The NintendoDS has opened the door for brand-new, ground-breaking gaming developments the like of which we’ve never seen before. Fact. However, the system has also created the possibility of minor refinement; countless variations on common gameplay that we are already experiencing. Surely, this can’t be a bad thing? With the likes of Robots and The ‘Urbz demonstrating that it’s definitely a mixed-bag-of-fish, what is Zoo TycoonDS going to offer to that the competition failed to provide?
Immediately, upon the announcement of the port of the title to the NintendoDS, a picture of exactly how it could be constructed around that Touch Screen popped into the heads of the gaming public quicker than completing the first Level of Sonic Rush. Zoo TycoonDS is very reminiscent of its PC sibling; the basic premise is, of course, to build and maintain a successful Zoo. Anyone who’s ever played any of the Tycoon, Theme or SimCity series’ will no doubt be right at home with the proceedings. You place paths, build exhibits and care for their animals -although to a limited degree – employ staff, research into newer attractions and set your own prices. Everything is conducted through a very straight-forward Menu System accessible on the Touch Screen; all your building, purchases, information and options are selectable with the Stylus.
Seemingly the exact opposite of how the vast majority would have predicted the project becoming finalised, the Menu System is restricted to the Touch Screen only. Placing your buildings and selecting pre-built options is conducted via the D-Pad and A Button. There is no option to switch the two screens default positioning and, where it certainly makes sense, there is also no “Swap” function for the screens in-game in order to select your item, and then place it with the Touch Screen. Although it would be hard to knock Zoo TycoonDS for not using the Touch Screen thoroughly, it quickly becomes apparent that the title is an exercise borne of excitement as opposed to market assessment; upon seeing the NintendoDS and it’s unique features anyone would be forgiven for imagining a capitalist Strategy Management title working beautifully on the system, however it’s easy to knock the lack of thought and effect past this stage.
Zoo TycoonDS features two main gameplay modes – Tutorial & Scenario, and Freeform Game. The Tutorial & Scenario Mode features some nice introductions to the play, but can be very, very annoying to those already well versed in the ways of Strategy Management. Freeform Game is just that – freeform. You start by selecting your park terrain and size, which then appears empty on the top screen, and off you go; creating a monstrosity of animal captivity or a safe haven for those heading for the endangered species list. Everything has been ported in an almost complete form from the PC original, however, it does appear that the easy option makes the title ridiculously easy, and running out of cash is never even given a second thought; inherently defeating any ideals of the title representing a management simulation.
Zoo TycoonDS is not a title that’s set-out to change our preconceptions of the NintendoDS’s graphics processing capabilities; it’s clear the title’s being left behind the likes of Nintendogs, Super Mario64 DS and CastleVania: Dawn Of Sorrow. However, even when having decided that the graphical prowess is clearly not the title’s unique-selling-point, it’s still unmistakeably disappointing. With sprites and animation often reflecting a lower quality than would be expected from the SNES, it’s an argument for functionality over style – however, with the sprites often being so indistinguishable (more so with animals and pre-constructed buildings) it seems a little style may have helped the functionality.
Zoo TycoonDS is certainly not a bad game, and it’s certainly not a bad NintendoDS game. As a port of the PC title, it’s rewarding and perfect for an addict’s gaming-on-the-go, as a unique and original NintendoDS title, it fits into the catalogue by default due to the non-existent competition.