Back in 2013 when Microsoft launched the Xbox One they packaged it with the Kinect, the voice activated motion sensor which was supposed to be the future of gaming. Unfortunately the reality was that the technology was inconsistent at best and the launch games that heavily relied on the Kinect as a means of playing suffered because of it. Fast forward to 2017 and Microsoft has rightfully banished the Kinect to the box in your closet where you keep your DDR dance pads and PlayStation Move wands. They’ve also re-released a handful of those early games, removing the Kinect functionality and adding 4K and HDR support to take advantage of the new Xbox One X hardware, and it’s a smart move because otherwise I probably would have never played Zoo Tycoon: Ultimate Animal Collection.
If there’s one thing that I’ve learned in my 10 years of being a parent, it’s that kids love cute animals. Like…. REALLY love them. My girls could spend countless hours watching YouTube videos of baby farm animals if I allowed it, so a game that revolves around collecting and caring for cute and fuzzy little creatures seemed like a no brainer. The only obstacle I could see possibly getting in the way of my enjoyment is that, being primarily a console gamer I haven’t played very many sim games. Outside of Sim City on the SNES and The Sims over a decade ago, my experience and expertise with these types of games is fairly limited.
Luckily for both my kids and I, Zoo Tycoon is pretty easy to get into and understand. You choose from several game modes including Campaign, Challenge and Sandbox modes. We began with Challenge mode which allows you to start a new zoo from scratch and make it your own, but the Sandbox mode is nice especially if you have younger players who don’t want to worry about things like managing your cash flow and researching new animals. Once you know how you want to play, you must choose where you want to play. Different regions specialize in different types of animals and Chloe chose to place our first zoo in Japan, because she’s cool like that.
Once we began we could start to place sections of the park wherever we liked. You can add animal enclosures, restrooms, food vendors, gift shops, and more. You’ll also need to invest in staff such as janitors (to keep the park clean and fix broken items), zookeepers (to feed the animals and keep their areas clean) and animal breeders (to….. well, you know). You can also customize the look of your zoo by changing things like the walls, paths, trees, benches, etc. It offers a nice amount of options to be able to make your zoo your own, while also keeping things fairly basic so it never gets overwhelming or confusing. It feels like just the right sweet spot between being accessible for younger players but with enough complexity for those with more experience.
But let’s be real here, this game is about one thing and one thing only… staring at ridiculously cute animals. There are nearly 200 to unlock from lemurs & koalas to crocodiles and elephants, all of which are finely detailed and nearly photo realistic. Once you place your new animal in a habitat that they are comfortable with (tropical, grasslands, outback, etc.) you’ll need to make sure they have everything they need like feeders, sprinklers to stay clean, and various toys and objects to keep them entertained. Once your enclosure is occupied and customized to your liking, you can just sit back, zoom in, and watch the cuteness. If I had a nickel for every time I heard one of my girls say “Awwwwww so cute!” I’d have….. well…. probably like a buck.
Both of my girls were able to grasp the mechanics well enough. Chloe could adopt animals, build new structures, and clean up rhino poop with ease, while Sam focused a bit more on driving from animal to animal in her golf cart and checking out the balloon merchant. I was also pleasantly surprised by how much my wife got into the game (she doesn’t play too many games), it was quite the balancing act to pass the controller between all four of us. I’m not ashamed to admit that I maaaaaaay have stayed up until nearly midnight after everyone else had fallen asleep to try and level up enough to unlock a rad giraffe.
Zoo Tycoon: Ultimate Animal Collection was a big surprise for me. It’s a fun, great looking, and addicting experience that has something to offer everyone in the family. My wife and I got just as much entertainment out of it as the girls did and I’m sure we’ll be playing it for weeks to come.
Dad ” A fun and addictive game that is simple enough for youngsters but offers enough depth for adults. It’s the rare type of game that everyone in your family can enjoy.”
Chloe “It’s fun and it helps you learn about responsibility and different types of animals.”
Sam “The animals are cute. I love the animals. They’re really playful and adorable!”
Zoo Tycoon: Ultimate Animal Collection is available now on Xbox One, Xbox One X and Windows 10. It is also available as part of the Xbox Game Pass program.