You Get A Rabbit! And You Get A Rabbit!

HIGH Selling 100 cola products and getting Captain Cola to visit the zoo.

LOW Having a hundred tasks to keep track of.

WTF Filling the pizzas with chili to sell more colas…

These days, zoos definitely don’t have the same great reputation that they used to. Most of us born in the ’80s used to take regular trips to see the animals, but it’s just as common to hear zoos described as “places that keep creatures in chains” as it is to hear them billed as “educational experiences based around wildlife”.

Let’s Build a Zoo finds itself in the middle of this moral conundrum, but at heart it’s an isometric, menu-based management sim, heavily inspired by titles like Theme Park or Two Point Hospital. Players will build a zoo, get customers in, take care of the animals, decorate everything, and try not to go out of business.

Successfully stocking the exhibits is done in two ways, either by adopting them from all over the world or doing trades with other zoos. As a gameplay feature it feels underdeveloped — it seems largely meant to keep growth at a slow pace and to prevent the player from getting all the animals as soon as they start. Put a pause on those zebras, players will usually start with rabbits, pigs, geese, and so on.

The interface is the mouse-driven variety common to the genre with a few keyboard shortcuts thrown in. Unfortunately, something doesn’t feel quite right. It is especially noticeable when doing things like laying down paths to direct customer traffic — one would expect to simply drag and drop tiles and right-click to delete, but it instead requires a slightly more complicated series of clicks.

The interface itself also feels lacking in a larger sense. For example, to get a list of the Zoo’s staff, it’s unintuitively required to click on the entry gate, yet there is no obvious button that one would expect on screen to prompt it.

Aside from small quibbles like this, everything else about Let’s Build a Zoo works great and the pacing is well done. It’s easy to get lost in the larger mechanics of getting animals and putting down shops, and just as easy to dip into smaller things like regulating the amount of salt to put in the chips or sugar in the cotton candy. There are many fine details as well, like every animal having its own name, seeing VIPs visiting the zoo, and there’s even DNA splicing to create the perfect hybrid between any two animals to really draw the crowds. A pig/snake (pigake?) combo, anyone?

Also interesting is a morality system — apparently it’s possible to be good or evil. For example, getting animals on the black market nets the player evil points. Accumulating these unlocks things like factories that will pollute the environment but net the zoo quite a bit of money. Remain on the good side by reporting the black marketeers and not euthanizing extra animals, and other features can be unlocked, like a recycling plant to keep the environment clean.

Overall, the juxtapositions between handling moral choices and trying to build a successful business make for entertaining gameplay. This balance also helps keep thingse more interesting than the average entry in the crowded management sim genre.

Graphically, there’s not much to note about Let’s Build a Zoo, since it uses basic 2D pixel graphics with the usual isometric view — it could easily pass as a mobile game to be played on a tablet.

Let’s Build a Zoo is an interesting take on a genre that has been done to death, taking the complicated business of running a zoo and doing something with it that is thought-provoking and still manages to keep the player entertained. Definitely recommended.

Rating: 7.5 out of 10

Disclosures: This game is developed by Springloaded and published by No More Robots.It is currently available on PC. This copy of the game was obtained via publisher and reviewed on PC. Approximately 4 hours of play were devoted to the single-player mode and the game was not completed. There are no multiplayer modes.

Parents: The game had not been rated by the ESRB at the time of review, but it doesn’t seem to contain anything that I would think needs a warning. There is non-graphic animal death, of course, but it can still be recommended to a wide audience.

Colorblind Modes: There are no colorblind modes available.

Deaf & Hard of Hearing Gamers: This game does not feature spoken dialogue, and the interface (and text) can be resized. Audio is not necessary to play the game. In my view, the game is fully accessible.

Remappable Controls: The game is controlled exclusively via the mouse with some additional keyboard shortcuts that can be remapped if one wants to.

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