It's truly a bizarre concept when you think of the "tycoon" genre as something people become addicted to and spend hours upon hours enjoying. It comprises a group of videogames whose sole purpose is to simulate the tedious tasks of a management job like accounting, regulating lines, and deciding the best place to put a restroom. Where tycoon games excel though is giving you the power and freedom to experiment while in this position and to do so with interesting scenarios. The concept of Zoo Tycoon might be familiar, but the Xbox One's take on the genre is certainly one of the freshest in years.
Zoo Tycoon on Xbox One drops players into the role of a zookeeper who just so happens to make all the decisions for running the attractions. The game comes in two parts, with the first being a top down overview of your available land and the second being a 3rd person view to experience what your patrons do in the zoo. You can technically do most tasks in either view, but being able to get down to the ground level and experience the zoo is definitely part of Zoo Tycoon's hook.
The game was developed by Frontier Developments, who worked on Kinectimals on the Xbox 360. It's easy to see where some of that technology has bled over, allowing players to interact with animals by feeding or making faces at them using the Kinect. Kids will love playing with chimpanzees and watching the animal mimic their faces - it appears to be pure magic, something evident by the smile on my five year old's face. But these simple mini games also serve a purpose. The interactions boost the value of your attractions or, if you were feeding an animal, actually solves their hunger.
In Zoo Tycoon you aren't just worried about whether or not your patrons are happy, but whether or not your animals are happy, too. This comes from the exhibits themselves and the ability to add things like food, bathing, and interactive toys and objects. It not only makes the animal's living area more attractive, it serves a purpose, too.
Zoo Tycoon claims to be loaded with over 100 animals, though the reality is there's only a few dozen types and then many variations of the breed. You've got lions, tigers, bears as well as giraffes, antelope, and monkeys. There are minor animal types too like iguanas, parrots, lemurs and a few others. It's within each of these that you have the various breeds - like Asiatic, West African, Transvaal, Masai, and Barbary. The more rare the breed the more the animal can cost, but the better the pay off. Oh, and you wanted a baby elephant? That'll really cost you because EVERYONE loves cute baby animals.
While a lot of tycoon games can drag you into the numbers behind them, Zoo Tycoon keeps things simple. Most attractions and financial decisions boil down to choosing free, low, medium, and high price tags. These decisions still bare an important factor into the overall running of your zoo, and you can easily view graphs and charts to track how your decisions affect the outcome. Money will be spent in various places - whether it's researching new animal breeds or attractions, or paying to actually adopt the animals or refill their food bowl.
I'm actually impressed with just how many layers there are in Zoo Tycoon. The game does a good job of being accessible for kids while at the same time providing some hardcore management options for fans of the genre. My only gripe in terms of accessibility for younger gamers is the lack of a narrator during the tutorial phases of the game. It's pretty text heavy so it might turn off kids before they get into the fray.