed, and well maintained by hiring zoo keepers, build an appropriate path network allowing visitors to negotiate the zoo, build food and drink stands to keep the guests happy, and hire staff to man all the posts and keep your grounds tidy. There's plenty to do, and is embellished with all the usual detail of such sim games including the ability to control pricing.
All the while you play, new animals to adopt, and new construction options will present themselves, while zoo inspections keep you on your toes.
It's all good clean fun, and a few fun incidents occur along the way to add a little variety to the build, perfect and maintain routine. For example, monkey's are often liable to use the branches of trees in their enclosures to escape and cause mischief, whilst giving your zoo keeper hell in trying to catch them. The expansion of enclosures is also a delicate art, as I discovered when one of my Hippos legged-it causing no end of chaos. Needless to say my guests were not amused.
Is it any good then? Well, the gameplay, albeit original in setting is a very standard blend of the usual elements, though it is quite engaging however and educational as to keep your animals happy you will first have to have researched them. It only gets repetitive very occasionally when dealing with annoyances like the very fine and frustrating balance between keeping certain animals happy. The guests can also be a decidedly fickle lot, who seem to change their opinion on your zoo rather too quickly either way; though this is a minor point.
The graphics are attractive too, if not dazzling, being of the isometric 2-D kind, though the level of detail and animation of the animals was nice, as was the richness of their various environments. Not bad. The sound was passable too, and the tiger roars especially brought a smile to my face, again nothing too immersive but it all seemed appropriate.
To conclude then, Zoo Tycoon is a good 'all-rounder' which all the family should enjoy a good few hours playing. Kids that like animals will love the plethora of species available and parents will be pleased to see the level of detail in the educational text, which is cleverly essential in building a successful zoo. Not perfect, but very entertaining.