Planet Zoo is a game in which you take charge of your own Zoological empire. A park management game, not uncommon for veteran Developers Frontier. (Past games include Roller Coaster Tycoon 3, and more recently Planet Coaster and Jurassic World: Evolution.) The game is reminiscent of Zoo Tycoon 2, which I enjoyed for many hours as a child, but expands on management and animal care so much more.
When you boot up the game, you create your personalized avatar, and set where you’re from on the globe. You and your online friends will appear on a globe on the home menu as avatars. There are three main game modes that you will encounter in Planet Zoo; Scenario, Franchise and Sandbox.
Scenario is where you will probably want to start if you haven’t played the game before. They are pre-set scenarios that will help walk you through the basics and controls of the game. In all honesty, I did the tutorial scenarios and moved onto Franchise after that.
Franchise is the real meat-and-bones of the game in my opinion. When you first click into the Franchise menu, you will be asked what you want to name your group; this name is different than your zoo names and will appear whenever people see your profile. You are immediately given 100 Conservation points (I will explain these later) and sent to choose where on the globe you want to make your first zoo. This will affect your biome and climate, which will affect what you will need for the care of each animal. (For example, I did a Canadian Zoo first, so I had to start with Animals that could naturally survive in that climate, and once I had money to keep heater running I could add other animals.) You are given 100 Conservation points every twenty-four hours. New Zoos cost exactly 100, so I assume this is to ensure you are always capable of opening a new franchise Zoo.
Sandbox mode is self-explanatory. This is just the mode where you can create your perfect aesthetic Zoo, without worrying about pesky money and people’s happiness. There are many small details that make the game consistently enjoyable, and fresh.
First, I want to talk about Zoo management. The menus can seem a little overwhelming at first, but everything is neatly put into sections and once you get used to where everything is, it’s actually really organized. The biggest help for me is the Work Zone and Staff Menus. While yes, Work Zones (Areas of your park/zoo you assign to staff) is not a new concept, Planet Zoo manages to make the menus flow and connect well with each other. For instance, in the Work Zone menu, it will tell you exactly what staff and buildings have not been assigned, or you can click on the ‘edit work zone’ for a visual representation of what buildings and staff are in your zones.
You can also see ticket pricing in the main Zoo menu, in addition to your Zoo’s ‘open hours’ which sets your time of day cycle. So, if you don’t want to deal with how dark it is at night, set your time to only daylight hours.
In addition, you have guest education levels. I actually love this feature, because it adds another layer to management, another revenue stream, and allows you to focus heavily on species education and conservation. Certain staff can research the animals that you have to learn about better food for the animal, enrichment needs, and additional education levels. This research will make any education boards or speakers you have more effective, educating your guests and makes them more likely to donate to your Zoo!
As far as finances go, I played on a medium difficulty, and honestly found once I got the opening area to the park running, I had no trouble with money for expanding the park. Admittedly I haven’t really looked at my money for a while now. As long as you keep staff, customers, and most importantly animals happy you’ll do fine in this mode. Hard mode I heard is not too much of a difference, just that animals will get sick of their enrichment items quickly. (I have not tried the mode myself. I will talk about Animal Enrichment later.)
There is a secondary currency in Planet Zoo, and that is your conservation points. You can earn 100 points daily like I said earlier, but there are other ways to earn them too. That is where it is important to take good care of your animals, and ensure that they are breeding well, and ensuring there is no inbreeding. This is where a lot of the micromanagement comes in, and honestly why I end up playing paused so often! It is not necessarily a negative but does break up the gameplay a lot when they are breeding like… well, animals.
You can trade animals on two different marketplaces, the Habitat and Exhibit Animal marketplaces. Habitat animals are the ones you will predominantly be working with, as they are the animals that you make big enclosures for. Exhibit animals are generally small reptiles/amphibians and large insects/arachnids and stay in a pre-built small glass enclosure. They are great for easy money and guest happiness. Plus they’re super cute!
Exhibit marketplace is solely cash, and pretty much computer-generated animals, and just quick selling to imaginary parks. However, the Habitat marketplace is both computer-generated and animals from other players’ Zoos. Anything paid with cash will be the former, and conservation points is the latter. You may see where I’m going with this, you earn Conservation points by trading animals on the marketplace.
You may also earn conservation points by releasing Habitat animals that are highly endangered into the wild. You will earn more points the younger they are, (of mature age) their fertility gene, and how endangered they are. So, there is extra incentive for keeping more endangered animals and reintroducing healthy populations into the wild.
For Habitat animals, there is a plethora of things that you have to consider in ensuring the animals health, happiness and safety, in addition to guest view and happiness. For example, you cannot just put the animals in a cage with some bedding. They need certain temperature ranges, amounts of coverage and space away from guest view, landscaping, native trees and plants, clean water, food, possible climbable space; and it changes depending on how many animals are in the enclosure. That’s not all, you have to ensure that you have the right amount of mature adults, the right ratio of male/female in the group, and making sure that the animals have proper food and fun enrichment.
There is a lot to consider for each animal, and it is so fun to create beautiful spaces for each of your animals.
There is also so much to consider for aesthetics, as it also affects guest happiness. Also, it’s just fun to challenge yourself and make interesting and dynamic areas! An additional challenge I have taken on from another channel is ensuring your park is accessible. Plenty of seating, covering, space, and no use of stairs.
Controls are difficult to get used to at first, however the game is available through steam, and as far as I can tell has a decent selection of options for changing your controls. Though for the base control layout, good luck doing anything without at least a mouse. (I had a lot of trouble with my laptop track pad and this game.) I will say though, once you do get an understanding of the control layout, it has a very nice hand placement feel.
For stimulation, this game definitely does keep your hands busy while you are building and such, but there will be times where there really is not much to do with your hands. For stimulation, you are most likely going to be affected with visual and multi-tasking stimuli. There is a LOT on screen, and when you are not immediately used to it, the whole User Interface can be a lot; especially the more animals you have. Thankfully, you can mute pop-up notifications for animal wellbeing alerts, however doing this just makes you miss important alerts I found.
If you are looking for a game that will provide intellectual stimuli (anything that gets the cogs turning) then I do think you will benefit greatly from this game.
One more thing I want to mention before I end this. Though there is a LOT of detail with building, and fine building controls, I find the path controls are still really frustrating to work with! (Though I will admit, this feels much better than Planet Coaster paths) In addition, I feel like sometimes the animals don’t get the same level as focus as the building and habitats did. That’s not awful, but it is awkward watching animals that lay eggs give live birth. Though I do enjoy that some animals can climb, and it’s so beautiful to catch a Zaboomafoo moment live in your Zoo.
Though there isn’t any Sloths in the base game or any of the DLC content, so do with that what you will.
Anyway, if you are hoping to pick up the game, Frontier frequently puts their games on sale, so keep an eye out and you’ll be able to get this at a really good price like I did.
Hope you have a fantastic, Zoo khaki day.