It’s been a while since I reviewed a Kairosoft game. I think, perhaps, the last one was Legends of Heropolis, which was seven years ago. At that time, I felt like the prolific sim publisher’s games were just too similar to one another, and it seemed as though it was headed down the treacherous path of free-to-play monetization. So I stopped. But Kairosoft sure didn’t, and as luck would have it the games more or less kept on going with the tried-and-true paid model. I decided to check back in with its latest release, Zoo Park Story ($5.99) to see what has, or hasn’t, changed.
Let’s start with the premises. You’re the proud owner of a brand-new zoo. It’s not much of a zoo, mind you. You’ve got a hamster and a capybara. There’s also a bench, some vending machines, and a tree or two. It feels like perhaps you should have been a bit more prepared before opening your doors, but here we are. Hamster. Capybara. Vending machines. bench. Let’s go. You wouldn’t think anyone would come to such a zoo, but people do. Your goal is to grow your zoo into something worthy of the name, filling your pockets with cash along the way. As you build, your zoo will earn stars towards a ranking. Your aim is reach five (and beyond), a job that will require you to check off a bunch of missions. Add more animals. Roll those campaigns. Earn those social media likes. Get. Paid.
I’ll be direct here: not much seems to have changed in Kairosoft’s world. And I suppose if it isn’t broken, why risk trying to fix it? Zoo Park Story could have come out seven years ago and it wouldn’t have seemed out of place in their line-up at the time. The visuals and sounds are similar, the UI is similar, and that familiar difficulty curve is here. A little slow, straightforward, and slightly challenging in the beginning, then you reach a certain point and the scales tip, giving you a comfortable cruise to the end of the game. You can actually mess things up in this one, which I suppose is new. But most likely, you won’t.
There’s actually a little bit more going on in this one that initially meets the eye. Obviously the main thing you want to do is add more animals to your park. A few of them will just roll in of their own volition, but most of them will be acquired the other two ways. First, you can just buy them from the Animal Hub. This will require you to either exchange items or Animal Points. The other way is by finding them and befriending them on expeditions. You’ll have to negotiate with them to befriend them, which involves tossing money, Animal Points, or higher regular food expenses. The latter is one way you can mess things up, by the way. Don’t throw your whole budget at a duck, is all I’m saying. Generally speaking, the more impressive the animal is, the more it’s going to cost you to keep.
Items! You can buy them with money, you can find them on expeditions, and people visiting the park will give you some now and then. In addition to using them to pick up animals in the Animal Hub, you can use them directly on the animals to improve their stats. The more friendliness they have, the more likes they’ll get on social media and the more customers they’ll attract. Upping their stats and improving their environment with decorations can also earn you more Animal Points now and then. Every animal has their likes and dislikes, and the boosts they’ll get vary based on that. Once you get more than one of each animal type you can merge their thoughts, and if they are of different genders there is a chance they will reproduce. As their friendliness increases, they’ll be able to interact with customers in new ways.
Aside from all of this, you can also run campaigns to attract visitors, add the occasional facility, and try to improve your zoo’s rank. You do that by completing specific missions, and they’re more or less things that will happen naturally as you play. At the end of each year, you’ll get a summary from a weird chimpanzee king and he’ll give you some other points you can exchange with him for various rewards. Compared to earlier games, Zoo Park Story feels like makes simple things unnecessarily complicated. There isn’t much depth here, and the pace can be really sluggish. All these extra currencies and mechanics do is make those basic tasks more convoluted.
I’m not sure if I just picked a bad one to jump in on or not, but Zoo Park Story just doesn’t click for me the way some of the older Kairosoft games did. Filling out the park just didn’t feel satisfying. My zoo didn’t feel like a proper zoo, and I felt like it was too penalizing to have the cool animals filling out the park. The road to success seemed to just involve jamming as many items as possible down the throats of the cheapest animals I could find. The game just didn’t expand out in as enjoyable a way as I hoped. The Kairosoft charm keeps things from being unpleasant, but this was probably as close to tedious as it gets for this kind of template.
No experiment should end after a single trial. I’ll probably look into the next couple of releases from Kairosoft before wandering off again, but I can at least say with some confidence that Zoo Park Story hasn’t made me rethink why I stopped reviewing this publisher’s games. It’s okay. If it was your first Kairosoft game, you would probably have a blast. But I feel like this concept could have made for a far better game than what we got here.