Zoo Keeper Review

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Developer: Ignition Entertainment Publisher: Ignition Entertainment
Release Date:January 17, 2005 Also On:None

Judging Zoo Keeper by its cover on a game store shelf will turn you away faster than a snapped-in-half game disc. At a pricey $39.99, it’s tough to see how a puzzle game for the Nintendo DS would be worth as much as, say, a PlayStation 2 game. Like the old saying goes, never judge a book by its cover.

Once I popped in Zoo Keeper, I was simply hooked. Zoo Keeper is a puzzle game in which you flip-flop animal-shaped blocks into a group of two or more identical blocks to “capture” each kind of animal. If this sounds familiar, it’s probably because you’ve seen the same concept in the PC/mobile/PDA game, Bejeweled. Only in Zoo Keeper, the shiny jewels are replaced with cute lions, monkeys, elephants, hippos, giraffes, alligators, pandas, and rabbits.

Zoo Keeper is simple enough to play, and utilizes the touch-screen very well. In order to flip-flop animals around, you use the DS’s stylus to select a block and you slide the stylus over another block to flip them around. It’s almost too simple. As an alternative, it is possible to use the face buttons on the DS–but it is slower and not as much fun to use the buttons.

In Zoo Keeper, there are four gameplay modes. From left to right on the main menu, you’ll find “Zoo Keeper Mode”, “Tokoton Mode”, “Quest Mode”, and “Time Attack Mode”. The Zoo Keeper Mode is the default way to play the game, where you basically capture a set amount of each animal until you go to the next “level”. At each new level, your timer runs down faster, and animal groups are harder to find. In Tokoton Mode, your goal is to capture each kind of animal 100 times to reach the next level. This is basically an endurance mode, and some games last over a half-hour, depending on your skill. I found the Quest Mode to be the most difficult, because you are given goals that are based around the animals you must capture each time. Last of all is the Time Attack Mode, where you are given six minutes to capture as many animals and advance as many levels as possible for a high score.

From start-up, you’ll notice something about the game: it has simple graphics, but they capture the cuteness that the game centers around. The touch screen is where the gameplay takes place, but on the top screen, you can always see a cut scene of the animal you’re trying to capture for bonus points, as well as your score meter. The graphics don’t take advantage of the DS’s hardware at all, but what puzzle game tries to win you over with visuals?

Zoo Keeper also doesn’t stand out in terms of music or sound effects. The background music is very repetitive, but it is cute and quirky and fits the tone of the game very nicely. The sound effects are very simple bleeps and bloops that occur only when you capture animals or when time is running out. Really, there is nothing bad about the music or sound effects in Zoo Keeper; they just aren’t very flashy.

If there’s one major flaw with Zoo Keeper, it is the simple fact that luck plays into the game every bit as much as skill. Saying you’re “skilled” at Zoo Keeper is like saying you’re a master of Russian Roulette. Really, there’s only a limited amount of skill needed when it comes to linking together combos, as random animal blocks appear after you capture a set of creatures. If these blocks fall onto more of the same blocks, a combo will ensue; and basically some combos will come down to being lucky.

This luck factor harms the game’s wireless multiplayer slightly, as the player who gets the lucky set of fresh blocks may get a combo that eliminates the other players’ chances of winning. This is especially bad because the only way to lose a game in multiplayer is to run out of time, which is what happens when the opposing player gets a combo. Luckily, the multiplayer is still fun and just as addictive as the single-player game. Also, only one player needs the game cartridge: the other player can wirelessly download the game and play.

Puzzle games generally aren’t my cup of tea, which is why it’s such a surprise that a game like Zoo Keeper sucked me in so effectively. The simple controls and easy-to-pick-up gameplay kept me coming back for more, and it’s what I found so admirable about Zoo Keeper.

Graphics: 6
Sound: 6
Gameplay: 9
Creativity: 6
Replay Value/Game Length: 10
Final: 8
Written by Cliff Review Guide

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