Manager games are very popular, zoos are also very popular, and so it is no wonder that there are a lot of zoo manager games. Is there anybody who does not want to be a virtual zoo manager – even if one is a real zoo manager? Imagine a perfect world where there are no economic and political constraints, where people are rich, happy and prefer zoos to TV, plazas and pubs! What’s more, animals in this perfect world also like each other and you can feed and keep them with only a few clicks of the mouse. Welcome to the world of zoo games! However, if you are looking for a real challenge, more similar to the real world, then start playing with Football Manager… Why? Because most zoo games are not very realistic, including the actual subject of my review, My Free Zoo.
My wife and my daughter like this game very much and asked me curiously what I thought about it. I did not want to disappoint them because I know that a realistic simulator would not be so popular with the target audience such as my less fanatic family members. So I tried to understand them and see this game with regards to its own expectations. Nevertheless, there are some points which I, being a real zoo curator, cannot leave uncommented...
My Free Zoo (www.myfreezoo.com) was launched in May 2012 by upjers GmbH (Germany), the developer was KING Art Games, also from Germany. This ‘tycoon’ management game is very similar to the other product of this firm, My Fantastic Park. It is a free game – at least seemingly, because there is quite a pressure on players to spend money for a lot of stuff to speed up in-game progress. This is not a problem in itself, of course; this game was made for profit. However I was not a good subject, since I did the testing without paying anything.
You can start the game quickly, following an easy registration process: you find yourself in a cheap zoo; your task is to revive it step by step. You have advisors who provide you with subtasks. The graphical realisation of the game is pleasant, albeit not very complex. I suppose it meets the requirements of the target audience. The menu system is clear; the experiences of previous tycoon games have been adapted well.
On the other hand, the game resembles other ordinary theme park tycoon games too much. I could not find any novel idea in it. It is good craftsmanship with logical links and a well-established economy – if we do not consider zoological aspects. Yes, I know that services are also very important for making money in the real world, but it is extreme that we need more ice cream and souvenir shops in a zoo than animal species… As logical the economy of the game is, the animal side of it is just as illogical. For example, animals only start to breed after building a breeding station for them. The keeping of the animals is not a challenge: there are only three options: to ‘feed’, ‘entertain’ and ‘tend to’ the animals, nothing more. There are no maintenance expenses, which seems idealistic but painfully fake...
The animals don’t behave like living creatures, there is an option to turn them around – I visualize keepers entering the elephants’ enclosure to turn the animals around once a day. The names of the animal species are less accurate than in an average book for kids (for example: tortoise, elephant, rhinoceros). It was a good idea to distinguish the ‘species’ according to their rarity, but it is strange that a meerkat is much rarer and more valuable than a chimpanzee. Or a hamadryas baboon is 12.5 times more valuable than a rhinoceros; the koala seems to be more common than the brown bear. The animal species have very few defining features: natural habitat, rarity, visitors’ preference (who likes it), breeding difficulty. There is nothing else, for example social behaviour, special dietary needs, demands of temperature and humidity. Thus, work is simple in this virtual zoo, so it is no surprise that you do not need keepers and other zoo employees. Even if you can hire them, their role is limited to reducing the amount of your clicking – I do not want to believe if there is a zoo manager in the real world who would think in a similar way.
So, the game is rather superficial if you are looking for a realistic simulator of zoo management. But, owing to its simple gameplay and rules, it can be enjoyed – although users will not get closer to a better understanding of animals or zoo life. It looks like a Tamagotchi game; you can feed and keep your virtual creatures with industrious clicking without any annoying challenge. Apparently it is enjoyable enough for a lot of people.
Finally, here is my very subjective rating: 66%
Pro:kind graphics, simple system and a very good training to strengthen your finger muscles
Contra: the gameplay confirms the false idea of the zoo merely being a special theme park... do you like it?