Planet Zoo review | Micromanagemania

Menus will gobble the lion’s share of your time in Frontier’s animal management sim. Here’s our review of Planet Zoo…


I got my training for Planet Zoo in early – I was, after all, just nine years old when I was made manager of SeaWorld.

What I remember most about SeaWorld Adventure Parks Tycoon is that, shortly after I started playing, I felt confident peppering my park’s 2D plane with souvenir shops, rollercoasters, and big killer whale tanks.

My park was more like a Jackson Pollock painting than anything Imagineers would get paid to produce, but the elements were there. My nine-year-old self lacked technique, sure, but I grasped the basics of building a park in minutes.

I was surprised, then, by the difficulty I had approaching Frontier Developments’ spiritual successor to Zoo Tycoon as an adult.

Thanks to the game’s exhausting, menu-heavy interface, needy animals, and fiddly 3D building controls, this likely won’t be a good introduction for anyone looking to get into the genre for the first time.

It starts off simply enough, though. Career Mode begins with you as an apprentice zoo manager learning the ropes via a trio of tutorial levels.

These were hand-holding in a way that I welcomed, as my in-game bosses warmly guided me through the basics of zoo management. Then the tutorials suddenly gave way to a level where I was expected to build a park from scratch with little guidance.

I started that zoo over and over again. My animals, each with dozens of wellness sliders, kept dying. In my quest to bring in a small number of guests, I quickly ran out of money.

Planet Zoo, for me, has been less an escapist power fantasy where I effectively build an impressive park and manage cute virtual animals, and more a pretty accurate representation of what it would look like to be suddenly tasked with running a real zoo.

Not everything is frustrating. The animals look great, and the game provides some neat camera options that let you see their gorgeously rendered fur up close. It’s obviously robust, and will give the park sim faithful plenty of boxes to check and dials to twiddle.

But, as someone who enjoyed this genre as a kid, Planet Zoo isn’t as welcoming as I’d hoped. Building is difficult. Each animal bristles with needs that constantly call for your attention.

I enjoyed Planet Zoo most when I got into the groove of building, soaring up for a bird’s eye view, constructing bridges and walkways, and spinning up interesting architecture. I was constantly put off, however, by the creation tools and the level of obsessive care that each animal required.

I wanted to get creative, build a killer zoo, and fill it with fierce or friendly beasts. Instead, Planet Zoo had me playing animal psychiatrist.

A pop-up would occasionally appear at the left side of my screen to inform me that one of my animals was stressed — just one of the dozens of ways that each creature can be harmed by their habitat. Stressed, giant desert hairy scorpion? You and me both.


Despite its intense focus on menu minutiae, Planet Zoo boasts a genuinely delightful, warm atmosphere. I loved listening to the poppy acoustic instrumentals as I soared around my parks, and Bernard and Nancy — the zoo franchise’s owner and manager, respectively — are lovely teachers.

Verdict: 60%

A deep Zoo Tycoon successor that might put some players off with its prickly, fiddly approach to park management.

Genre: Simulation
Format: PC (tested)
Developer: Frontier Developments
Publisher: Frontier Developments
Price: £34.99
Release: Out now

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