All that said Zoo Tycoon is a great co-op game, whether you're just playing pass the controller co-op on the couch (like I played with my kid), or you are taking advantage of the game's unique online co-op modes. Up to four people can contribute to a zoo both in realtime and asynchronously. In terms of playing with younger kids, Zoo Tycoon offers a "free" mode where you are given unlimited funds and can quickly level up your zoo keeper and see all the animals at your disposal. If you're looking for a greater challenge Zoo Tycoon extends into a Campaign mode and a challenge mode. All of the modes of play can be experience cooperatively. The challenge and campaign modes are similar though have different style of goals. For instances the challenges might consist of holding a certain happiness rating for your animals in a set time period while the campaign might just ask you to get your zoo to a certain level.
I took to the online play and built out a zoo with a friend both at the same time, and on different nights when we couldn't meet up to play together. It was really impressive to see the giant exhibits being placed by the co-zookeepers while in the third person perspective, though the zoo patrons paid no attention to the giant hovering savannahs. Co-Op allows players to split up duties too - one can concentrate on expansion while another worries about the animal welfare and happiness. It's here where the game shines and the simple act of talking through where to place certain items or deciding what will shape your zoo transcends "business meeting" and usually enters in to the realm of ridiculous.
Of course, the first thing we did in co-op was try to break the game, so we placed a janitor station (and an antelope exhibit) the furthest we could from the main zoo. The game stuttered for a second and then promptly filled in two giant LONG paths connecting everything. Entering third person mode and jumping into a buggy, I drove its full length. Needless to say the size your zoo can be is impressive, though you won't be able to fill up the landmass before hitting an exhibit limit.
There are other co-op options, too that are more subtle. Players can gift animals to friends to help breed rare types. Once you invite an online player to your zoo, at anytime you can load it up from the cloud and continue your adventures and save it back. The next time your friends log on they can continue from where you left off. You won't necessarily get the rewards from this if your friends complete challenges or levels, so you'll probably want to plan a meetup to actually complete some of the later levels.
Overall I really enjoyed the game though I didn't find myself addicted to it at long stretches. It seemed perfect to try to complete the challenges in an hour or two, but things got a bit boring. The co-op definitely helps spruce things up, but some of the menial tasks early on - like having to clean up poop or refill feeding bowls - just seemed excessive. Thankfully later on you can hire zookeepers and janitors to help with the daily maintenance.
Zoo Tycoon is impressive graphically, and while it's weird to talk about a next-gen zoo game, once you look at the animals in motion, it's hard not to be a little dazzled. There's just enough depth here to satisfy the hardcore while attracting newcomers as well. The flexibility in the game's co-op is fresh as well, allowing players to work together not just online but at different times. My five year old daughter really enjoyed the game, even if all she cared about was the animals and seeing what the next animal "did." Perhaps that's the best part about the tycoon games after all - the discovery.
The Co-Op Experience: Up to four of your friends can join in on the fun through Xbox Live to create and manage your zoos together. Players can work together or work on the zoo when other players aren't around. Challenge, campaign and free mode are all available in co-op.
Co-Optimus game reviews focus on the cooperative experience of a game, our final score graphic represents this experience along with an average score for the game overall. For an explanation of our scores please check our Review Score Explanation Guide.