‘God’ games are all the rage these days, encouraging you to design your own town, hospital, house or theme park. But not many of these are designed for the younger end of the market. Zoo Tycoon 2 was a welcome exception (though suggesting it was for 3 year-olds and up might have been a little optimistic), as it had plenty of animals and made it relatively easy to construct an attractive site.
Expansion packs have a habit of offering little more than another helping of the same, but Microsoft has pulled out the stops this time to make sure that there are plenty of innovations to make young players go ‘aaahhh!’
As you’d expect from the title, the main addition is 20 new rare animals to coo over including a Spanish lynx, a Galapagos giant tortoise, a Komodo dragon and a scimitar-horned oryx. All of them require new habitats and specialist foods, etc., and one of the regular challenges is to create conservation areas which will hopefully persuade your specialist creatures to breed.
The basic gameplay remains as before; build your enclosures, install your animals and use a keeper to make sure everything runs like clockwork. Encourage donations from the public and make sure your facilities keep your visitors for longer so that in time your fame will spread and your revenue will increase. A range of new objects has been created as well as useful buildings such as a tropical bounce house, face painting kiosk and sky tower.
In addition, you can now build elevated paths and observation platforms so that your animals have more privacy and your guests have a new perspective on the exhibits. Two new transport systems have also been introduced; jeep vehicle tours where you get a passenger’s eye view of your location and sky tram tours where you can gaze down from on high to see if your koalas are finally going to mate.
The new Guest View feature means you can stroll around your zoo and see the rare beasts as the public do, and at the same time take pictures you can compile into a photo album. The game has an educational dimension as well with the Zoopedia databank (supplied by Encarta) that gives you the background info on all your new animals and tips about their ideal living conditions and feeding habits.
If you’re new to the Zoo Tycoon universe there are extensive tutorials to guide you and, although the graphics may not be as sophisticated as hardened gamers might like, younger players will still feel like they’ve walked into a sweetshop. Only the music soon becomes irritating but that can be switched off before you start.