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I'm a big fan of Zoo Tycoon on the PC, and so when I realised that I could get it for my Nintendo DS, I was keen to try it. I discovered there were two Zoo Tycoon games available for the DS, and I decided that it would make most sense to get Zoo Tycoon 2, as they would in essence be similar but it would have more features and hopefully better grahics. However, I'm reluctant to spend £30 on a DS game (except new Guitar Hero releases which I'm a bit of a sucker for), and I soon discovered that the going rate for Zoo Tycoon 2 was £25-£30, even used it was £20. So I waited, and dithered, and never got round to buying. Then my lovely best friend gave me it for my birthday this year.
Six months ago I bought Theme Park for the DS. This is a similar style of game to Zoo Tycoon (build and manage a theme park), so I had similar expectations although I had never played it on PC. I was surprised to find that even in sandbox mode it runs at the speed of light - a year in the game goes past in minutes. As a result of this, I was concerned that Zoo Tycoon 2 would be spoiled by the same problem.
The premise of Zoo Tycoon 2 is simple. You have a starting budget, and from that you build a zoo. You build animal exhibits, paths, signposts, flowerbeds, food and drink outlets, toilets, research and conservation exhibits, other attractions, and everything else you could expect to find in a zoo. For every person that visits you get an entrance fee, and then if they visit your shops and restaurants you make a profit from that You need to hire and pay staff. You can carry out research to be able to buy more exotic animals and build fancier restaurants and attractions. You must manage your finances, and most importantly keep your animals and your guests happy.
Having played Zoo Tycoon extensively on the PC, I knew how the game on DS should be played, however as it is a different set up with the touch screen and a few control buttons, I chose to play through the tutorials first.
The tutorials are very helpful. You start off easy, and learn the basics of building exhibits and guest facilities. I'm glad I did this, because although I probably could have figured it out myself, it was useful to have it explained to me. Also, there are sections I may not have come across so easily on my own - for example how to get into the management section of the games where you check your profit and loss, and manage the zoo's prices and research. In each tutorial you have a number of goals to complete in order to pass that tutorial and move on the next one. In the first few beginner tutorials, these goals and quick and easy to meet.
As you move on through the tutorials, they get a little trickier and a lot more interesting. They become like the scenarios you find on the PC version - for example, you have been brought in to resurrect a neglected zoo, and must make the animals happy and tidy the place up for guests. Others have you showing endangered animals, and you must ensure they are happy enough to breed as you need to have 10 endangered animal births to pass your goal. After a few tutorials I had definitely got the hang of how to play the game, but I was enjoying them so much that I continued playing through them.
The main game is of course to build your own zoo from scratch. This means you have no constraints like in the tutorials, which have a set time to complete the goals and which set you goals to complete. In the free game, you can show whatever animals you like, do as much or as little research as you like, and take as long as you like to do it. In some ways, this is actually harder than the tutorial. Because in the tutorial you have to do certain things, you tend to do them quickly but think more about them. For example, if you have to show 6 species of cat, you make sure your enclosures are small enough so you have enough space to fit them all in the zoo. But in free play, you can make larger enclosures, which mean you can fit less animals in the zoo and of course the enclosures cost more - so you find you can spend most of your budget on your first animal, meaning you have to wait for the profits to build up before you can build more. And with only one type of animal on show, you won't get many guests.
You can also interact with individual animals. I really like this feature. You can tap on them to interact, and you can groom, feed and play with them using the stylus and touch screen. This is particularly good if they are unhappy, as usually a bit of attention will bring their happiness back up. For me this feature adds a little something extra to the game, and makes the animals seem a little more "alive".
A new feature for Zoo Tycoon 2 DS are some fantasy animals, such as a unicorn and stegosaurus. Along with some of the more exotic real animals, these are awarded for having very high zoo popularity - once they have been awarded, you can buy and exhibit them.
The game is easy to play. Everything can be done with the stylus and the touch screen, there are icons on the screen for buying items and you can view each animals happiness by tapping it. You can also scroll around the zoo using the stylus, but this can also be done by using the direction buttons and I personally find it easier to use these.
I always find that the soundtrack to games on the DS can be a little tinny and annoying (Guitar Hero being an exception), and so as a rule I have it turned off except for in RPG type games such as Harry Potter where there are useful sounds to notice. The background music in Zoo Tycoon 2 is very tinny and annoying, that kind of safari style music which is always to be found in this type of game. However, over the music you also get other sounds which can be useful - for example whenever one of your animals gives birth, you hear their sound. I find this useful as it allows me to know when I have a new animal and therefore helps me manage my animal numbers (they get unhappy if their enclosures are overcrowded). As a result, I put up with the annoying music to benefit from this feature.
In terms of graphics, Zoo Tycoon 2 is not the best I have seen on the DS, but it's not bad at all. Despite the main view being an aerial of the zoo and therefore containing a lot of different objects (fences, trees, animals, people, etc), it is remarkably clear to distinguish different objects and creatures from each other.
I have played Zoo Tycoon 2 a lot since I was given it, and I find it is very easy to pick it up with the intention of playing for half an hour only to suddenly find two hours have passed! It has transferred onto the DS very well, and I would recommend it. It is also the type of game that has a long life, as you never really "complete" it. You can be finished with one zoo, but then you can start another and it will be completely different. There is also space for three saved games, so more than one member of the family can have a game on the go at one time.
The game says it's suitable for age 3+, which is terms of content is true, but a 3 year old would not manage this game! I'd say it's suitable for over 6 years old, with a little parental help.
Prices are much lower now than when I started looking, and you can buy it new from Amazon for £14.99, which is a very good price and well worth it for the hours and hours of fun you can have with this game.