Platform: Wii / DS / PC
Developer: Blue Fang
All men seek to satisfy their primordial desire to control and to conquer through playing video games – or so recent research argues. Apparently, in our civilized society, computer games are one of the few outlets men have left to vent their primitive urge to dominate – unless they turn to wife beating of course – and no game’s developer has done a better job of appealing to every man’s desire to play God than Microsoft. First, we redefined world history in the Age of Empires series. Then we controlled deities in Age of Mythology, and then, with games like Zoo Tycoon, built our own thriving, multi-million dollar Zoo Park up from scratch in what was previously nothing but a barren, featureless landscape…
Although to me, such a generalisation seemed slightly sexist. I only had to cast my mind back to the time I spent an entire weekend burning, looting and pillaging the European continent in Total War. Or when I ended the lives of loved ones and tore families apart on Sims. How can I deny it? I am a repressed megalomaniac at heart. And as I eagerly installed World of Zoo, I couldn’t wait for yet another world to fall under my sway and for the lives of thousands more virtual creatures to hinge upon my slightest whim…
But, when first loading up World of Zoo, I felt cheated. Why was I not hovering in the sky with my dominion cast out before me like some omnipotent being? Why was I standing on my ‘feet’ and why were the animals reacting to my presence as if I were nothing but a mere mortal? More worrying still, why was my girlfriend and her sister excitedly crowding round the computer screen, a chorus of ‘ahhhhhhh’s and ‘isn’t he cute’ intruding upon my precious game time? I soon released that World of Zoo wasn’t going to be the kind of game I was expecting, but that said even a virtual sadist like myself couldn’t help but be won over by its charm.
From the outset, it’s quite clear that World of Zoo is casual game title aimed more at young children, or gamers who like something a bit more laid back than more full-on simulations. The gameplay basically focuses on a small park in which the player can interact with various animals which range from things like tigers and leopards to pandas and crocodiles. These can be purchased using the game’s currency which the player gradually accumulates for fulfilling certain criteria, and then customised in terms of their appearance. You cannot create your own animal unfortunately, only tailor their appearance by selecting from various options, i.e. style of spots for a leopard, whiskers, type of fur etc etc.
The animal then enters into the park and you can engage with it in certain activities. You can get it to chase toys, feed it, stroke it, buy it various pieces of equipment like slides, and so on. The animal will also come up and attempt to directly interact with the player, which overall, gives World of Zoo a more personal style of gameplay than titles like Zoo Tycoon. The player is able to connect with the animals on a more emotional level – you name them, play with them and learn interesting facts along the way (courtesy of National Geographic). All of this combined with the cute, cartoony style of the graphics - and World of Zoo’s emphasise upon improving the animals quality of life - means it’s a good buy for parents who want to educate their children about animal welfare and animals in captivity.
Kids will also learn a lot about how animals interact with each other. Sometimes they will play fight and occasionally certain animals will realistically scare one another (such as a tiger fleeing from a crocodile). About the only down side with the game is that (considering its desire to educate) it doesn’t really attempt to dismiss this whole myth that wild animals like tigers and lions are somehow cute, tame and loving, like dogs or cats. When you first start the game and purchase a big cat like a jaguar, the thing roles around like a kitten with hearts emitting from its ears whilst you stroke it with the cursor. Clearly, having the creature brutally rip off your arm might alienate the target audience, but it is curious that the game doesn’t do more to try and instill the player with a sense of caution.
This aside however, and World of Zoo is a very well put together casual game title. The cute, cartoony graphics make it instantly endearing, whilst the game’s well paced sense of progression - with new animals, toys and various features constantly being unlocked – means there’s tons of incentive to keep on playing. Despite the fact there’s a lot of emphasis upon learning and being educated about animal needs and welfare, World of Zoo isn’t patronizing. The facts are presented in a way which is genuinely interesting - they aren’t dry and don’t diminish the fun and entertaining side of the gameplay. Obviously World of Zoo is not a game for everyone, but for those gamers – like me – who are more into killing and conquering, believe it or not, nurturing can almost be as fun.