So who hasn't had a dream of running a zoo?
Okay, so it's not exactly a popular aspiration. But what if you were told you could breed and keep ancient creatures, train your animals, and breed them for fun and profit? A little more interested now, aren't we?
The latest "tycoon" game without the "tycoon" name to hit the market is DreamCatcher's Wildlife Zoo for the PC. It gives you the opportunity to build a zoo and take part in many aspects of the management of said zoo, from how you raise the animals you keep, to taking care of your park patrons, and even breeding creatures that have long gone extinct.
The majority of the game takes place in the mission mode, which is something of a campaign. You will go through multiple scenarios, learning your way around managing a zoo environment, learning what things go where and what they do, before you're thrown into some scenarios that actually require thought, like saving monkeys. As you progress through the missions the difficulties increase, but they don't actual start introducing any challenge until the last half dozen missions or so. After you're done the mission mode you can entertain yourself in free play mode, which allows you to build a park without any restrictions or goals, but by that point you've pretty much experienced everything the game has to offer.
In Wildlife Zoo, you'll get most of the game from how you take care of your animals. In this respect, the game has a lot to offer. You'll need to make sure that the food they eat is well stocked by hiring an animal keeper, make sure they have all the accessories they want (like rocks for jumping over or branches for scratching against), and you'll even have to make sure the ground they walk on is just right for them. The problem is, once you've set up all the factors that the animal needs to be content, you're done. You just need to watch them after that, and that's not terribly exciting.
There's also the problem with balancing in terms of your income. Once you pay your expenses, you'll have a decent amount of income, but often a single animal will cost so much more than that. The only way to make any real money is by selling newborns, but this can be a slow process. It doesn't really feel like you're doing anything smart in terms of management, and so you don't feel any achievement when you get a lot of money for the sale.
But the biggest problem with the game by far is how the visitors act which is, quite simply, like simpletons. See, to keep them happy you need to make sure that their needs are well met, like food, rest, and entertainment. Sounds simple enough, but it creates issues that become glaringly obvious. The irritating part comes from the fact that, for some reason, the visitors can't see more than five feet in front of them. If they're thirsty but the beverage stand is more than a few feet away, they'll complain about it incessantly until they accidently bump into it. So, unless you want to see a lot of unhappy customers, every few feet you need to place concession stands just to keep them happy. They won't even realize when they've walked off the path, either, and sometimes, through bad timing, they'll walk right into an animal cage and not even think twice. Likewise, if they don't see an animal directly in front of them, they'll complain that there aren't enough animals. So, if you don't have an animal cage right at the entrance of your park, you'll get a lot of unhappy people gathered around your entrance.
It's clear that this game wants realism going for it. Every animal has its own needs and stats, and there's even an encyclopedia that will tell you about everything in the game if you really want to know. The graphics represent that, showing heavy detail on the creatures. The problem is that this level of realism creates so many things that are completely unnecessary to the game, and just end up clogging the interface (which is cluttered up enough as it is) and creating a lot of pointless problems.
As an example, there are maybe a dozen types of fences in the game made to hold your creatures in. They range in price and durability, but really, don't have that much difference between them. Likewise, you can hire a doctor that'll keep tabs on your animals and make sure they're healthy, but sickness is so rare that maintaining a doctor on staff is a waste of money. It's often cheaper just to hire them when an animal gets sick, let the sick creature be healed, then sell the doctor completely, or, if possible, undo the purchase entirely and get all your money back.
There're also some problems with the way the employees of the area work. They're given a circular area to work in, but often the area of the circle is much smaller than it appears. The employees will ignore areas and pass by things they should be helping, and if there's an area they can't reach they won't even tell you about it, so your animals can starve without you even realizing it.
By being too focused on producing a realistic zoo simulation game, Wildlife Zoo really isn't much fun. It has its moments, but between the shoddy visitor intelligence, the slow pace of the game, and the abundance of things that don't add anything to the game, it makes for a fairly slow experience that isn't very rewarding in the end. Perhaps this is why few people want to manage a zoo.