Zoo Tycoon is a basic and simple zoo tycoon game. You'll manage your zoo, making animal pens, placing food and beverage stands, along with researching new animals and researching other things like their welfare, mating and rehabilitation. The game has an easy and quick tutorial all within the game along with challenges that will give you things to do in order to drive the game forward. You won't have control over things like ticket prices, food prices or anything like that. Your goal is just to keep adding to the zoo. The menus are very easy to use and the game's controls are almost exclusively mouse driven.
This is an easy game, its grid based in an isometric fashion. You can't rotate your perspective. You'll select to build a type of fence, click and drag a square pen to put the animals in. Then you'll buy plants, place water pools and food before you add the animals.
To unlock animals, you need to build a region research center (there are a few regions), and research the animal. After a specific amount of time on a progress bar, they unlock. Then you have the option to keep researching the specific species welfare, breeding and rehabilitation. Each takes time and each can be done three times per species. The breeding means they'll breed faster when in perfect conditions. Animals will have a progress bar. The rehabilitate lets you send them back into the wild. I don't really see a purpose for it. The welfare means the animal will get sick less and wow do these animals get sick. The game has a ticker at the bottom that feeds you all activity in the park, who has a baby, what you just bought, and when an animal gets sick. It then tells you to keep your habitat clean. Even if the habitat has the perfect amount of foliage, water, is 100% clean and your animals are well fed, they still get sick. Then you need to click on the animal and click on the cure icon. Poof they're cured for a price. The whole research center system feels hollow since you don't have to have a path attached or even staff it, but you don't have to staff any buildings.
You have zoo keepers that will feed animals and clean pens. The amount of zoo keepers is capped by how many employee buildings you have built. When you click on an empty space in an animal pen, you can assign what percentage the food levels need to fall before they feed your animals and the same for cleaning the pens. Personally, I keep my levels high to prevent animal illness. The animals being rehabilitated need their own personal zoo keeper. There are only keepers and not vets, gardeners, and janitors. Gardeners would have been nice, since the plants in your game die after 20 or so days, forcing you to remove the dead plant, then add a new one to replace it. That just seems like an extra step, an extra chore in the game. That's not the only chore, your animals will age and die quite rapidly, forcing you to replace them. You can see an animal go from a newborn to an animal that dies of old age in the span of two weeks.
The game consists of days, there's a start of the day before the gate opens, then the actual time when the zoo is opened and an after hours period. While this is an interesting twist to things, nothing really happens when your zoo is closed. It is more of a prep time to add things and assign a marketing campaign, which is sadly a daily task you need to click open the advertising section and select the campaign. It should just be set without forcing you to do it every day and if you forget to do it, that's just lost income for your zoo.
I say income, well the game's currency is 'popularity points' and not cash or money. You accumulate popularity points each day, but you won't actually get them to spend until the day ends. I guess that it makes sense, no one would have money until the registers are cleaned out. That causes a problem that you can run out of funds quickly and your animals will starve all day when there's no money to buy their food. That won't kill them, but that will make them sick eventually. If enough animals die, that's a game over. There are four difficulties, but it was very difficult to fail on normal difficulty (there is an easy difficulty).
Not only do the animals have needs, but the people do too. For food, drink and toilet. So you need to place all of those things. Not just that, but they want to see beautiful decorations. You'll need to buy them and tactically place them. Each decoration has a radius and a beauty percentage. Exhibits will also need walkways around them, so they can be better seen. It adds some strategy to the game, but there's no sort of bonus for having all African animals in a section of the zoo instead of African in one pen, American in another and Asian right next to it. At the end of each day, you'll get a recap of what's needed, whether its more food or more decorations. You'll also see a summary of your animal health and their needs.
There is only one zoo. There are no scenarios to play, no different zoos. Just an empty plot of land that you start with and quickly build your own zoo. You can easily expand your sanctuary, just by buying more land. Its as easy as that.
The controls feel very click heavy. There are no hot keys, not even a menu, you'll need to push a menu button to get it. At least the menus get broken up into regions that act like filters. You'll click animal, African animal, then click the animal. You won't scroll up or down like normal games, you'll need to click a 'next' sort of button. To pan the screen, you'll need to right click and drag the screen. Its not awful, but it does make the game feel awkward, like a mobile game.
What I really enjoy about the game is its challenges and rewards. Not only is there a list of ongoing challenges that will unlock things or give you random animals or a random baby, but there are day long challenges. These day long challenges amount to, we have an animal for you and if you want the animal, you need to get your zoo ready by doing 4 things, preparing for the animal, building the pen, putting out food, adding plants and so on. If you complete the goal, you get the animal and that animal species becomes unlocked without being researched. This is a nice touch that gives a free play sort of game a goal to achieve. That's the problem without scenarios. There's no end game. You'll just keep going. That might be awesome to some, but I really get bored of looking at my one zoo for 5+ hours with nothing changing.
In all, it just feels like a really dull game. Being broke for an entire day and waiting to get a heap of a money at the end of the day didn't help. The ticker at the bottom is a big help to let you know what's going on. There are super easy menus and easy to set up a functioning zoo in no time, but there are elements that feel like chores. Replacing animals, clicking to cure animals, removing and replacing trees. Small zoos are fine, but large zoos, it becomes an issue.