Developed by Springloaded Games and published by No More Robots, Let’s Build a Zoo is a delightfully cheerful zoo tycoon simulator with a surprising dark side thanks to its built-in morality system. Players are given the opportunity to acquire animals for their zoo, build exquisitely decorated enclosures with top notch amenities, and allow the public to peruse their menagerie of creatures for financial gain. The secret twist here, however, is how those animals are acquired, cared for, and what happens when they are no longer garnering the public’s interest.
You see, Let’s Build a Zoo is not content to just let you enjoy the adorable pixel animals as they hop around the perimeters of their enclosures. They want you to make intense decisions about your zoo that will continue to affect it for the long term. Will you only acquire animals that are born naturally to keep morality high? Or will you get a little shady with science and technology to create unique hybrids via the CRISPR to lure in the public? Will you trick your visitors with an animatronic lion to save on food costs?
These morality decisions are not just limited to the base game’s zoos where players collect everything from rabbits to orangutans, either. The first DLC pack for Let’s Build a Zoo added an all-new area — Dinosaur Island — where players can start a second zoo exclusively centered around the prehistoric beasts. However, morality plays an important decision there, as well. Just what will you do with the thousand-pound brontosaurus when the reaper strikes your well-meaning dino park? Depending on your choices, you just may find yourself asking, “Do you want fries with that brontoburger?”
Let’s Build a Zoo: Dinosaur Island — What you’ll like
Springloaded Games never takes the premise of Let’s Build a Zoo too seriously, and I don’t suspect it would be out of pocket to suggest that they don’t want players to think about it all too hard, either. The game is inviting with its wholesome and cutesy presentation of building and maintaining a zoo, but it doesn’t take long for the absurd and outright questionable to creep in as players are faced with questions like whether or not they want to take money from the mafia to feed bodies to their pigs. Your zoo building begins with adopting rescue animals from the shelter, and it grows as you breed and trade for various other animals from other zoos around the globe.
|Category||Let’s Build a Zoo: Dinosaur Island|
|Publisher||No More Robots|
|System requirements||Windows 7 or better, Intel Core i5 or better, 2GB of RAM, NVIDIA GeForce GTX 550/equivalent or higher, 738MB available space|
|Play time||45 hours (and counting)|
|Launch price||$20 base game, $10 DLC|
While the game is meant to be a proper juxtaposition of wholesome and absurdly evil wrapped up in a cutesy pixel aesthetic, it does still manage to tick all the boxes for being a proper, in-depth management simulator. Players have the option to manage employees in a variety of jobs such as zookeepers or mascots and can easily change their enclosure zoning and work areas as well as their pay scale. You can even offer them bonuses to improve their work ethic and niceness toward guests. Heat mapping can be used to check for park services such as water access and trash coverage.
With regard to the first DLC, Dinosaur Island, players actually launch a whole new zoo to feature the dinosaurs that they unearth by sending researchers out to uncover DNA at dig sites. Once the DNA for a new species of dinosaur is sequenced, it can be brought to the zoo and cloned via the handy CRISPR device. The CRISPR is not limited to clones, however, as any type of animal or dinosaur already available to your zoo can provide DNA sequences that are then used to create spliced together hybrids like a raboose (rabbit/goose) or dukake (duck/snake). The only shame is that you can’t find out whether or not velociraptors and pigooses can get along, as the game doesn’t allow dinosaurs to be added to standard parks.
Let’s Build a Zoo is similar to other Zoo Tycoon-like games where players must manage the needs of the animals on display at the zoo and dinosaur park by providing necessary amenities such as adequate habitat, enrichment, and access to water. Furthermore, employees like zookeepers and janitors must be hired and carefully zoned so that animals are fed and looked after while the park stays squeaky clean. Happy animals can only go so far, however, as the park must also make money to stay afloat. Hiding bodies for the mafia in your pig pens can only add so much to your coffers.
Any zoo manager worth their salt is going to put forth research points generated by the lab in their park toward unlocking shops and stalls to squeeze every last available penny out of their guests. This is another element where morality comes into play, as the player has opportunities to adjust the recipes used in their shops to be more ethical and animal friendly, or they can just straight up use eyes and tails as their meat supply. To double down on the dubious nature of using less than prime cuts for your brontoburgers, players can actually opt to unlock slaughterhouses or egg and milk batteries to produce their own ingredients right there from the zoo’s inhabitants.
Don’t worry, though, there’s never any force pulling the player to choose the evil options for their zoo. The game doesn’t make it any more difficult for those who take the pious path, and there are even options to replace all of the meat and dairy in your zoo’s shops with plant-based substitutes if you can gather enough research to unlock it.
Let’s Build a Zoo: Dinosaur Island — What you won’t like
While Let’s Build a Zoo: Dinosaur Island never skimps on giving players a mountain list of management tools to fine tune the daily workings of their shop, the game does suffer a bit from its cluttered management system. Some menu options are hidden in unusual points throughout the UI. While it’s possible to click on a shop and hire someone exclusively for that shop via its dialogue box, the options for janitors, zookeepers, and mascots are oddly locked to the menu for the park’s front gate alongside transportation and pricing.
The majority of issues with Let’s Build a Zoo boil down to quality-of-life choices surrounding information and menu organization. When customizing shops and their recipes, players have the option to adjust ingredients and prices, and then apply those settings across the board to all shops of that type. Any changes are explained clearly within the dialogue box. However, this kind of attention to detail is lost when it comes to animals and their enclosures as it’s left entirely up to the players to know where to put a new animal, reasonable pen size, and even how to balance that animal’s nutrition with very few details.
When players acquire a new animal for their park, they are given a prompt on the world map and told to go back to the park to choose an enclosure. The player is shown a grid that displays some basic information about the animal, but choosing an enclosure is ultimately left up to trial and error. To counter this, I often found myself closing off an area of my zoo with generic “cage” enclosures that are suitable for all animals, and then having them delivered there so that I could figure out their preferred habitat and needs before moving them out to a display enclosure. It would be nice if some of these basic details made their way to the animals’ info cards prior to arrival.
Let’s Build a Zoo: Dinosaur Island — Should you play?
While there are certainly some shortcomings with Let’s Build a Zoo: Dinosaur Island, they ultimately just come down to quality-of-life changes that will most likely find their way onto the game’s ever growing patch list with time and further development. The base game just overflows with charm, luring players in with its unassuming pixel art and then opens up into a really in-depth management simulator.
While the game offers a mountain of options and choices ranging from the absurd to the righteous, it never feels bogged down by its management mechanics. It’s just as well to spend your time decorating your zoo with rainbow trees as it is sweating about minor details like whether or not too much caffeine is making your guests nauseated. Regardless of whether you’re just dipping your toes into management simulators for the first time, or you’re a hardcore experienced management tycoon, this game has something to offer you. Let’s Build a Zoo: Dinosaur Island is the sort of simulator you load up for half an hour only to look at a clock when you’re done and realize you’ve lost half a day.
Currently, Let’s Build a Zoo and the Dinosaur Island DLC for it are only available to play on PC. Simulation games are notoriously difficult to port to consoles because of their complex menu systems and are therefore better suited for playing with a mouse and keyboard.