I am not going to lie; I am a sucker for theme park simulation games. Ever since I got my hands on Bullfrog’s classic Theme Park series the idea of managing my own cavalcade of delight has always been intriguing. The Zoo Tycoon series has been around for a while, mostly on the PC, but few will remember that a DS version did land on store shelves back in 2005. Of course the same people will also remember how utterly terrible that version turned out to be, which is why I wasn’t exactly beating down the door of my local game shop when this sequel dropped. Thankfully after spending some quality time with Zoo Tycoon 2 for the Nintendo DS this is one attraction you will most likely enjoy revisiting time and time again.
Much like any other tycoon game Zoo Tycoon 2 is built on cash flow. The idea is to have a successful park by keeping animals and visitors happy, creating attractions that people want to see and of course keeping your coveted rating at a high level. With this sequel the core game mode is broken down into fifteen scenarios that subtly ramp up in difficulty. While this may seem like a substantial amount of content it is worth noting that the DS version is aimed at a slightly younger demographic, meaning much of the micromanagement found in the PC iterations is sorely lacking.
This is all evident by the fact that you will rarely run into any issues throughout the campaign. Money is never an object as it seems to flow in constantly. Animals are nonsensically easy to maintain and keep happy, so long as you meet their minimal needs and guests are content as long as you meet the minimum essentials. Overall the game feels dumbed down when compared to its PC counterpart, which is certainly not a huge deal considering what system it is on, but it is worth mentioning for those of you looking for a deep experience; you simply won’t find it here.
This of course doesn’t mean there isn’t any fun to be had while traversing through the single-player adventure. In fact for the most part it is often enjoyable even if it requires little skill. Each challenge presents a new scenario from having to clean up different areas to figuring out which areas animals love to inhabit the most. The diversity of each challenge is more than enough to keep the action from becoming fatigued and if you are not too careful the game may sneak some useless trivia and edutainment facts into your cerebral cortex.
In addition to the core game the developers have also thrown in a brand new mode called Zookeeper. This allows the player to get a little more up close and personal with their residents. In this mode you can actually enter the habitats and perform various actions on the animals through a series of touch screen mini-games. These range from simply petting the animals to nursing and cleaning and so on and so forth. While cool in concept these tasks fall a bit on the mundane side far too swiftly. There never really feels like there is much interaction and let’s be honest here; who enjoys picking up trash after wild animals.
There is also a free play mode that will most likely be the starting point to toy around with. This mode lifts all of the constraints of having to accomplish tasks and lets you run the park as you see fit. This is always my preferred mode in a game of this type simply because the amount of freedom is engaging. With Zoo Tycoon 2 for the DS the same holds true minus the fact that a certain lack of content drives it into tediousness far too soon. Of course the real fun begins once you begin unlocking the mythical and rare creatures in campaign mode such as dinosaurs and unicorns, granted you will have to earn specific trophies in single-player to obtain them, but the payoff is well worth the effort.
Visually the game works on some levels and fails miserably on others. In Zookeeper mode the close-up representations look decent enough considering the hardware, but from the birds-eye perspective the majority of the game plays from is awkward at best. The real culprit here is the tiny size of the DS’ screen, which makes it nigh impossible to navigate and manage much more than a fraction of your establishment at a time. Sound effects are mediocre at best and the music is forgettable, but compared to similar games on the system Zoo Tycoon 2 does an admirable job of visual splendor.
While certainly not the deepest trench in the ocean Zoo Tycoon 2 does commendable job of recreating the feeling of owning and running your own convoy of wild animals. Sim heads will likely scoff at the lack of micro-management the game does cater to the younger crowd very well. Simplistic in nature and addictive at heart if you are a fan of this type of simulation game and need a quick fix on the go there is little that can go wrong with choosing Zoo Tycoon 2 for the Nintendo DS.