What do you do if you love your new Xbox One—with all its next-gen, high tech bells and whistles, stunning graphics and lightning-fast processors—but you’re not so keen on all those shooting, slashing and death-delivering games that have been made available for it? Well, the gamemakers from Microsoft Game Studios would like to suggest you consider the newest version of Zoo Tycoon.
As the title might suggest, the goal of this animal park management simulator is pretty straightforward—you need to build a zoo from scratch, get it running smoothly, and encourage the masses to buy tickets so you become a wealthy zootrepreneur. Of course, simply enjoying all those well-rendered, warm and fuzzy wild beasties is at least half the fun here too.
The game’s 10 here’s-how-things-work tutorials start you out in “zoo view”—where you walk or ride electric carts around the park and interact with all the lions, tigers and bears you want to. (This is in both first- and third-person perspective.) No, you’re not actually getting into the pens and romping with the animals, but you can feed apples to a very life-like giraffe. And give a baby rhino a shower with a fire hose. And encourage a chimp to mimic your movements and facial expressions.
That’s right, I said facial expressions. You can use the handheld controller if you wish, but for the aforementioned Xbox enthusiasts, the new Kinect system hardware makes at least part of the play as simple as calling out a command, waving your hands or even just grinning at the screen. Now, that sounds pretty cool just thinking about it. But I have to say, after playing the game for quite a little while, that the repeated waving and gesturing can get old for adults in the crowd! For kids, though? Well, holding up bananas to be grabbed by that incredibly realistic elephant’s trunk is kinda magical.
When you and the littler ones want to get to building your own animal kingdom, though, it’s time to switch to “tycoon view.” With that get-to-work focus, you zoom out to a bird’s-eye perspective of your fledgling park and determine where to place new exhibits and animal pens; decide which of the over 100 different animals you want to “stock”; and come up with locations for the park’s concessions, restrooms, fountains, trees and various other zoo facilities.
We Bought a Zoo
This is also where you decide which mode you want to play in. Freeform mode, for instance, gives you all the money and time your little zoo-building heart desires. That doesn’t mean you can build up a park full of nothing but pink flamingos and reticulated pythons. Even in this mode you have to build and maintain something that the masses will want to move around in. In fact, it’s only when the park reaches a certain popularity level that some critters and exhibits are made available for your future planning desires.
Challenge mode is a bit more, well, challenging. You start off with a limited bank account and have to think about what’s needed to actually keep your splendid park functioning like the business it’s supposed to be. You have to hire staff, figure out advertising campaigns, and make sure that all the various expenses and animal needs are covered month to month. You want those elephants to stay healthy and happy? Make sure they’ve got the right exercise equipment and a clean home. You want the human crowds to stay cheery? Make sure you come up with a reasonable ticket price. Oh, and don’t put all the bathrooms at just one end of the park. (But don’t worry, the game makes sure that even the most amateur zookeepers are given plenty of notice and hand-holding when a problem might come up.)
The last mode, Campaign, steps things up just a little more by offering specific scenarios with predetermined goals that must be accomplished before the ticking clock runs out.
If you want a little extra help, all of those modes you’ve just read about can be played cooperatively by up to four friends on Xbox Live. And kids can access a zoopedia that gives them a valuable stash of info on all their furry buddies’ needs and desires.
This E-rated game keeps things safe and clean for even the youngest of players, I should note. If they, say, drive an electric zoo cart with reckless abandon, the crowds just move out of the way without a single accident. There’s certainly nothing icky to step in.
After spending more than two decades touring, directing, writing and producing for Christian theater and radio (most recently for Adventures in Odyssey, which he still contributes to), Bob joined the Plugged In staff to help us focus more heavily on video games. He is also one of our primary movie reviewers.