Playing Planet Zoo with my son was a great new way to experience a Tycoon game that has all the hallmarks of a management sim with heart.
For anyone who has played this style of game before, Planet Zoo will be an easy title to pick up and hit the ground running with.
And even for those who never played something like this before, there are plenty of modes to try out to help you learn the ropes before finally taking on the challenge of building an excellent animal sanctuary that doesn’t fall foul of economic woes.
Straight after installing Planet Zoo, you can tell that it has the right mix of challenge and visual delight to make it an engaging and fun experience.
Whatever mode you decide to try first, you will soon need to get to grips with the various editor options available to you.
I started with Sandbox, as this seemed like the best way to experience the game with my son, who isn’t quite as an enthralled by budgetary conundrums as his dear old Pa.
This is also a great place for beginners to cut their teeth and to get to grips with running a Planet Zoo Zoo.
Customisation is at the heart of the Planet Zoo experience, and this starts with picking where to place your park.
As the name suggests, Planet Zoo allows you to start up your venture anywhere on the globe, with each place boasting its own biome.
Building an enclosure in Europe will make it easier to support a number of different animals but it will also mean providing special care for those who are used to Tropical, Desert, or Tundra environments.
Sandbox Mode allows you to build big from the start, with no limits on cash or what animals you can bring in. You will also start with everything unlocked, making it easier to please your animals straight away.
I found Planet Zoo to be a useful tool to talk with my son about the different types of animal in the world and what they need to survive and thrive. Glass enclosures will help visitors spot animals easier but one-way glass will help keep animals calm.
A big part of getting engrossed in Planet Zoo is the animals themselves, which have their own personalities and a huge amount of stats and facts listed in the Zoopedia.
This is your guide on how to care for your animals, telling you how strong the perimeters should be and what other animals might benefit from sharing the same space.
And a lot of care has been taken to make the animals not only look brilliant when you zoom in but also feel authentic when going about their interactions with the world.
Each animal has its own roar or screech and these only add to the authenticity of the Planet Zoo experience.
While the Zoopedia will tell you about your animals, clicking on a Lowland Gorilla or a Timber Wolf will tell you exactly what they need.
And this isn’t just food types and drinking requirements; Planet Zoo also requires that you build areas that offer the right amount of tall grass or climbable space.
You will find yourself doing everything you can to make an enclosure just right, balancing out the soil with the rocks so that your Tortoises and Flamingos can live in peace.
Going through these actions also helps to give animals distinct personalities and makes them more than just vague props.
Are my Red Pandas a little fussy? Why does my Springbok keep getting into scrapes? These are the types of questions you’ll want answering each time you logon to play.
The idea of keeping your animals active and enriching their lives with activities and things to eat, helps to keep the world of Planet Zoo alive without making it feel fake.
And after a while playing Planet Zoo, you will probably start running into problems that begin to add up over time.
Keeping your animals fed can seem a little harder than it should, along with making sure that everything is not covered in litter.
And this is when you’ll probably start diving into those customisation settings that aren’t tied to cosmetics or making your park look cool.
As you expand slowly, you might need to start designating work zones to make sure that no animals are neglected because they aren’t getting fed on time or that their enclosure has become disgusting to live in.
And this is when the crunch can sometimes set in, especially when you start finding out things while your park has grown in size.
Micromanaging everything gets a lot more difficult with so many moving cogs in different places.
Luckily, the notification menu can help you keep an eye on things and not let situations get out of control.
But you will need to learn how to set up your park efficiently, especially when you leave Sandbox Mode behind and start taking on Career Mode and the challenge to balance an expense sheet.
There are plenty of ways to generate income for your Zoo but you will need to make sure that everything balances out right.
It’s a bit weird finding out that visitors think my park is too cheap but who am I to complain?
Another way that the game tries to mix things up is by providing another way to bring prized animals to your park.
Conservation Credits can be the only way to unlock certain kinds of animals and it also eliminates the need for lots of cash.
Credit is earned by performing certain tasks and by boosting your Conservation Rating, giving you another reason to breed endangered species at your park.
This part of the system is a nice addition but it will need to be balanced with everything else, meaning you won’t be able to rely solely on these points to keep your Zoo solvent.
There are also online options which allow you to sell your animals or buy whatever you need.
And this will lead you down a whole new avenue of gameplay, in which animal stats become important information.
Breeding partners suddenly become important and you can find yourself scouring the globe for just the right Frog combo.
The good news is that while there is plenty of depth in Planet Zoo, you don’t have to get really involved to have fun and be challenged.
Gamers will also be impressed by the options available to them when building different parts of their Zoo.