Nintendo DS Review: Zoo Tycoon

The touch screen on the DS should give us perfect translations of PC strategy games. In fact, the potential is there to make them even better given the second screen. Unfortunately, if they’re going to be translated like Zoo Tycoon, we’ll never see that happen.

It’s interesting to see the Microsoft Games Studio logo pop up during the introduction, and that’s one of the few things worth noting about the game. The concept is a brilliant one, even if copied from the unmistakable Roller Coaster Tycoon. Players are given money to start a zoo, and do so through an easy to grasp interface. They can either start from scratch with no real goals, or challenge the varied scenarios.

That would all be fine if this wasn’t an absolute handheld disaster. The interface is clunky and slow moving, a critical problem from the start. Everything needs to be double tapped (just like on a PC, but without a mouse), and then placed with a button. It’s aggravating and unnecessary, especially since that means there are three steps to place a light post. The information provided is limited at best, and when selecting an animal, you won’t know what specifics they need until they’re in the pen and you enter into another section of the menu.

Placing objects is unbearable because of the limited and low-res graphics engine. The hand icon on the top screen blocks most of the item, making it impossible to see if it’s facing the correct direction. You have a slight chance when using the closest viewpoint, which is crowded and useless for anything else. The farthest view makes things indiscernible from each other (you honestly can’t tell a penguin from a black bear), and also causes the game to slow down unbearably.

The isometric view doesn’t always help either. Objects block your view, and there are multiple times when there is no proper angle even when flipped. Setting a walking path for your paying customers poses a problem, and if they’re confused because you’ve constructed something they don’t understand, you’ll likely never know why if a hot dog stand is preventing you from seeing the trouble.

This is also a game that could play itself. Help comes from the menu, explaining everything that should be in an animal’s pen once they’ve settled in. Messages will inform you if you’re doing something wrong, and that would create a challenge if you weren’t told every step of the way what to do. Even then, the unresponsive touch screen controls only work when they want to.

To keep piling things on, the game continuously glitches at random. Animals won’t appear in your animal list (which provides quick access to their pens instead of waiting for the unbearably slow scrolling), and that makes scenarios tough to complete. Employees of the park disappear randomly. One of the later scenarios seems impossible to pass since even when every objective is checked off as completed, the game still insists you failed. That’s inexcusable.

On the PC, Zoo Tycoon was a fun diversion in a mass of other Tycoon games. On the DS, it’s a disaster of its own coding. There was no attempt to make this work with the consoles specific strengths. If you’re a fan of strategy, there’s bound to be something better than this down the line.

(* out of *****)

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