Animal lovers have been given short shrift over the years when it comes to management sims; especially on Xbox, which last catered for these needs back in 2013 with the launch of the delightful Zoo Tycoon. Now though, the highly praised Let’s Build a Zoo has set up shop on console after a successful release on PC. It’s also arrived with dino-filled downloadable content in the form of Dinosaur Island as an added bonus, but does the entire package live up to the hype?
Absolutely it does, and it comes as no surprise as even during the beta days of Let’s Build a Zoo it was clear to see that developers Springloaded were onto a winner. While not completely bereft of criticism, it’s hard to deny Let’s Build a Zoo is a zoo managing masterclass.
Just to be clear, Let’s Build a Zoo is a management sim game, presented using wonderful pixel art, in which you must create a fully-functioning zoo. An investor is backing you, providing a plot of land and a wad of cash to get started, but you’re going to have to build and populate it from scratch. The aim is to eventually turn the place into a popular attraction that draws in the crowds from far and wide. That’s a pipe dream however, as you must first learn the basics of running a zoo and looking after animals.
Getting a handle on the control setup is of the utmost importance initially, with this often being a sticking point for many sim games ported from the PC. While the cursor is ever-present, enabling precise placements for enclosures and structures, almost everything else is hanging out on a shortcut wheel. A simple hold of a trigger brings up a whole selection of options such as Tasks, Build, Research, and others. It’s not quite as intuitive as being able to access the lot by simply using the cursor – as is the case on PC – however it’s a decent alternative.
Learning the ropes as a curator isn’t easy for those who are alien to the genre as you’re introduced to certain aspects too slowly, if at all. Granted, the creation of enclosures to provide safe havens for the animals and the importance of choosing a suitable biome is explained to a tee, but the absolute basics feel overlooked. Before opening the zoo, it should encourage putting down pathways and hiring staff at the very least. Eventually that happens, albeit a tad late.
On the other hand, through the trickling out of helpful in-game advice and proposing an array of tasks, there seems to always be something new arising, ensuring you’ve got an objective to work towards. Hours can pass by, in real-time, without even a second thought once you’re mentally invested. That’s because there’s a ton of things to add variety to proceedings and plenty of micromanaging to do in Let’s Build a Zoo.
Take the animals as an example, for there are over 500 different types ranging from snakes and capybaras to gorillas and hyenas. Trying to collect them all for your zoo is no easy feat, but that doesn’t mean it’s not fun to attempt. Rescuing animals from shelters, breeding them to acquire variants, and trading with other zoos around the world to get your hands on fresh attractions is a must to keep guests happy. Heck, you can even make deals with shifty folk that turn up at your zoo uninvited; doing so could affect your morality though.
The Morality factor is a clever and refreshing feature because you’re judged on certain decisions made, which leads to different bonuses being available. Depending whether you report the exotic animal dealer to the police, or throw some cash their way for a rare acquisition, may tip the scales either way. Other avenues of morality include donating, euthanizing, selling to the black market, salaries and general treatment of animals.
It sounds quite serious, right? Well don’t get too hung up on that, for there are a fair few outrageously humorous ways to affect Morality too. Lost dogs get a ruff deal, as opportunity arises to find their owners, or dress them up as a lion in order to fool paying guests. I even fed one of the dogs to a dinosaur, but it was for the sake of this review, so I can live with that. Another interesting choice involved trying to pull the wool over people’s eyes using robotic animals – scamimals, if you will.
To really reap the benefits however, you must commit to being a decent human being or a real piece of trash. This becomes apparent within the Research technology board, which is full of perks, decorations, shops, amenities and other facilities to unlock. Most are simply garnered through a specific amount of research points, while some require Morality points too. Go green by generating your own electricity, collect water for free and partake in recycling. There are Immorality points too, which will let you open up an abattoir, cut corners on energy bills and burn trash like a genuine money mogul would.
Another excellent idea is the inclusion of the CRISPR Splicer, a building which essentially lets you indulge in genetics. Through DNA splicing, entirely new species can be fabricated and this opens up more possibilities than imaginable. Goobits were my first abominations, erm I mean lovely creations, combining the goose with a rabbit and the crowds have lapped it up. There’s a bit of effort needed in collecting enough variants of a specific animal before the DNA is available, but the entire process is almost like a game within a game – it’s addictive to try out new pairings.
Not that you’ll have a huge chunk of time to focus on splicing, or any one particular activity for too long. You see, Let’s Build a Zoo does a terrific job at keeping you occupied and on your toes, staving off any potential for boredom to creep in. Sorting out ticket prices, altering the quality of goods sold, and putting on buses to lure in customers is just the tip of the iceberg. Ensuring the animal enclosures are run efficiently is the bread and butter here as you want them to live happy lives, right? Well, then you’re going to have a list as long as your arm.
These creatures need toys to play with, food to eat and water to keep hydrated, but you also have to help plan efficient routes for animal keepers to do their rounds. This lot are quite horny too – the animals, not the staff – and breeding has to be monitored to avoid overpopulation, with contraception being a viable option when things get out of hand. That’s before considering the possibility that an animal could die, which has to be dealt with by the undertaker (not THE Undertaker, sadly). Phew, it’s a lot.
You definitely can’t coast through, but I like the level of attentiveness and there’s always the choice to stop time itself if overwhelmed. That’s not everything however, because the Dinosaur Island DLC adds a brand new campaign, a shed load of prehistoric favourites and lesser known beasts, additional buildings, themed deco, fresh DNA combinations, exciting enclosures and more. Honestly, aside from possessing fewer species than the main offering, it’s just as excellent. Plus, the thought that you can mix and match with the regular animals by dipping into the sandbox style zoo is amazing. Oh, what atrocities you could create!
I’m practically overflowing with positively for Let’s Build a Zoo and it’s absolutely deserved. Once you become accustomed to the controls, as well as the basics, everything flows brilliantly. Creating an animal empire is addictive, with so many options in terms of buildings, decorations, and animals to ensure variety. The Research tree constantly throws fresh unlockables at you, while the game gives you a purpose for hours on end with tasks. It’s really the DNA splicing and moral choices which just elevates Let’s Build a Zoo to another level though.
Do yourself a favour… invest in Let’s Build a Zoo and build an animal kingdom!
Let’s Build a Zoo is on the Xbox Store