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Which holiday game will you play the most?

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Game Profile
GENRE: Simulation
October 10, 2005
 Written by Dave Hulick  on January 12, 2006

Reviews: Makes me wish I was a captive animal, and not someone playing this game.

Some things were simply not meant to be, but that hasn't stopped people from trying. Humans weren't meant to fly, to go into space, or to dive down to the depths of the great seas; Ice cream wasn't meant to be in 31 different flavors; and Zoo management wasn't meant to be fun. Yet, I was willing to give Zoo Tycoon DS a shot, just as I have given flight and chocolate-chip mint cookie dough flavored ice cream a shot. I approached what was, in my opinion, the worst idea for a sim I had ever seen with an open mind...and I was still disappointed.

Zoo Tycoon DS is a game in which you manage your own zoo by creating paths, exhibits, buildings, and various other things you'd expect to see at a Zoo. You're expected to keep visitors entertained, animals happy, and profits flowing throughout the game, all the while expanding in order to unlock new features. Sound boring? It is. But games with boring concepts can still be entertaining. Look at Harvest Moon or Animal Crossing for example. Good games are defined by their execution, not concept. Too bad the execution of Zoo Tycoon DS is about as low-budget and abysmal as you can get.

Sim games have almost always been abysmal on consoles due to their clunky, hard to control interfaces. Pixel-for-pixel ports of great PC games are reduced to unplayable rubbish on consoles because of the interface and interface alone, more often than not. But the DS is not just any console. The DS is a console with a touch-screen, and this should allow for all kinds of intuitive, innovative control schemes. Unfortunately, Zoo Tycoon possesses no intuition whatsoever and actually manages to make the touch-screen feel cumbersome. You use the stylus to select options, animals, and buildings as you navigate through a confusing and overly complex tiered menu. However, this could have been done just as easily with the d-pad and doesn't make anything more simple. To make matters worse, you still need to use the face (a, b, x, y, etc) buttons for various actions, and the game expects you to use the d-pad, touch-screen, and face buttons all at once.

After you become acquainted with the controls, you must play your way through a series of scenarios. These are all pretty basic, but they do add purpose and reason to the game. For example, you might need to build a certain number of buildings and animal exhibits in less than six months. However, once you complete the objectives, the scenario does not end. You are forced to sit around until those six months are over and wait. This is simply a boring design choice that seems more like a lazy cut-corner than an intended game mechanic.

If you do enjoy playing the game despite it's shortcomings, there is definitely a lot to do. The DS version is surprisingly whole, and features a lot of the game mechanics and the wide selection of different terrain, animals, buildings, etc. that were in the PC version. There are a ton of scenarios to complete, and a sandbox mode for some free play.

The biggest shortcoming of Zoo Tycoon DS is the presentation. The graphics are simply archaic, and feature almost no personality. To make matters worse, they even fail to be functional. One exhibit might call for Savannah grass, but the only difference between regular grass and the Savannah style is a slight difference in color. Not to mention the animation, or lack thereof. While there are animations for some of the sprites, they really do little to make your zoo feel like a living, breathing place inhabited by various exotic forms of wildlife. The only thing worse than the visuals is the audio. There is no music to speak of, and you'll be lucky if you hear more than a few sound effects per minute from your zoo. Zoo Tycoon DS is ugly even by Game Boy Advance standards.

Bottom Line
I wasn't expecting much from Zoo Tycoon DS, and I certainly didn't get much. Even with such a boring concept, there is no excuse for a game being this poorly made. Perhaps with some more development time, there would be some fun to be had. There is certainly enough content here, but the poor controls and graphics don't give players any incentive to check it out. I recommend this only to the hardcore sim player looking for a quick fix on the go.

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