If you’ve dabbled in other tycoon/management sims before, you know that to make it fun and exciting, the game has to make the micromanaging actually enjoyable. A game where you don’t mind diving into menus as your business flourishes. It’s the feeling of chaos being wrangled in to produce your desired outcome. More money!
Planet Zoo is from the creators of Planet Coaster, Frontier Developments, and can be seen as a spiritual successor to the Zoo Tycoon series. You could boil it down to Planet Coaster with animals but I feel that’s too much of a generalization. Planet Zoo is challenging in its own right and micromanaging feels different versus Planet Coaster yet can still be quite fun. Of course, the big difference is taking care of animals instead of rides. Your animals will always need some sort of attention from you. Whether it’s making sure they’re fed, that their enclosures are the right temperature or even the amount of activities they have to do. It’s making sure they are well taken care of. If you lax on their care, you’ll find some angry protestors filling your park. With that comes more negative guest experiences, which can lead to vandalization. Hell, the animals can even break free of their confines if they notice you’ve slacked on keeping their walls in good condition.
If you want to forgo all that stress, you could just load up the Sandbox mode. You’re given a bottomless wallet and the ability to turn off things like animal sickness, injury, and death. But honestly, it’s just a bit boring without all the worries. If you want to just build for building’s sake, sure, but I need the consequences. Planet Zoo will definitely deliver on that too. With the extensive list of 76 animals to choose from, they can starve to death, die of dehydration, contract diseases, get injured, become fearful and stressed, overheat/freeze, and of course, kill each other if the wrong animals are placed together. It’s a game that demands your attention and I love it for that.
What I can see becoming an issue though is the barrier of entry for new players. Planet Zoo tries to help players with its career mode. It’s one long tutorial through different zoos to help teach the player the basics, it’s, unfortunately, no fun to play through. You’re given a checklist to complete like placing objects and buildings in specific areas or raising the happiness of a specific animal with no real reward. Once you complete all the tasks you’re free to run the Zoo but why not run something you created yourself? I do have to recommend that new players start here, mostly because the bulk of the game is going to ask things of you that you won’t be prepared for. You’ll learn how to navigate its menus, trying to find out how to do things. But if you’ve played Planet Coaster, you may have a leg up in the navigation.
Just like Planet Coaster, you need to keep your park operating smoothly. You need cash and to get the cash you need visitors. It’s a delicate dance to manage your budget and reputation to keep those park gates open. You have control over the smallest of details like how much an individual food stand sells it’s food for and making sure there are enough bathrooms to keep guests happy. But a park can’t run without employees and the game’s management options are pretty deep. Assign your workers to specific shops, zones, or habitats. Dictate where in the park a janitor is zoned or which enclosures a caretaker is to be focusing on. You can even have your vets on staff research the different animals to learn more about them. It’s all vital to making sure that the park is one smooth operating machine.
Let’s get away from the mechanics though, the game is really beautiful. Animals are well rendered. Their sounds and animations are wonderfully recreated. You even get to see animal babies show up, and they can be some cuties. I’m no zoologist, but all the animals available in the game look like how I’d expect an animal to look and the habitats are fully within the whim of your imagination. You can design it any way you please, as long as it’s within the specs of an animal’s likes. Well, you could throw a Lion in an enclosure with only rocks and a lake but I think he would not be a happy camper. Elevation changes, ponds, trees, rock placement, down to the type of ground they will walk on are all changeable. It all looks great and if you wanted, you could create the stark contrast of a wintery habitat right next to a safari one. Not that I would since I follow the Disney method of park placement, hub worlds connected to one another within a park.
One of the things I wish Planet Zoo incorporated were pre-built enclosures for each species right out of the box. Sure you could go and download player-created ones like you could get player-created content in Planet Coaster, but I just wanted something I could quickly plop down and fine-tune myself without having to go through the hurdle of searching through a list of player ones. It may just be a “me” issue, but it is something that would have made my time just that much more streamlined.
I will always enjoy these types of games, constantly trying to chase the high of me pouring hours into titles like ThemePark or Zoo Tycoon. Planet Zoo is another sim management game that I can wholeheartedly recommend. It may not be for the casual player with how much the game asks of you in regards to management, but to everyone else, it’s a heck of a good time. Maybe we’ll get lucky and see some Aquarium stuff out of Frontier Developments next, I’m crossing fingers here.
A Steam code was provided by the publisher for review purposes