Rating: ESRB – Everyone
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Hmm, seems like it’s been some time since my last zoo simulation review. As there are some good ones out there on the market already, it’s timely that I review another one.
My focus this time will be World of Zoo, a pretty recent simulation game from Blue Fang Games and THQ. Blue Fang Games had been busily churning out Zoo Tycoon games and expansion packs for about 8 years until their contract with Microsoft ended in 2009. World of Zoo is their first title after life with Microsoft.
World of Zoo, or WOZ, is nothing like Blue Fang Games’ predecessor. WOZ is a light-hearted game that has you taking care of up to four animals in a huge exhibit. There are a number of animal families in the game which makes it all worthwhile. With tons of cute unlockables waiting to be discovered and appealing cel-shaded 3D graphics featuring realistic animal behaviours, it is pretty obvious that WOZ is targeted at kids. Plus, you also get handy information on the animals courtesy of the National Geographic Society.
Come on into the World of Zoo and have a hand in taking care of these wonderful digital creatures of the animal kingdom.
World of Zoo opens up after a lively video showing off the animals in their zoo exhibits. The main menu offers up to three zoo save slots to play with. Plus there’s an online button that allows you to visit THQ’s website to download and import user made animals to your copy of the game.
Each slot can accommodate a single player trying to unlock the six different animal families within. You could theoretically allow up to 3 kids to share the product by getting each of them to select a slot to play in. After you select an animal family inside a zoo, you will have access to the exhibit or nursery within. This is where your animals will reside (and basically where you interact with them). Additionally, there is also an animal creator where you can customize your very own animals.
If it’s your first time playing WOZ, you are allowed to choose from one of the six animal families to begin your game. They are the big cats, the giraffes, the koalas, the pandas, the small monkeys, and the horses. Once you are happy with your choice, you are then taken to Keeper training where you can get to view a series of non-interactive movie tutorials featuring penguins. I have listed out some of the more basic tutorials that cover the essentials of the game:
- Leading animals – You get your animals to move around by tapping on the ground with your mouse button. If you want an animal to use an object (like a slide or a drum), you only need to tap on the object.
- Inventory – Opening up your inventory will show you your selection of toys, tools, and food. There are 12 items in each category that you can play with. However, many of these items will need to be unlocked in stages during the main game. To use an item, you click on it and the game exits the inventory and returns to the game with the item in your hand. You can just click and the object drops out of your hand. A gentle tap on an item (like a toy ball) makes it go bouncing away. To remove the item, just pick it up and drop it back into your inventory bag.
- Thought Bubbles – Now and then you will see your animals display a thought bubble like those you see in a comic strip (or like that other life simulation game about people). These thought bubbles indicate to you whether your animal is hungry or wants to play with a particular toy. You can actually grab the object in the thought bubble without having to open up your inventory.
- Hearts and Star Tokens – Hearts indicate to you the happiness of your animals. When the heart bar is full, you will be able to unlock more toys, tools, and food from your inventory. Similarly, Star Tokens are handed out when you complete a specific award. For example, earning 1000 hearts with a single animal earns you 12 star tokens. You will use these tokens to unlock new species (costing you 2 to 10 tokens), buy new playsets (15 tokens each), as well as claim a new animal family (50 tokens each).
- Looking around – To look around an exhibit (or nursery), you only need to move your mouse to the edge of the screen to rotate your camera view. Pressing the right mouse button allows you to zoom in (and out). There are only two camera anchors, one at the eye level, and another slightly higher up to offer you a giraffe’s eye view of your exhibit.
There are a couple of other advanced tutorials that demonstrate to you how to track animals (by using the arrow keys), how to use tools (like the poop-vac that is used to remove the mess left behind by your animals), how to build playsets, how to change the environment (with the handy snow/rain maker), and how to hunt for hidden treasures.
Playsets are perhaps the best additions you can place in an exhibit area. There are three of them that has been customized for each of the exhibits. The three playsets are generally a play area, a food dispensing area, and a rest area. For example, horses get a mini play area featuring fences and arches, while lions get a mock-up of prey to play with – dummy giraffes, goats, and meerkats. Pandas get a sheltered trough that can be filled with bamboo, while koalas get a value for money rest area that provides three items – a shelter, a slide and a mini-food dispenser.
You can have up to four animals in the same location; depending on the animal family. For example, four baby monkeys (or two baby lions) can fit in a nursery, while four adult monkeys (or three adult lions) can live together in their own exhibits.
One cool feature in WOZ is the ability to create new adults and baby animals by entering the animal creator and choosing the type of animal you wish to create. You can customize the animal by choosing new body parts (there are quite a number of eyes, noses, ears, claws, and tails to try out), new patterns, new fur colours, and so on. There’s also the choice of choosing a voice and assigning some basic AI traits. You can also purchase different types of animal species from the creator. Unlocking more species will widen your available customization options.
To wrap up this section, you should know that you can also play three types of challenges (mini-games) to boost your awards and hearts. They are:
- Grooming – Groom your animals with your brush (or hose) and turn your muddy animals into proud animals having resplendent and beautiful fur.
- Healing – Your animals are ailing from some mysterious illness. Use your medical scanner and search for the many hot spots on your animals. Unearth the illness to cure your sick animal.
- Scavenger hunt – Hidden in the exhibits are buried treasures. You will occasionally see sparkle-type effects that point to a hidden treasure. A quick approach to finding treasure is to use the treasure finder. Once you have homed in on a location, hold the treasure finder there and wait for your animals to run to it. Once there, they will start digging the ground. If the treasure is found, your animal runs back to you to hand you the treasure. Treasures range from rubbish (like a crumpled drink can or an old boot) to really good stuff (like a gold watch or someone’s wallet). I’ll leave it to you to find out more.
The graphics in WOZ is reasonably well done for the animals. There is no need for high polygon counts like in Gears of War or Unreal, and the job done here is more than adequate for the intended audience. The cel-shading technique also adds a nice relaxed feel to the overall game. The animations of the animals are very good. A lot of work has surely gone into rigging up all the animal movements. Wait till you see your animals jump into the air when they get frightened, the expression on the animal faces is truly priceless!
The exhibits and nurseries are also very well done with nice props like African looking trees and tall grasses that help to render that feeling of being on the African savannah or up in the cold mountains of China. The toys, tools, and food are interesting enough to cause your animals to spring to life; some of the toys even chase your animals to keep them on the alert.
The animals effects sound real enough to me; it’s like the sound team went down to their local zoo to get the authentic sounds of these animals for WOZ. Kids may however be scared by the lion’s roar. Some of the other comical sound effects do make it clear that the game is targeted for kids.
The music is light-hearted and the beat, although not African, makes it feel like everything is alive in the game. You even have a music changer built into the exhibit, just click on the object to change the track or to turn off the music.
- The enriching simulation experience in WOZ allows you to personally take care of animals. This is a great set of values to teach to your kids.
- There is lots to unlock in each exhibit and nursery; about a total of 225 achievements to be more precise. This sense of achievement is felt throughout the entire game and you could get absorbed just trying to unlock some of the best award titles – for example, if you are in the lion exhibit, that would mean trying to win yourself the accolade of being a Big Cat Whisperer!
- The 3D graphics is pretty good in the animation department and I like the way the developers used some bright contrasting colours amid the drab greenery of the savannah, plains, or jungles.
- The collaboration with the National Geographic Society lends a sense of authenticity to the info cards that you read about the animal species in the game.
- You can head over to WOZ Online and share your animal creations with the world. At the same time, you can also import in animals that you download from their website.
- WOZ was released on PC, DS, and Wii. It seems though that PC owners may have been short-changed. The initial decision was to release half the game and prepare for a second release later on. However, the second half was cancelled, and now we are left with only half a version. DS and Wii owners happily live with the full version of the game that comes with 95 species from 11 animal families. However, PC owners only get over 40 species from 6 animal families. Missing from the game are the antelopes, bears, crocodiles, elephants, and penguins.
- All animal families seem to employ the same toy concepts. There will be a ball that chases an animal, a ball that cleans your animal, a ball that dirties your animal, and so on. I would have preferred more toy variety in different areas of the zoo.
- Some treasure hunt sparkles are actually trapped under playsets. I couldn’t get at some of the treasure unless I temporarily removed the playset from my exhibit area.
- There’s clipping of your 3D animals with other animals, with the scenery, and with the playsets. A minor issue really.
As I was playing World of Zoo the entire day yesterday and today, I could only think of one thing. This is a really cool game that my daughter would really adore. She’s just barely past four months now, but I know that World of Zoo will be a permanent keeper in my collection until she’s ready to understand and appreciate the game.
Even if you don’t have kids, you’ll have a kick out of playing this for a couple of afternoons. It’s a fun game, kind of like an adult version of the digital pet toy known as Tamagotchi. I strongly recommend World of Zoo; it’s especially great for the young at heart.