Your parents always told you that keeping a pet would be expensive.
Let’s get this straight right away. Ignition Entertainment’s Zoo Keeper is a blatant rip off of the popular online puzzler Bejeweled (made by PopCap Games). Regardless, there is an old adage that states “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”, and Zoo Keeper sticks very well to this ancient counsel.
Zoo Keeper is a fun little puzzler, and it does an excellent job of wasting time. Though there are various gameplay modes, the general idea remains the same. Upon starting the game, you’re presented with a grid full of animal faces. The presiding goal of Zoo Keeper is to match rows of three animal heads to clear them. As they are cleared, new heads fall into the frame to take their place. The catch to clearing the animals is that you can only swap heads that are next to each other, and swapping a pair of animals must result in a set of three. If no match is made, the two heads swap back to their original positions.
Although the premise sounds simple, things can get fairly heated up fairly quickly. A time meter constantly ticks down the left side of the screen, and the game ends if it reaches the bottom. To keep it up, you’ll have to constantly clear out animals.
The game is split up into four main modes and a multiplayer mode. In the main “Zoo Keeper” mode, the goal is to collect a certain amount of each animal head to reach the next level. As the levels go up the game gets more difficult. The mode is never-ending and intimately replayable.
In the “Tokoton 100” mode, collecting 100 of any animal head will advance the game to the next level. Again, as levels go up, so does the difficulty. The catch to this mode is that you tend to reach 100 of each animal around the same time. As such, the game starts out fairly simple for a while, and then becomes insanely difficult as soon as the animals all begin to reach 100 at once.
There’s also a pretty good “Quest” mode. There are a total of 10 stages to go through, each with a specific objective, such as “try to collect only lions.” The better you complete the goal, the more points are awarded for the objective. This mode is definitely more fun for skilled players, as it adds an extra layer of challenge on top of the regular game.
Rounding out the main modes is a “Time Trial” mode. Just as the name implies, the goal is to clear as many animals in a set time limit, six minutes in this case. While this mode is fun and excellent for killing time, it would be nice if the time limit was variable, or if there was at least more than one time limit to choose from.
The two-player battle mode is quite a bit of fun. It supports download play, so only one copy of the game is needed. This is a very nice feature, because it’s going to be hard to find somebody else who paid $40 for Zoo Keeper. It might even be a good idea to split the cost of the game with a friend. In the multiplayer mode, the goal is to deplete your opponent’s health bar by making matches. While it sounds simple, the game quickly turns into a very tense match full of excitement, going down to the wire.
More than anything, Zoo Keeper proves that a touch screen is absolutely perfect for certain types of games. It is the most natural way to play the game. Instead of having to move a cursor around a screen, playing Zoo Keeper is as easy as touching the animal you want to swap and then either tapping or dragging the stylus over to the adjacent animal.
There are only two real problems with the entire package, the first being the price tag. At $40, Zoo Keeper is way overpriced for what it is. Bejeweled is available from PopCap for only $13. Granted, you can’t play it on your DS, but at only $13, portability is not really an issue. This is a game that really shouldn’t cost anything more than $20. The other issue with the game is its soundtrack. In games like this, soundtracks do little more than add background noise to keep the silence from driving you mad. In actuality, Zoo Keeper’s soundtrack is a much more likely candidate for driving somebody clinically insane. Imagine the worst NES soundtrack ever, and then make it about five times worse. It’s very simplistic and feels like it was composed at the very last moment of the game’s production.
Overall, Zoo Keeper is a very fun game. However, nobody should be playing $40 for it. It’s fun, but nowhere near worth it. Wait for a price drop on this little gem, because it’ll be worth it at half the price.