When Zoo Tycoon first released back in 2013, it was met with a mixed reception. The game's immersive atmosphere was highly praised, especially so when interacting with animals, but fell short of being satisfying overall thanks to an incredibly poor user interface and a lack of ways to customize your zoo.
Four years later, the developers have re-released the title on the Xbox One, aiming to fix many of the issues with the first version of the game. While they have accomplished this in some areas, they've also failed in others. Overall, though, Zoo Tycoon: Ultimate Animal Collection is a wonderful improvement over the original release.
Create your very own animal kingdom
Gameplay wise, Zoo Tycoon offers three modes: Freeform, Challenge, and Campaign. In Freeform, you have unlimited funds and can build the zoo of your dreams from the get go. Challenge mode tests your business skills by giving you a variety of tasks to accomplish in a small amount of time. Finally, campaign mode proposes different scenarios across several levels for you to effectively manage.
All three are fun experiences, but Freeform mode is where you'll get everything the game has to offer. Without the limiting restrictions on money or time, you can spend just as much time enjoying your zoo as you do managing it. By entering a special "Zoo mode", you can walk around your facility from an on-the-ground perspective. In this mode, you can watch, play with, or feed your animals. You can even bathe them when they're dirty.
This, to me, was the game's high point. Getting up close and personal with Mother Nature's vast collection of fauna is a huge treat. The animals in Zoo Tycoon look and sound authentic, making spending time with them relaxing and entertaining. In fact, the entirety of the Zoo mode itself projects this feeling of relaxation that makes it a very enjoyable experience.
The "Tycoon mode", or the management mode, is where the problems show. While some improvements were made to the user interface, it's still ultimately very lackluster and a chore to work with. Several menus have to be sifted through in order to do quite a lot. Whether it's decorating, expanding your zoo, or purchasing animals, Zoo Tycoon makes the process a lot more time consuming and difficult than it needs to be.
Thankfully, the user interface isn't all bad. Zoo Tycoon allows you to see what both your animals and guests want/need with ease, and the minimalist heads-up-display on the screen during animal interaction ensures that the menus present won't break immersion.
Customization has also been massively expanded upon. There are tons of ways that you can trick out your zoo with decorations and plant life, and there's much more player freedom given when creating pathways between your exhibits. This improvement is much appreciated, as it allows you to personalize your zoos to a much greater extent.
Presentation: Music, visuals and sounds
Zoo Tycoon's visuals are simple, but pleasant. Colors are soft and warm, helping to create a welcoming and friendly environment to built your zoo in. In addition, soothing music plays adequately in the background in order to provide positive ambient noise as you manage or experience your facility.
Sound queues are helpful as well; when scenarios spring up in your zoo that require attention, you'll be aptly prompted with distinct sounds. Overall, the presence of noticeable, but not overwhelming audio gives the game a large portion of its relaxing ambiance.
Performance: Disappointing levels of polish
For a re-release, Zoo Tycoon: Ultimate Animal Collection runs below averagely. Considering that the game opts for a cartoony aesthetic, I fail to see why the Xbox One wouldn't be able to manage it. More likely than not, the title was simply poorly optimized. Framerate hiccups and glitches are annoyingly common, and the game even crashed once during my playtime. Strangely, these issues weren't present with the 2013 version. Whatever changes were made between then and now clearly caused some problems.
Zoo Tycoon: Ultimate Animal Collection is, at the end of the day, a net positive improvement over the first version of the game back in 2013. Despite the addition of performance issues and the inadequate attempts to fix the game's user interface struggles, this new version of the game offers an overall enjoyable, family-friendly experience that's great for anyone interested in the animal kingdom or learning the basics of zoo management.
- Improvements made to customization.
- Fun, relaxing gameplay.
- Pretty graphics and good audio.
- Below-average performance.
- Complicated, overwhelming user interface.
You can pick up Zoo Tycoon: Ultimate Animal Collection now for $29.99 on the Xbox One.
This software was reviewed on an Xbox One, using a review copy given by the publisher.
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