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Zoo Tycoon REVIEW – Why Do I Love This!?

by Joey Davidson | November 26, 2013November 26, 2013 4:30 pm PDT

Here I am, nearing day five or six since having the Xbox One in my home, and I can’t stop playing Zoo Tycoon.

I’ve cleared the tutorials, plowed through a chunk of the campaign missions, started a few zoos in Challenge Mode and even fired up the free reign mode a couple of times to experience a limitless budget and defeat the purpose of the “Tycoon” bit of this title.

Zoo Tycoon, you’ve probably realized by now, is a game about creating and maintaining your own zoo. You’ll please animals, satisfy consumer demands, meet constant challenges and spend time tweaking prices and researching skills in order to make as much money as you possibly can for your zoo.

If you’ve played any good game with the word “tycoon” in the title, you know what to expect here. While not as flat out amazing as the best of the Rollercoaster line from a completely different company, Zoo Tycoon is fun enough to warrant a whole lot of play.

The scary thing for me? It’s probably the Xbox One launch game I’ve enjoyed the most.

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Animal Addiction

Somewhere between spending an hour in the Research Tree and deciding which Macaw variant I thought most belonged in my zoo, I realized I had a problem. Zoo Tycoon dug its talons into me hard, and it had no desire to let go any time soon.

Zoo Tycoon combines two different qualities that really drive its potential for addiction off the charts.

First, it’s extremely easy to control and manipulate. Moving through menus, tweaking customizations and dealing with animals is all super simple and contextually obvious. Those used to micromanagement will want more from this game in terms of options, but that’s about the only complaint I have in regards to the sim abilities.

Second, rewards are dished out at a constant clip. Whether its from growing your zoo, adding animals, completing challenges or satisfying customers, you’ll always be gaining experience. From Level 1 through 100, every time you break ahead you’re rewarded with new unlocks and options.

Those two elements make Zoo Tycoon addictive. Its biggest problem? There really isn’t enough variety here to fuel the addiction even further. Unique locales, animals and themes do very little to change the game enough in order to demand more play.

In fact, if you’ve seen one elephant, you’ve seen ‘em all, and that’s where this game loses its footing. For all the great control and reward the Zoo Tycoon gives out, it stops being fun after around 10 or 15 hours. You’ve seen everything, and you’ll grow bored very fast.

Admittedly Childish

I, for one, don’t mind when a game takes on a less mature theme in order to appeal to a wider demographic. Zoo Tycoon, thanks largely to interactions, tone and the use of the Kinect (which we’ll get to), is very much a game aimed at a younger age.

I eked enjoyment out of a title that I figured I would have been completely bored with. To its credit, Zoo Tycoon arrives with enough options and sophistication to appeal to older and more seasoned tycoon gamers.

However, if you’re in a lot that can’t be seen playing games with a more childish spin, you might want to step away from Zoo Tycoon. I don’t recommend it, because this is a good game, but you will cringe at some of the kid-friendly stuff within.

If you do have kids, though, go for it. All in. Your young ones will have a blast playing, and your expertise in researching and development will aid their quest to master their zoos.

Poor Use Of Kinect

I suppose the thing I was most annoyed and frustrated by in all of Zoo Tycoon is its use of the Kinect. Much like we saw in Kinectimals, a game that launched Microsoft’s camera hardware, Zoo Tycoon’s use of the Kinect boils down to fake animal interaction and yelling commands.

While it’s not like I wanted more from the Kinect in this game, Zoo Tycoon stands as a prime example of a rather lame use of the Kinect. Feeding animals virtually might sound interesting on paper, but going through the motions of mechanically moving, opening and closing your hands in place of button prompts on your controller is rather boring.

The Kinect implementation really only worked genuinely well in one small interaction in this game: playing with monkeys. Cover your mouth, the monkey covers its mouth, hold your hands up, the monkey holds its hands up. You get the point. It’s silly, it’s meaningless, but it worked.

Speaking commands, using the Kinect to feed a giraffe or hose down an elephant? I’m sorry, I don’t really like using the input device for these things. Perhaps, and I’ll totally admit this, the Kinect use in games like Zoo Tycoon is better for kids. If you have kids and they love fake feeding animals, let me know.

Buy/wait

Zoo Tycoon is an addictive effort that rides in with just enough content for a good play.

As far as launch games go, I was pleasantly surprised by Zoo Tycoon. An offering with a seemingly benign premise snuck up on me and ripped more than a dozen hours of my gaming free time away from me.

By tycoon standards, Zoo Tycoon is an addictive effort that rides in with just enough content for a good play. It won’t stand the test of time unless Frontier, the developers, come up with content to support its existence. Its light in that department, and you’ll feel a need for change fairly early on.

Poor Kinect integration and a more childish tone will keep some gamers away, and both could be executed better, but I suggest giving this one a go even if you’re only remotely interested.

You could wait, of course. Launch titles almost always go cheap quickly, and perhaps this one will have a ton of DLC down the line worth picking up.

We received a review copy of Zoo Tycoon from Microsoft. We spent roughly 12 hours with the game before starting this review.


Joey Davidson

Joey Davidson leads the gaming department here on TechnoBuffalo. He's been covering games online for more than 10 years, and he's a lover of all...

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